THE EUROPEAN UNION
The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union between 27 member countries, located primarily in Europe. Committed to regional integration, the EU was established by the Treaty of Maastricht on 1 November 1993 upon the foundations of the European Communities. With over 500 million citizens, the EU combined generates an estimated 28% share (US$ 16.45 trillion in 2009) of the nominal gross world product and about 21.3% (US$14.8 trillion in 2009) of the PPP gross world product.
The EU has developed a single market through a standardised system of laws which apply in all member states, ensuring the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. It maintains common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. Sixteen member states have adopted a common currency, the euro, constituting the Eurozone. The EU has developed a limited role in foreign policy, having representation at the World Trade Organization, G8, G-20 major economies and at the United Nations. It enacts legislation in justice and home affairs, including the abolition of passport controls by the Schengen Agreement between 22 EU and 3 non-EU states.
As an international organisation, the EU operates through a hybrid system of supranationalism and intergovernmentalism. In certain areas, decisions are made through negotiation between member states, while in others, independent supranational institutions are responsible without a requirement for unanimity between member states. Important institutions of the EU include the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, the European Council, the Court of Justice of the European Union, and the European Central Bank. The European Parliament is elected every five years by member states’ citizens, to whom the citizenship of the European Union is guaranteed.
The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community formed among six countries in 1951 and the Treaty of Rome formed in 1957 by the same states. Since then, the EU has grown in size through enlargement, and in power through the addition of policy areas to its remit.
After World War II, moves towards European integration were seen by many as an escape from the extreme forms of nationalism which had devastated the continent. One such attempt to unite Europeans was the European Coal and Steel Community which, while having the modest aim of centralised control of the previously national coal and steel industries of its member states, was declared to be “a first step in the federation of Europe”. The originators and supporters of the Community include Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Paul Henri Spaak, and Alcide de Gasperi. The founding members of the Community were Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany.
In 1957, these six countries signed the Treaties of Rome which extended the earlier cooperation within the European Coal and Steel Community and created the European Economic Community, (EEC) establishing a customs union and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for cooperation in developing nuclear energy. In 1967 the Merger Treaty created a single set of institutions for the three communities, which were collectively referred to as the European Communities (EC), although commonly just as the European Community.
In 1973, the Communities enlarged to include Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Norway had negotiated to join at the same time but Norwegian voters rejected membership in a referendum and so Norway remained outside. In 1979, the first direct, democratic elections to the European Parliament were held.
Greece joined in 1981, and Spain and Portugal in 1986. In 1985, the Schengen Agreement led the way toward the creation of open borders without passport controls between most member states and some non-member states. In 1986, the European flag began to be used by the Community and the Single European Act was signed.
In 1990, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the former East Germany became part of the Community as part of a newly united Germany. With enlargement towards Eastern and Central Europe on the agenda, the Copenhagen criteria for candidate members to join the European Union were agreed.
The European Union was formally established when the Maastricht Treaty came into force on 1 November 1993, and in 1995 Austria, Sweden, and Finland joined the newly established EU. In 2002, euro notes and coins replaced national currencies in 12 of the member states. Since then, the eurozone has increased to encompass sixteen countries. In 2004, the EU saw its biggest enlargement to date when Malta, Cyprus, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, and Hungary joined the Union.
On 1 January 2007, Romania and Bulgaria became the EU’s newest members. In the same year Slovenia adopted the euro, followed in 2008 by Cyprus and Malta, and by Slovakia in 2009. In June 2009, the 2009 Parliament elections were held leading to a renewal of Barroso’s Commission Presidency, and in July 2009 Iceland formally applied for EU membership. On 1 December 2009, the Lisbon Treaty came into force after a protracted and controversial birth. This reformed many aspects of the EU but in particular created a permanent President of the European Council, the first of which is Herman van Rompuy, and a strengthened High Representative, Catherine Ashton.
The European Union is composed of 27 sovereign Member States: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
The Union’s membership has grown from the original six founding states–Belgium, France, (then-West) Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands–to the present day 27 by successive enlargements as countries acceded to the treaties and by doing so, pooled their sovereignty in exchange for representation in the institutions.
To join the EU a country must meet the Copenhagen criteria, defined at the 1993 Copenhagen European Council. These require a stable democracy that respects human rights and the rule of law; a functioning market economy capable of competition within the EU; and the acceptance of the obligations of membership, including EU law. Evaluation of a country’s fulfilment of the criteria is the responsibility of the European Council.
No member state has ever left the Union, although Greenland (an autonomous province of Denmark) withdrew in 1985. The Lisbon Treaty now provides a clause dealing with how a member leaves the EU.
There are three official candidate countries, Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Iceland are officially recognised as potential candidates. Kosovo is also listed as a potential candidate but the European Commission does not list it as an independent country because not all member states recognise it as an independent country separate from Serbia.
Four Western European countries that have chosen not to join the EU have partly committed to the EU’s economy and regulations: Iceland, which has now applied for membership, Liechtenstein and Norway, which are a part of the single market through the European Economic Area, and Switzerland, which has similar ties through bilateral treaties. The relationships of the European microstates, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican include the use of the euro and other areas of co-operation.
The territory of the EU consists of the combined territories of its 27 member states with some exceptions, outlined below. The territory of the EU is not the same as that of Europe, as parts of the continent are outside the EU, such as Switzerland, Norway, European Russia, and Iceland. Some parts of member states are not part of the EU, despite forming part of the European continent (for example the Isle of Man and Channel Islands (two Crown Dependencies), and the Faroe Islands (a territory of Denmark)). The island country of Cyprus, a member of the EU, is closer to Turkey than to continental Europe and is often considered part of Asia.
Several territories associated with member states that are outside geographic Europe are also not part of the EU (such as Greenland, Aruba, the Netherlands Antilles, and all the non-European British overseas territories). Some overseas territories are part of the EU even though geographically not part of Europe, such as the Azores, the Canary Islands, Madeira, Lampedusa, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Saint Barthélemy, Martinique, Réunion, Ceuta and Melilla. As well, although being technically part of the EU, EU law is suspended in Northern Cyprus as it is under the de facto control of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, a self-proclaimed state that is recognised only by Turkey.
The EU’s member states cover an area of 4,422,773 square kilometres (1,707,642 sq mi). The EU is larger in area than all but six countries, and its highest peak is Mont Blanc in the Graian Alps, 4,807 metres (15,771 ft) above sea level. The landscape, climate, and economy of the EU are influenced by its coastline, which is 65,993 kilometres (41,006 mi) long. The EU has the world’s second-longest coastline, after Canada. The combined member states share land borders with 19 non-member states for a total of 12,441 kilometres (7,730 mi), the fifth-longest border in the world.
Including the overseas territories of member states, the EU experiences most types of climate from Arctic to tropical, rendering meteorological averages for the EU as a whole meaningless. The majority of the population lives in areas with a Mediterranean climate (Southern Europe), a temperate maritime climate (Western Europe), or a warm summer continental or hemiboreal climate (Eastern Europe).
The EU’s population is also highly urbanized, with some 75% of people (and growing, projected to be 90% in 7 states by 2020) living in urban areas. Cities are largely spread out across the EU, although with a large grouping in and around the Benelux and a large amount of urbanization in Spain since it joined the EU. An increasing percentage of this is due to low density urban sprawl which is extending into natural areas. In some cases this urban growth has been due to the influx of EU funds into a region.
The institutions of the EU operate solely within those competencies conferred on it upon the treaties and according to the principle of subsidiarity (which dictates that action by the EU should only be taken where an objective cannot be sufficiently achieved by the member states alone). Law made by the EU institutions is passed in a variety of forms, primarily that which comes into direct force and that which must be passed in a refined form by national parliaments.
Legislative competencies are divided equally, with some exceptions, between the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union while executive tasks are carried out by the European Commission and in a limited capacity by the European Council (not to be confused with the aforementioned Council of the European Union). The interpretation and the application of EU law and the treaties are ensured by the Court of Justice of the European Union. There are also a number of ancillary bodies which advise the EU or operate in a specific area.
The EU receives its political leadership from the European Council, which usually meets four times a year. It comprises one representative per member state—either its head of state or head of government—plus its President as well as the President of the Commission. The member states’ representatives are assisted by their Foreign Ministers. The European Council uses its leadership role to sort out disputes between member states and the institutions, and to resolve political crises and disagreements over controversial issues and policies. The European Council should not be mistaken for the Council of Europe, an international organisation independent from the EU.
On 19 November 2009, Herman Van Rompuy was chosen as the first President of the European Council and Catherine Ashton was chosen as the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. They both assumed office on 1 December 2009.
The Council (also called “Council of the European Union” and sometimes referred to as the “Council of Ministers”) forms one half of the EU’s legislature. It consists of a government minister from each member state and meets in different compositions depending on the policy area being addressed. Notwithstanding its different compositions, it is considered to be one single body. In addition to its legislative functions, the Council also exercises executive functions in relations to the Common Foreign and Security Policy.
The European Commission acts as the EU’s executive arm and is responsible for initiating legislation and the day-to-day running of the EU. It is intended to act solely in the interest of the EU as a whole, as opposed to the Council which consists of leaders of member states who reflect national interests. The commission is also seen as the motor of European integration. It is currently composed of 27 commissioners for different areas of policy, one from each member state. The President of the Commission and all the other commissioners are nominated by the Council. Appointment of the Commission President, and also the Commission in its entirety, have to be confirmed by Parliament.
The European Parliament forms the other half of the EU’s legislature. The 736 (soon to be 750) Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are directly elected by EU citizens every five years. Although MEPs are elected on a national basis, they sit according to political groups rather than their nationality. Each country has a set number of seats and in some cases is divided into sub-national constituencies. The Parliament and the Council of Ministers pass legislation jointly in nearly all areas under the ordinary legislative procedure. This also applies to the EU budget. Finally, the Commission is accountable to Parliament, requiring its approval to take office, having to report back to it and subject to motions of censure from it. The President of the European Parliament carries out the role of speaker in parliament and represents it externally. The president and vice presidents are elected by MEPs every two and a half years.
As a product of efforts to establish a written fundamental rights code, the EU drew up the Charter of Fundamental Rights in 2000. The Charter is legally binding since the Lisbon Treaty has come into force. Also, the Court of Justice gives judgements on fundamental rights derived from the “constitutional traditions common to the member states,” and may even invalidate EU legislation based on its failure to adhere to these fundamental rights.
Although signing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is a condition for EU membership, the EU itself is not covered by the convention as it is neither a state nor, prior to the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty, had the competence to accede. Lisbon Treaty and Protocol 14 to the ECHR have changed this: the first binding the EU to accede to the Convention and the second formally allowing this. Nonetheless the Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights co-operate to ensure their case-law does not conflict. The EU opposes the death penalty and promotes its world wide abolition. Abolition of the death penalty is a condition for EU membership.
Foreign policy cooperation between member states dates from the establishment of the Community in 1957, when member states negotiated as a bloc in international trade negotiations under the Common Commercial Policy. Steps for a more wide ranging coordination in foreign relations began in 1970 with the establishment of European Political Cooperation which created an informal consultation process between member states with the aim of forming common foreign policies. It was not, however, until 1987 when European Political Cooperation was introduced on a formal basis by the Single European Act. EPC was renamed as the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) by the Maastricht Treaty.
The Maastricht Treaty gives the CFSP the aims of promoting both the EU’s own interests and those of the international community as a whole. This includes promoting international co-operation, respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.
The Amsterdam Treaty created the office of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (currently held by Catherine Ashton) to co-ordinate the EU’s foreign policy. The High Representative, in conjunction with the current Presidency, speaks on behalf of the EU in foreign policy matters and can have the task of articulating ambiguous policy positions created by disagreements among member states. The Common Foreign and Security Policy requires unanimity among the now 27 member states on the appropriate policy to follow on any particular issue. The unanimity and difficult issues treated under the CFSP makes disagreements, such as those which occurred over the war in Iraq, not uncommon.
Besides the emerging international policy of the European Union, the international influence of the EU is also felt through enlargement. The perceived benefits of becoming a member of the EU act as an incentive for both political and economic reform in states wishing to fulfil the EU’s accession criteria, and are considered an important factor contributing to the reform of former Communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe. This influence on the internal affairs of other countries is generally referred to as “soft power”, as opposed to military “hard power”.
In the UN, as an observer and working together, the EU has gained influence in areas such as aid due to its large contributions in that field. In the G8, the EU has rights of membership besides chairing/hosting summit meetings and is represented at meetings by the presidents of the Commission and the Council. In the World Trade Organisation (WTO), where all 27 member states are represented, the EU as a body is represented by Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.
Two of the original core objectives of the European Economic Community were the development of a common market, subsequently renamed the single market, and a customs union between its member states. The single market involves the free circulation of goods, capital, people and services within the EU, and the customs union involves the application of a common external tariff on all goods entering the market. Once goods have been admitted into the market they cannot be subjected to customs duties, discriminatory taxes or import quotas, as they travel internally. The non-EU member states of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland participate in the single market but not in the customs union. Half the trade in the EU is covered by legislation harmonised by the EU.
Free movement of capital is intended to permit movement of investments such as property purchases and buying of shares between countries. Until the drive towards Economic and Monetary Union the development of the capital provisions had been slow. Post-Maastricht there has been a rapidly developing corpus of ECJ judgements regarding this initially neglected freedom. The free movement of capital is unique insofar as that it is granted equally to non-member states.
The free movement of persons means citizens can move freely between member states to live, work, study or retire in another country. This required the lowering of administrative formalities and recognition of professional qualifications of other states.
The free movement of services and of establishment allows self-employed persons to move between member states in order to provide services on a temporary or permanent basis. While services account for between sixty and seventy percent of GDP, legislation in the area is not as developed as in other areas. This lacuna has been addressed by the recently passed Directive on services in the internal market which aims to liberalise the cross border provision of services. According to the Treaty the provision of services is a residual freedom that only applies if no other freedom is being exercised.
The creation of a European single currency became an official objective of the EU in 1969. However, it was only with the advent of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 that member states were legally bound to start the monetary union no later than 1 January 1999. On this date the euro was duly launched by eleven of the then fifteen member states of the EU. It remained an accounting currency until 1 January 2002, when euro notes and coins were issued and national currencies began to phase out in the eurozone, which by then consisted of twelve member states. The eurozone has since grown to sixteen countries, the most recent being Slovakia which joined on 1 January 2009.
All other EU member states, except Denmark and the United Kingdom, are legally bound to join the euro when the convergence criteria are met, however only a few countries have set target dates for accession. Sweden has circumvented the requirement to join the euro by not meeting the membership criteria.
The euro is designed to help build a single market by, for example: easing travel of citizens and goods, eliminating exchange rate problems, providing price transparency, creating a single financial market, price stability and low interest rates, and providing a currency used internationally and protected against shocks by the large amount of internal trade within the eurozone. It is also intended as a political symbol of integration and stimulus for more. Since its launch the euro has become the second reserve currency in the world with a quarter of foreign exchanges reserves being in euro.
The euro, and the monetary policies of those who have adopted it in agreement with the EU, are under the control of the European Central Bank (ECB). There are eleven other currencies used in the EU with all but two legally obliged to be switched to the euro. A number of other countries outside the EU, such as Montenegro, use the euro without formal agreement with the ECB.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is one of the oldest policies of the European Community, and was one of its core aims. The policy has the objectives of increasing agricultural production, providing certainty in food supplies, ensuring a high quality of life for farmers, stabilising markets, and ensuring reasonable prices for consumers. It was, until recently, operated by a system of subsidies and market intervention. Until the 1990s, the policy accounted for over 60% of the then European Community’s annual budget, and still accounts for around 35%.
The policy’s price controls and market interventions led to considerable overproduction, resulting in so-called butter mountains and wine lakes. These were intervention stores of produce bought up by the Community to maintain minimum price levels. In order to dispose of surplus stores, they were often sold on the world market at prices considerably below Community guaranteed prices, or farmers were offered subsidies (amounting to the difference between the Community and world prices) to export their produce outside the Community. This system has been criticised for under-cutting farmers in the developing world.
The overproduction has also been criticised for encouraging environmentally unfriendly intensive farming methods. Supporters of CAP say that the economic support which it gives to farmers provides them with a reasonable standard of living, in what would otherwise be an economically unviable way of life. However, the EU’s small farmers receive only 8% of CAP’s available subsidies.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, the CAP has been subject to a series of reforms. Initially these reforms included the introduction of set-aside in 1988, where a proportion of farm land was deliberately withdrawn from production, milk quotas (by the McSharry reforms in 1992) and, more recently, the ‘de-coupling’ (or disassociation) of the money farmers receive from the EU and the amount they produce (by the Fischler reforms in 2004). Agriculture expenditure will move away from subsidy payments linked to specific produce, toward direct payments based on farm size. This is intended to allow the market to dictate production levels, while maintaining agricultural income levels. One of these reforms entailed the abolition of the EU’s sugar regime, which previously divided the sugar market between member states and certain African-Caribbean nations with a privileged relationship with the EU.
In 2006, the 27 member states of the EU had a gross inland energy consumption of 1,825 million tonnes of oil equivalent (toe). Around 46% of the energy consumed was produced within the member states while 54% was imported. In these statistics, nuclear energy is treated as primary energy produced in the EU, regardless of the source of the uranium, of which less than 3% is produced in the EU.
The EU has had legislative power in the area of energy policy for most of its existence; this has its roots in the original European Coal and Steel Community. The introduction of a mandatory and comprehensive European energy policy was approved at the meeting of the European Council in October 2005, and the first draft policy was published in January 2007.
The Commission has five key points in its energy policy: increase competition in the internal market, encourage investment and boost interconnections between electricity grids; diversify energy resources with better systems to respond to a crisis; establish a new treaty framework for energy co-operation with Russia while improving relations with energy-rich states in Central Asia and North Africa; use existing energy supplies more efficiently while increasing use of renewable energy; and finally increase funding for new energy technologies.
The EU currently imports 82% of its oil, 57% of its gas and 97.48% of its uranium demands. There are concerns that Europe’s dependence on Russian energy is endangering the Union and its member countries. The EU is attempting to diversify its energy supply.
The EU is working to improve cross-border infrastructure within the EU, for example through the Trans-European Networks (TEN). Projects under TEN include the Channel Tunnel, LGV Est, the Fréjus Rail Tunnel, the Öresund Bridge and the Brenner Base Tunnel. In 2001 it was estimated that by 2010 the network would cover: 75,200 kilometres (46,700 mi) of roads; 78,000 kilometres (48,000 mi) of railways; 330 airports; 270 maritime harbours; and 210 internal harbours.
The developing European transport policies will increase the pressure on the environment in many regions by the increased transport network. In the pre-2004 EU members, the major problem in transport deals with congestion and pollution. After the recent enlargement, the new states that joined since 2004 added the problem of solving accessibility to the transport agenda. The Polish road network in particular was in poor condition: at Poland’s accession to the EU, 4,600 roads needed to be upgraded to EU standards, demanding approximately €17 billion.
Another infrastructure project is the Galileo positioning system. Galileo is a proposed Global Navigation Satellite System, to be built by the EU and launched by the European Space Agency (ESA), and is to be operational by 2010. The Galileo project was launched partly to reduce the EU’s dependency on the US-operated Global Positioning System, but also to give more complete global coverage and allow for far greater accuracy, given the aged nature of the GPS system. It has been criticised by some due to costs, delays, and their perception of redundancy given the existence of the GPS system.
The first environmental policy of the European Community was launched in 1972. Since then it has addressed issues such as acid rain, the thinning of the ozone layer, air quality, noise pollution, waste and water pollution. The Water Framework Directive is an example of a water policy, aiming for rivers, lakes, ground and coastal waters to be of “good quality” by 2015. Wildlife is protected through the Natura 2000 programme and covers 30,000 sites throughout Europe. In 2007, the Polish government sought to build a motorway through the Rospuda valley, but the Commission has been blocking construction as the valley is a wildlife area covered by the programme.
In 2007, member states agreed that the EU is to use 20% renewable energy in the future and that is has to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 by at least 20% compared to 1990 levels. This includes measures that in 2020, one-tenth of all cars and trucks in EU 27 should be running on biofuels. This is considered to be one of the most ambitious moves of an important industrialised region to fight global warming.
At the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference, dealing with the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the EU has proposed at 50% cut in greenhouse gases by 2050. The EU’s attempts to cut its carbon footprint appear to have also been aided by an expansion of Europe’s forests which, between 1990 and 2005, grew 10% in western Europe and 15% in Eastern Europe. During this period they soaked up 126 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 11% of EU emissions from human activities.
Education and science are areas where the EU’s role is limited to supporting national governments. In education, the policy was mainly developed in the 1980s in programmes supporting exchanges and mobility. The most visible of these has been the ERASMUS programme, a university exchange programme which began in 1987. In its first 20 years it has supported international exchange opportunities for well over 1.5 million university and college students and has become a symbol of European student life.
There are now similar programmes for school pupils and teachers, for trainees in vocational education and training, and for adult learners in the Lifelong Learning Programme 2007–2013. These programmes are designed to encourage a wider knowledge of other countries and to spread good practices in the education and training fields across the EU. Through its support of the Bologna process the EU is supporting comparable standards and compatible degrees across Europe.
Culture and sport
Policies affecting cultural matters are mainly set by individual member states. Cultural co-operation between member states has been a concern of the EU since its inclusion as a community competency in the Maastricht Treaty. Actions taken in the cultural area by the EU include the Culture 2000 7-year programme, the European Cultural Month event, the Media Plus programme, orchestras such as the European Union Youth Orchestra and the European Capital of Culture programme – where one or more cities in the EU are selected for one year to assist the cultural development of that city.
In addition, the EU gives grants to cultural projects (totalling 233 in 2004) and has launched a Web portal dedicated to Europe and culture, responding to the European Council’s expressed desire to see the Commission and the member states “promote the networking of cultural information to enable all citizens to access European cultural content by the most advanced technological means”.
Sport is mainly the responsibility of individual member states or other international organisations rather than that of the EU. However, some EU policies have had an impact on sport, such as the free movement of workers which was at the core of the Bosman ruling, which prohibited national football leagues from imposing quotas on foreign players with European citizenship. Under the Treaty of Lisbon sports were given a special status which exempted this sector from many of the EU’s economic rules. This followed lobbying by governing organisations such as the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, due to objections over the applications of free market principles to sport which led to an increasing gap between rich and poor clubs.
-After reading, enjoy the following activities and videos about the European Union!
http://www.watchmanbiblestudy.com/images/TimelineofEuropeanUnion.jpg (Timeline of European Union)
http://www.youtube.com/user/eutube#p/a/u/1/U3p9AhXrcJ4 (What can The European Union do for you?)
http://www.youtube.com/user/eutube#p/search/6/95CuBI-BL4E (50 years of The European Union)
http://www.youtube.com/user/eutube#p/search/0/sUU1QSEwb4U (Europe wants well-informed consumers)
http://www.youtube.com/user/eutube#p/search/7/PeH3Ee61Sl8 (Travelling in Europe: The Euro)