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The European Union or EU is an international organisation of European states, established by the Treaty on European Union (the Maastricht treaty). The European Union is the most powerful international organisation so far in history, in some ways resembling a state; some legal scholars believe that it should not be considered as an international organisation at all, but rather as a sui generis entity. Major issues concerning the European Union at the moment are its projected enlargement (see below), the Convention regarding a proposed European constitution, as well as British participation in the euro.

The original impetus for the founding of (what was later to become) the European Union was the desire to rebuild Europe after the disastrous events of World War II, and to prevent Europe from ever again falling victim to the scourge of war. The body was originally known as the Common Market, this later changed to the European Community and then to the European Union. The EU has evolved from a trade body into an economic and political partnership.

For a more detailed history, see the article History of the European Union.

Table of contents

Member States

At present, the European Union comprises 15 member states. In 1950 the six founding members were:

Nine further states have joined in successive waves of enlargement:

Note: In 1990 the European Union territory was effectively enlarged when East and West Germany were united.

Extension of the EU

The total area of the European Union is 3,235,000 km2. Were it a country, it would be the eighth largest in the world by area. In October 2001, the population of the European Union was approximately 379 million, which would make it the third most populated country in the world.

The EU, considered as a unit, has the second largest economy in the world, with a 1999 GDP of 7,809 billion euro, second only to that of the United States (8,729 billion euro, 1999 equivalent). The EU economy is expected to grow further over the next decade as more countries join the union - although the new States are invariably poorer than the EU average, and hence GDP per capita over the whole Union will fall over the short-term. The number of EU citizens (all EU member State citizens are EU citizens under the terms of the Maastricht treaty) is the third largest in the world (after India and China).

2004 Enlargement

The European Commission's Strategic Report of October 9, 2002 recommended 10 candidate members for inclusion in the EU in 2004: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus. After negotiations between the candidates and the member states, the final decision to invite these nations to join was announced on December 13, 2002 in Copenhagen, with the European Parliament voting in favour of this on April 9, 2003.

On April 16, 2003 the treaty of Accession was signed by the 10 new members and the 15 old ones in Athens. The final remaining step is the ratification of the treaty by the current member states and by each of the candidate nations. Ratification in the former is to be done by the parliaments of the member states alone, whereas in the latter the ratification is first subject to a referendum, except for Cyprus where the parliament will be solely responsible. The 2003 referenda dates (in many countries a two-day ballot is held) and the outcome in each of the candidate countries are as follows:

In the event that one of the referenda does not return an affirmative result, provision has been made for the enlargement to carry on without that country. Once the referenda turn out in favour of joining, ratification is expected to proceed without further problems and the candidate countries to have done so will become full members of the EU on May 1, 2004.

Future enlargement

Bulgaria and Romania have been recommended to join the EU in 2007. Furthermore, Turkey has officially been recognised as a candidate for enlargement after having been an Associate Member since 1963, but it has not yet been permitted to start negotiations due to concerns about its human rights record and about the involvement of the military in Turkish politics. It is however encouraged to continue its reform process.

Main policies of the European Union

  • Free trade of goods and services among member states (an aim further extended by the EFTA and EEA)
  • A common external customs tariff, and a common position in international trade negotiations
  • Removal of border controls between its member states (excluding the UK and Ireland, which have derogations)
  • Freedom for citizens of its member states to live and work anywhere within the EU, provided they can support themselves
  • Freedom for its citizens to vote in local government and European Parliament elections in any member state
  • Free movement of capital between member states
  • Harmonisation of government regulations, corporations law and trademark registrations
  • A single currency, the Euro (excluding the UK, Sweden and Denmark, which have derogations)
  • A large amount of enviromental policy co-ordination throughout the Union.
  • Common agricultural and fisheries policies.
  • Co-operation in criminal matters, including sharing of intelligence (through EUROPOL and the Schengen Information System), agreement on common definition of criminal offences and expedited extradition procedures
  • A Common foreign policy as a future objective, however this has some way to go before being realised. The divisions between the member states regarding the Iraq crisis in 2003 highlights just how far off this objective could be before it becomes a reality.
  • A Common security policy as an objective, including the creation of a 60,000-member Rapid Reaction Force for peacekeeping[?] purposes, an EU military staff and an EU satellite centre (for intelligence purposes)
  • Common policy on asylum and immigration
  • Common system of indirect taxation, the VAT, as well as common customs duties and excises on various products
  • Funding for the development of disadvantaged regions (structural and cohesion funds)
  • Funding for programmes in candidate countries and other Eastern European countries, as well as aid to many developing countries
  • Funding for research

The trend has been for political power to shift from the individual states, mostly upwards to the EU but also downwards to the European regions.

Many of these objectives depend on the harmonisation of laws across the member states and so EC Law is increasingly present in the systems of the member states. All prospective members must enact legislation in order to bring them into line with the common european legal framework (see also EFTA, EEA and Single European Sky).

Structure of the European Union

How does the European Community (EC) fit in?

In practice, the European Community is simply the old name for the European Union.

Legally, however, they must be distinguished. The European Union has no legal personality; it is not an international organisation, but a mere bloc of states. The European Community is one of two international organisations these states are members of -- the other is the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom[?]). There was once a third organisation, the European Coal and Steel Community, but it ceased to exist in 2002. These three organisations used to have separate institutions; but in 1961 they were merged, though legally speaking they are still separate organisations.

The legal system imposed by the EU is correctly called EC Law not EU law for this reason.

Intergovernmentalism vs. Supranationalism

A basic tension exists within the European Union between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism. Intergovernmentalism is a method of decision-making in international organisations where power is possessed by the member-states and decisions are made by unanimity. Independent appointees of the governments or elected representatives have solely advisory or implementational functions. Intergovernmentalism is used by most international organisations today.

An alternative method of decision-making in international organisations is supranationalism. In supranationalism power is held by independent appointed officials or by representatives elected by the legislatures or people of the member states. Member-state governments still have power, but they must share this power with other actors. Furthermore, decisions are made by majority votes, hence it is possible for a member-state to be forced by the other member-states to implement a decision against its will.

Some forces in European Union politics favour the intergovernmental approach, while others favour the supranational path. Supporters of supranationalism argue that it allows integration to proceed at a faster pace than would otherwise be possible. Where decisions must be made by governments acting unanimously, decisions can take years to make, if they are ever made. Supporters of intergovernmentalism argue that supranationalism is a threat to national sovereignty, and to democracy, claiming that only national governments can possess the necessary democratic legitimacy. Intergovernmentalism has historically been favoured by France, and by more Eurosceptic nations such as Britain and Denmark; while more integrationist nations such as Belgium, Germany, and Italy have tended to prefer the supranational approach.

In practice the European Union strikes a balance between two approaches. This balance however is complex, resulting in the often labyrinthine complexity of its decision-making procedures.

Starting in March 2002, a Convention on the Future of Europe will again look at this balance, among other things, and propose changes. These changes could in turn be adopted by an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC).

The Three Pillars

European Union policies are divided into three main areas, called pillars. The first or 'Community' pillar concerns economic, social and environmental policies. The second or 'Common Foreign and Security Policy' (CFSP) pillar concerns foreign policy and military matters. The third or 'Justice and Home Affairs' (JHA) pillar concerns co-operation in the fight against crime.

Within each pillar, a different balance is struck between the supranational and intergovernmental principles. Supranationalism is strongest in the first pillar, while the other two pillars function along more intergovernmental lines. In the CFSP and JHA pillars the powers of the Parliament, Commission and European Court of Justice with respect to the Council are significantly limited, without however being altogether eliminated. The balance struck in the first pillar is frequently referred to as the "community method", since it is that used by the European Community.

Why the three pillars structure?

The pillar structure had its historical origins in the negotiations leading up to the Maastricht treaty. It was desired to add powers to the Community in the areas of foreign policy, security and defence policy, asylum and immigration policy, criminal co-operation, and judicial co-operation.

However, some member-states opposed the addition of these powers to the Community on the grounds that they were too sensitive to national sovereignty for the community method to be used, and that these matters were better handled intergovernmentally. To the extent that at that time the Community dealt with these matters at all, they were being handled intergovernmentally, principally in European Political Co-operation[?] (EPC).

As a result, these additional matters were not included in the European Community; but were tacked on externally to the European Community in the form of two additional 'pillars'. The first additional pillar (Common Foreign and Security Policy, CFSP) deal with foreign policy, security and defence issues, while the second additional pillar (JHA, Justice and Home Affairs), dealt with the remainder.

Recent amendments in the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice have made the additional pillars increasingly supranational. Most important among these has been the transfer of policy on asylum, migration and judicial co-operation in civil matters to the Community pillar, effected by the Amsterdam treaty. Thus the third pillar has been renamed Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters, or PJCC.

The Single Institutional Framework

The three communities, and the three pillars possess a common institutional structure. The European Union has five institutions:

There are also two advisory committees to the above institutions, which advise them on economic and social (principally relations between workers and employers) and regional issues:

There are also several other bodies to implement particular policies, established either under the treaties or by secondary legislation:

Finally the European Ombudsman watches for abuses of power by EU institutions.

See also: European community law, United States of Europe, European flag

External links

  • The European Union On-Line (http://europa.eu.int/) - Official site (in 11 languages)
  • EU Enlargement (http://europa.eu.int/comm/enlargement/index_en) - Official site on EU enlargement
  • EU in the USA (http://www.eurunion.org) - Official site of the EU delegation to the US
  • EU Observer (http://www.EUobserver.com) - Newssite focusing on the EU

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