The foundation of the European
Union – the EU – was laid after the Second World War. The aim was to
prevent European states from starting another war against each other.
The EU differs from other forms of international cooperation by its
decision-making procedure. The member states have established common
institutions and a judicial system to solve conflicts and ensure that
collective decisions are followed.
The EU is in constant change, both in form and content. The economic
cooperation is an important driving force in the EU. In the wake of
economic integration, the EU has developed politically in order to adapt
itself to an increasing number of member states as well as new challenges. The objective is an
enlarged EU; well-functioning, more democratic, dynamic and transparent.
EU member states
After a succession of
enlargements, the number of member states is now 25. The following
countries are EU members:
Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland,
France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg,
Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal,
Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, the UK, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Germany,
Hungary and Austria.
Romania are currently in the process of negotiation and might
join the EU as soon as in 2007. Turkey and Croatia have applied for membership, but
they have not yet engaged in negotiations with the EU. Read more about
European Parliament is the world’s largest multi-national parliament
and parliamentary elections are held every 5 years by direct election from
the member states. The 732 representatives adopt legislation, approve the
EU budget and the inclusion of new member states and may also supervise
the European Commission. The co-decision procedure is the most common form
of decision-making. When being used, the Council of Ministers and the
European Parliament are on equal footing, and the European Parliament may
reject legislative proposals that it does not agree with. The Parliament
has regular sessions in Strasbourg and Brussels. In June 2004 the
elections to the European Parliament took place in 25 member states
The European Council consists
of the Heads of State and Government of the member states and the
President of the European Commission. The European Council draws the
political guidelines and is the driving force behind the cooperation. It
has the decision-making power in the most important issues and in the
cases where the ministers are not able to reach an agreement.
The Council of Ministers
together with the European Parliament is the legislative arm of the EU.
The Council consists of one minister from each member state. For example,
the ministers of fisheries will meet to discuss fisheries questions.
Decisions are made by simple majority, qualified majority or unanimity.
The member states’ number of votes depends on their size. Through the
different treaty negotiations, the use of qualified majority has been
extended; however some fields still demand unanimity. The Presidency is
rotating every 6 months between the member states.
European Commission is the executive body of the EU and is seated in
Brussels. The European Commission consists of 25 commissioners appointed
by the member states and approved by the Parliament. From 1 November 2004,
each state will have one commissioner. The President of the Commission is
elected for 5 years and is presiding over an administration of about
24.000 employees. The Commission has the exclusive right of proposing new
legislation. The Commission is responsible for the final decision being
implemented and has the decision-making power in certain fields, such as
Court of Justice in Luxembourg shall interpret the treaties and
legislation and give advice to the national courts of justice. The court
can pass sentences in all types of cases covered by common legislation and
rules, and can sentence individuals, companies and states. The court has
25 judges, one from each state, who are elected for a period of 6 years by
the governments in mutual cooperation.
European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt in Germany is responsible for
the monetary policy in the 12 states that participate in the euro-zone.
The Central Bank conducts a currency policy which contributes to low
inflation, and it can adjust the interest rate level in order to achieve
Other important bodies
Economic and Social Committee consists of representatives from both
the working and organisational life who give their opinion on labour and
social policy issues.
The Committee of the Regions consists of representatives from local
and regional authorities and expresses its’ view in local and regional
Court of Auditors controls that the money from the EU budget is
correctly implemented. The
Ombudsman receives complaints from EU citizens who think they have
been unfairly treated by the EU Administration.
Eurotower: The European Central Bank in Frankfurt
What can EU decide?
The treaties of the EU
regulate the areas of responsibility within the EU. If the treaties, the
institutional framework or the functioning of the Union is to be changed;
it is under the assumption of a unanimous decision among the member states.
The EU has decision-making authority in fields such as competition, trade
and agricultural policy, where the Internal Market demands a common set of
rules. In other fields, like environment policy, minimum standards exist
the member states are free to choose how to reach the objectives and if
they want a stricter set of rules. The EU principle of subsidiarity
specifies that a decision shall not be made on a higher level than
Some political areas stay
outside the EU areas of responsibility, among them income tax and welfare
schemes. In fields like culture and education, the EU provides measures
which support the individual policies of each state and encourage
cooperation between the member states. The elaboration of a set
common rules will be done in the following ways:
Regulations are legal acts
which are immediately implemented in the member states. They can be
compared with the national legislation of each state
Directives are aimed at the
member states and are compulsory by the fact that their objective must
be reached, but leave the member state to decide how this should be done
Decisions in individual
cases are binding and compulsory for those they are aimed at
Recommendations and opinions
are not binding, but guidelines.
Read more about EU legislation
EU legal basis
Treaty of Rome from 1957 established a close economic cooperation
between the member states. Customs, duties and quota limitations were to
be removed and common tariff rates against the outside world were
introduced. A common agriculture and competition policy emerged, but many
of the objectives were not achieved before the establishment of the EC
internal market in 1993.
The Single European Act of
1986 opened up for binding majority decisions in the Council of Ministers
in most questions related to the internal market. Environment issues
became a community matter.
The Maastricht Treaty of 1993
introduced the economic and political union, a continuation of the
Internal Market, by the establishment of a common central bank and a
common currency. The cooperation was enforced in areas like environment,
culture, research and education. The powers of the European Parliament
were extended, and an increased number of decisions could be made with
qualified majority by the Council of Ministers. The principle of
subsidiarity was consolidated.
The Amsterdam Treaty entered
into force on 1 May 1999. The European Parliament strengthened its
position as a legislative authority. Yet a greater number of policy areas
left the demand of unanimity for a qualified majority in the Council of
Ministers. The President of the Commission was given extended power. The
treaty also made it possible for some member states to develop a closer
and more integrated cooperation than others.
The Treaty of Nice
was adopted in December 2000. The treaty
coordinates the EU institutions until the new constitution enters into
force. A new distribution of votes in the Council of Ministers was adopted,
majority decisions were introduced in 29 new fields and the maximum number
of commissioners was limited to 27.
Charter of Fundamental Rights is a guarantee for every EU citizen of
their rights in relation to the EU institutions and legislation. The
Charter was adopted as a political declaration at the Nice summit in
December 2000 and is included in the proposal for a new constitution. The
charter is based on the following values: human integrity, freedom,
equality and solidarity and the principles of democracy and constitutional
A Constitution for Europe
In 2003, the
Convention on the Future of Europe put
forth a proposal on a Constitutional treaty for the EU. The Convention
consisted of representatives from national governments and parliaments
both from the member states and the applicant countries, as well as the
European Parliament and the Commission. After two years of debate, the EU
member states agreed on a
Constitutional Treaty on the summit of June,
The Constitutional Treaty aims to make the EU more comprehensible by
simplifying the acquis upon which the EU is based. It introduces more
efficiency and transparency in the Union and describes the EU’s values,
goals and competence areas.
The European Council becomes a separate institution and will be chaired by
a President elected for a period of 2,5 years.
The Constitutional Treaty extends the use of qualified majority voting. A
qualified majority is now defined as 55% of the member states, comprising
at least 15 states, and representing at least 65% of the total EU
population. This new voting system will be introduced on November 1, 2009.
In the European Parliament no countries will have less than six or more
than 96 representatives, and the total number of representatives shall not
exceed 750. The exact number of representatives from each member state
will be decided prior to the parliamentary elections in 2009. The European
Parliament will also exert more influence as 95% of EU legislation will be
decided by the co-decision procedure.
In the European Commission, each member state will have one commissioner
each until 2014. The number of commissioners will then be reduced so that
two out of three member states will have a commissioner at all times.
The Constitution also introduces a Minister of Foreign Affairs. Javier
Solana, who currently is the EU’s High Representative for the common
foreign and security policy, will take on this position from the day the
Constitution enters into force. This position shall make the EU more
visible on the international stage.
The Constitutional Treaty opens up for the possibility that some member
states can engage in closer cooperation, i.e. within the area of defence.
National parliaments shall be informed about all new initiatives from the
Commission, and should one third feel that the principle of subsidiarity
is not respected, the Commission has to review the proposal.
Before the Constitutional Treaty enters into force, it has to be ratified
in each of the member states, either through a parliamentary process or
through a referendum. If the Constitution, two years after its signing, is
only ratified by 4/5 of the member states, and at least one member state
has had difficulties in the ratification process, the European Council
will have to review the text.
The EU budget for 2004 amounts to 115,4 billion euro.
The budget constitutes less than 1,2% of the total GDP of the member
The EU budget 2004 (
in million euro)
Internal policies (research,
transport, education, culture etc.)
For more information see homepage of DG Budget
A few central policy
The Internal Market
entails an area with free movement of goods, services, capital and people.
The opening of national markets brings with it a set of common rules for
products as well as consumer rights. The task of securing and developing
the Internal Market is a continuing process. All the economic actors in
the EEA-area are subject to equal rules in the market. No one shall be
able to have a monopoly or exploit their dominant position in order to
weaken the competition or dictate the prices. Subsidies from the state are
limited in order to avoid distortion of competition.
Regional Policy is accountable
for a third of the EU budget. The money is spent on regional policy
efforts aimed at reducing regional disparities in Europe. Some of the
money goes to projects within infrastructure, like roads and airports,
while some goes to city development or improving living conditions for the
The Environmental Policy
continues to become an increasingly central aspect in the EUs work through
regulations, cooperation agreements with the industry, research and aid
schemes. In 2005, a quota-trading scheme will be introduced for emission
of greenhouse gases as one of several means to create a better climate.
The Commission suggests new environmental initiatives and supervises that
the member states uphold their commitments.
The Common Agricultural Policy
is the largest recipient of the EU budget. The purpose of the policy is to
secure a fair income for the farmers while guaranteeing reasonable prices
for the consumers. The common agricultural policy has resulted in high
production and a stable supply of foodstuff, but it has also resulted in a
surplus in stocks. The common agricultural policy has been altered by
reforms in 1992 and 2001.
The Common Fisheries Policy will ensure the preservation of the
Community’s marine resources and the deep sea environment, in order to
secure sustainable coastal communities. The new fisheries policy, which
entered into force in 2003, opens up for a long-term and sustainable
management of the EUs fishery resources.
The Economic and Monetary Union –
EMU provides the basis of the EU’s common currency, the Euro, which
has replaced the national currency of the 12 member countries
participating in the EMU. The Euro has removed the uncertainty related to
currency fluctuations. It has become easier to travel and to trade across
the national borders. The condition for participating in the euro zone is
that the criteria of inflation, the interest rate level, national debt and
budget deficit are fulfilled. With time, all the new member states will
participate in the euro zone.
The Common Foreign and Security
Policy was integrated in the EU cooperation with the Maastricht Treaty
of 1992, and it was strengthened with the treaty of Amsterdam in 1997.
Javier Solana was appointed EU’s High Representative for the Common
Foreign and Security Policy at the Cologne summit in 1999, and his
official period was extended with another five years in 2004. In 1999 the
EU decided to establish a common military force, consisting of 60,000
soldiers, which will engage in peacekeeping and peace establishing work.
The Schengen Agreement
removes border-control of people and involves common external frontiers,
visa rules and strengthened police cooperation. All EU members prior to
2004, with the exception of Ireland and the UK, participate. Norway and
Iceland participate in the Schengen Agreement, and all the new member
states will gradually be included in the cooperation.
enlargement of the EU continues: Bulgaria and Romania are in the
negotiation process. Turkey and Croatia have status as candidate countries
and Macedonia has delivered an application. To become a member of the EU,
the applicant countries must accept all current EU legislation, as well as
satisfy the criteria for democracy, the rule of law and market economy.
Lisbon Strategy from 2000
wishes to turn the EU into the most dynamic and competitive
knowledge-based economy in the world before 2010, based on sustainable
development and social cohesion. The Lisbon strategy introduced the open
method of coordination. The member states and the institutions are
measured on a set of common indicators, in order to assess how close they
have come towards reaching the goals.
EU and Norway
Norway has been fully
integrated into EUs internal market since 1994 when the
entered into force. The three EFTA-countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein and
Norway, participate in the European Economic Agreement which comprises the
four freedoms: free movement of goods, services, capital and people. (Agriculture
and fish are exceptions.) The EFTA countries also participate in many of
the EU programmes within research, education, environment, energy and
culture as well as in the Schengen Agreement.
The principle of equal terms for all within the Internal Market implies
that Norway has to carry out all the decisions taken by the EU. Separate
bodies and decision procedures are set up to make sure that new EU rules
are introduced into Norwegian law. The agreement is an international
agreement which implies that Norway is not handing over sovereignty to the
EU. EFTAs surveillance authority, ESA, is in charge of controlling that
EU-legislation and rules are respected. Conflicts are treated by the
common EEA Committee and by the EC- or the EFTA court.
All EU legislation legislation proposals, is
published in the Official Journal of the European Union: http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex.
Consultation documents can be found online on
voice in Europe. A list of all the directorate generals can be found
Register of Commission documents