European Union

European Union
The European Union (abbreviation: EU) is an economic and political union of 27 member countries in Europe, started in 1957 as the European Economic Community (EEC). It has created a common economic area with Europe-wide laws allowing people to move and trade in other EU countries almost like it was their own. Fifteen of these countries also share the same money: the euro. On January 1st 2009, Slovakia will have the Euro as well.
After World War II the countries in Europe wanted to live peacefully together and help one another's economies. Instead of fighting for coal and steel, the first member countries (West) Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg created one European Coal and Steel Community in 1952.
In 1957 in the Italian city of Rome, the member countries signed another treaty and made the European Economic Community. Now it was a community for coal, steel and for trade. Later it changed the name to European Community.
In 1992, with the "Treaty of Maastricht" it changed its name to the European Union. Now the member countries work together not only in politics and economy (coal, steel and trade), but also in money, justice (laws), and foreign affairs. With the Schengen Agreement, 13 member countries of the EU opened their borders to each other, so people can now travel from one country to the other without a passport or identity card. Now already 15 member countries have replaced their national currencies with the euro.10 new countries became members of the EU in 2004 and 2 more became members of the EU in 2007. Today there are 27 member countries altogether.
Free movement.
A person who has a passport of a European Union country can live and work in any of the other 27 member countries without needing a work permit or visa. For example, a British person can move to Greece to work there, or just to live there, and he or she does not need a permission from an authority in Greece.
In the same way, products made in one member country can be sold in any other member country without any special permissions or extra taxes. For this reason, the members agree rules on product safety - they want to know that a product made in another country will be as safe as it would be if it had been made in their own country.
Main institutions.
The Union has three political institutions with the executive and legislative power. The Council represents governments, the Parliament represents citizens and the Commission represents the European interest. The Council, Parliament or another party can request legislation from the Commission. The Commission then drafts this and presents it to the Parliament and Council. In most cases both must agree. After it is approved and signed by both chambers it becomes law. The Commission's duty is to ensure it is implemented by dealing with the day-to-day running of the Union.
Council of the European Union.
This is the main decision-making institution. The cabinet ministers of the member countries meet (Ministers for Foreign affairs, for Agriculture, for Justice, etc...) and discuss their relevant issues.
Each member state takes a turn at being President of the Council for six months. For example: from January 2007 until July 2007, Germany holds the presidency. The six months before, Finland held the presidency. The President of the Council is the organiser and manager, he or she does not have the power to make decisions about the European Union like the President of the United States does.
Member countries with a large population (Germany, France, United Kingdom etc.) have more votes than countries with small populations (Luxembourg, Malta, etc.) but a decision cannot be made if there the vote against is big enough.
Twice a year, the heads of government (Prime Ministers) and/or the heads of state (Presidents) meet to discuss the main issues and make decisions on different matters, this meeting is different and not as formalised, it is known as a European Council.
European Commission.
The European Commission manages the day to day running of the EU and writes laws, like a government. Laws written by the Commission are discussed and changed by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.
The Commission has one President and 26 Commissioners, selected by the European Council. The Commission President is appointed by the European Council with the approval of the European Parliament.
The Commission operates like a cabinet government. There is one Commissioner per member state, though Commissioners are bound to represent the interests of the EU as a whole rather than their home state.
European Parliament.
The Parliament has a total of 785 members (called Members of the European Parliament, or MEP). They are elected in their countries every five years by the citizens of the European Union member countries. The Parliament can approve, reject or change proposed laws. It can also sack the European Commission. In that case, the entire commission would have to give up their jobs.
Member countries.
In 1951, six countries made the "European Coal and Steel Community", a basic version of what the EU is now. These six then went further and in 1957 they made the European Economic Community and the European Coal and Steel Community. The UK and others decided not to join, and then when the UK changed its mind it was stopped from joining by French President Charles de Gaulle. When he was no longer President, the UK and others started to join. Today there are 27 members but the idea that more should join is not seen as a good one by everyone.
Croatia, Republic of Macedonia and Turkey are "candidate countries", they are being considered for membership. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia (including or along side Kosovo) are expected to follow.
There are many discussions in the EU about how it should develop and change in the future.

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