European Union

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The European Union is an international organization of European states, established by the Treaty on European Union (the Maastricht treaty). The European Union is the most powerful international organization so far in history, in some ways ressembling a state; some legal scholars believe that it should not be considered as an international organization at all, but rather as a sui generis entity.

Member States

At present, the European Union comprises 15 member states. The six founding members were France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg. Nine further states have joined in successive waves of enlargement: Ireland, United Kingdom and Denmark in the 1970s; Greece, Spain and Portugal in the 1980s; and Finland, Sweden and Austria in the mid-1990s. Negotiations are currently underway for the enlargement ]], Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Malta and Cyprus; the initial admission of new states is expected around 2004. Furthermore, Turkey has been officially been recognized as a candidate for enlargement, but has not yet been permitted to start negotiations due to concerns about its human rights record, and the involvement of the military in Turkish politics.

The total area of the European Union is 3,235,000 km2.


Main policies of the European Union

  • Free trade of goods and services among member states.
  • 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
  • Harmonization of government regulations, corporations law and trademark registrations
  • A single currency, the Euro (excluding the UK, Sweden and Denmark, which have derogations)
  • 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
  • a common security policy, 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 programs in candidate countries and other Eastern European countries, as well as aid to many developing countries
  • funding for research

see also 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 organization, but a mere bloc of states. The European Community is one of three international organizations these states are members of -- the other two are the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. These three organizations used to have separate institutions; but in 1961 they were merged, though legally speaking they are still separate organizations.

Intergovernmentalism vs. Supranationalism

A basic tension exists within the European Union between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism. Intergovernmentalism is a method of decision-making in international organizations, 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 organizations today.

An alternative method of decision-making in international organizations 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. 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 be made, if they are made ever. Supporters of intergovernmentalism argue that supranationalism is a threat to national sovereignity, 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.

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.

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 sovereignity 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 European Communities

The European Union does not have legal personality; it rather uses the personality of the three communities upon which it is based: the European Community, the European Atomic Energy Community, and the European Coal and Steel Community.

The Single Institutional Framework

The three communities, and the three pillars possess a common insititutional 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