European Union

European Union


The European Union (EU) is a long-standing political and economic federation of autonomous European nations. With the consent of member states, the EU legislates a variety of issues by treaty, including trade, customs, travel, currency, and defense. Members choose to participate in various EU institutions, delegating sovereignty in order to achieve common goals.

The organization embraces democracy and the rule of law, requiring member states to possess some form of representative government, elected by universal adult suffrage of the adult citizenry. The mission of the EU is to promote economic growth in Europe, create a strong international market, lobby for European interests in the international community, raise standards of living, and promote peace.

History. European integration, the process that eventually yielded the EU, began on May 9, 1950, when France proposed to create a European trade organization. Two years later, France and Germany established the European Coal and Steel Community. Both nations sought to solve disputes over coal mining territories and industry competition unresolved since the end of the Second World War. Belgium later joined France and Germany, uniting most of Western Europe's continental coal and steel industry.

Continued success of the European Coal and Steel Community prompted its president to lobby European governments for the establishment of a large-scale economic and trade union. In 1957, six nations (France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Italy) signed the Treaty of Rome, establishing the European Economic Community (EEC). The EEC standardized some tariffs, opened borders to free trade, promoted industry cooperation, regulated industry standards, and synchronized export practices.

In 1967, the member nations brought the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) into the fold of the EEC. The new unified organization was officially named the European Community (EC), though many continued to use to older designation, EEC, to refer to the new union.

Several nations in Europe chose not to join the original EEC, the most prominent of which was Great Britain. In January 1960, Britain formed a more loosely regulated economic union to rival the EC. The European Free Trade Association (EFTA), known colloquially as the "Seven," included Britain, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland. A year later, Britain applied for membership in the EC, but France rejected their proposal to join the organization. The French government subsequently vetoed Britain's second application for membership in 1964.

Britain, along with Ireland, Denmark, and Norway, became members of the EC in 1973. In a series of accessions, six more nations joined the EC before 1995. The organization adopted a more ambitious mandate in the 1990s, establishing government and judiciary organizations in an attempt to closely unite European interests. Adoption of the new mandate by member states established the European Union.

Organization. Today's EU mission encompasses more than economic goals. The principal objectives of the EU are to establish European citizenship, ensure civil rights of European citizens, promote social progress, protect European security, and ensure justice. To these ends, the European Union maintains its own government and supporting agencies. These institutions are granted sovereignty by the member states to legislate European affairs and create international law. Final adoption of EU policy, however, is left to the individual member states.

Five primary institutions comprise the government of the EU. Its overall structure embraces the three-branch democratic model of government, with executive, legislative, and judicial bodies. The European Commission is the primary institution of the executive branch. Members are elected or appointed by the European Parliament. The Council of the Union is composed of representatives from the governments of the member states. The Council governs the EU as a collective, requiring majority support to set or endorse policy.

The European Parliament, the legislative body, is elected by the people of the member states. Committees within the European Parliament address specific concerns, such as health care, preservation of the environment, and trade regulation. The Court of Auditors, the committee responsible for overseeing and managing the EU budget, remains separate from every branch of the EU government, but works closely with the Parliament to appropriately allocate funds and resources.

The EU judiciary is the Court of Justice. The jurisdiction of the European court is somewhat dubious, and member states recognize its authority to varying degrees. The court is similar in structure and function to those of the United Nations, but is permitted to pursue only cases that affect member states.

A myriad of committees and support institutions comprise the rest of the EU government. The EU maintains its own central finance system, including the European Central Bank and the European Investment Bank. These contain funds used by the EU or granted to individual member states for various joint projects. In 1999, nine nations adopted a standard European currency, the Euro.

Membership. Fifteen member states currently comprise the European Union: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. These member nations participate in the EU to varying degrees. For example, Britain participates in EU economic and trade associations, but uses its national currency, the pound, instead of the euro.

In 1998, the EU began negotiations with several eastern and southern European nations regarding EU expansion. Still recovering from decades of Soviet Communist domination, many of these nations possess fledgling free market economies. Introduction of former Eastern Block nations into the EU holds the potential for economic growth and expanded investment opportunities for European industry. However, expansion also poses liabilities to more economically robust EU nations.

The EU granted admission to the following candidate nations in 2002: Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, and Slovakia. These nations officially join the EU on May 1, 2004, assuming that they ratify membership in a national, public referendum. Bulgaria and Romania are scheduled join the EU in 2007. Some negotiations on expansion proved contentious. The EU denied Turkey's application to join the organization, despite the nation's numerous economic and trade associations with Europe. The EU will review Turkey's application again in 2004, if the nation furnishes evidence that it has met EU demands to improve human rights and maintain a stable democratic government. The nation of Cyprus, divided between Grecian southern Cyprus and nationalist Turkish Cypriots, failed to reunify before the EU accepted the national proposal to join the EU. Therefore, only the independent half of the nation will join the EU in 2004.

Some nations in Western Europe have chosen to remain outside of the European Union. Switzerland, and EFTA members, did not join the union on the grounds that membership in the EU threatened its national policy of declared neutrality. Norway also chose to exclude itself from EU membership.

Common defense and security: the future of the EU. A series of treaties in the 1980s and 1990s expanded the political, defense, and military role of the European Union. Formerly an instrument of economic and social policy, the EU adopted the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) in response to global instability and the rise or terrorism. The creation of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) followed, outlining the EU's international responsibilities to defend European territory and interests while cooperating with organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the United Nations.

Defense and security strategy remains one of the most contentious aspects of European Union policy. Some member states prefer to rely on their connections to NATO, or their own defenses, for protection. Others are wary of creating an EU military force under international command.

The EU established several crisis management tasks, known as the Petersberg Tasks, a foreign policy priority. For the purpose of humanitarian aid and rescue, peacekeeping, and crisis management, the EU created a military task force of 60,000 reserve troops. Member states can choose to contribute and deploy national military troops to EU operations on a case-by-case basis.

The EDSP launched its first operation, a police mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in January 2003. The first EU military operation commenced in Macedonia two months later.

With the aid of ESDP liaisons in 2002, the EU candidate nations signed a declaration warning Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein that military action was justified if United Nations weapons inspections were not permitted to freely proceed. The statement angered several EU members, causing a rift in EU foreign policy. Although the EU did not formally support the subsequent United States led action in Iraq, several member and candidate nations supported the Coalition military action. Some of the most influential EU nations, such as France and Germany, voiced strong opposition to the 2003 war in Iraq.



European Union. < > (May 9, 2003).


NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)
United Nations Security Council

User Contributions:

You should include the years the countries in the EU joined. Austria, Finland and Sweden joined in 1995. Cyprus, Czech Rep., Estonia, Hungy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia joined in 2004. Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and The Netherlands foined in 1957. Uk, Denmark and Ireland joined in 1973.

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