European Union

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European Union
Circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background.
Motto: United in diversity[1]


Anthem: Ode to Joy
An orthographic projection of the world, highlighting the European Union and its Member States (green).
Political centresBrussels
Official languages
Demonym European[4]
Member States
 -  European Council Herman Van Rompuy
 -  European Commission José Manuel Barroso
 -  European Parliament Martin Schulz
 -  Council of the EU Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Denmark)
 -  High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton
Legislature Legislature of the EU
 -  Upper house Council of the EU
 -  Lower house European Parliament
 -  Paris Treaty 23 July 1952 
 -  Rome Treaty 1 January 1958 
 -  Maastricht Treaty 1 November 1993 
 -  Lisbon Treaty 1 December 2009 
 -  Total 4,324,782 km2 
1,669,807 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 3.08
 -  2011 estimate 502,486,499 [5] 
 -  Density 116.2/km2 
300.9/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2011 estimate
 -  Total $15,788 trillion[6] 
 -  Per capita $31,548[6] 
GDP (nominal) 2011 estimate
 -  Total $17,960 trillion[6] 
 -  Per capita $35,887[7] 
Gini (2010) 30.4[8] (medium
HDI (2011) increase 0.856[9] (very high
Time zone (UTC+0 to +2)
 -  Summer (DST)  (UTC+1 to +3[nb 1])
Internet TLD .eu[nb 2]
Calling code See list

The European Union (French: L' Union européenne/UE) is a confederation of 27 member countries in Europe, formed 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 the same as they do in their own. Seventeen of these countries also share a single currency; the euro (€). 495 million people live in the European Union.

At this point in time, the EU is largely dominated by the interests of capitalist corporations. Measures associated with the euro have seen cuts in welfare, stripped down regulation of business, increased labour flexibility and ease of expansion for multinationals.

However, the European Union has been to the benefit of the proletariat in some areas. A considerable advantage to individuals has been the freedom to travel, live, work, study and retire anywhere in the EU or EEA. It has also enabled market monopolies to be tackled in a way not seen before in Europe, for example with the European Commission’s actions against Microsoft.


Quai d'Orsay (Paris). Robert Schuman gave the speech starting the plan for a European Coal and Steel Community in 1950

After World War II, moves towards European integration were seen by many as an escape from the extreme forms of right-wing nationalism that had laid waste to the continent in the first half of the twentieth century. Instead of creating conflict over natural resouces, the first member countries (West) Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg formed the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952.

In 1957, in the Italian city of Rome, member countries signed a second treaty and created the European Economic Community. This created a trans-national community for coal, steel and for trade. It changed the name to simply the European Community.

In 1993, the Treaty of Maastricht created the European Union. Now the member countries work together not only in politics and economy (coal, steel and trade), but also in financial terms, justice, and foreign affairs. With the Schengen Agreement, 22 member countries of the EU opened their borders to each other, allowing citizens to travel from one country to the other without the need of a passport or identity card. The 2000's saw considerable expansion, with ten new countries becoming members of the EU in 2004 and two more in 2007. Today there are 27 member countries altogether, set to increase to 28 in the next few years after Croatia signed the EU accession treaty in 2011.

On 12 October 2012, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Member states

The European Union is composed of 27 sovereign Member States: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.[10] The Union's membership has grown from the original six founding states—Belgium, France, (then-West) Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands—to the present day 27 by successive enlargements as countries acceded to the treaties and by doing so, pooled their sovereignty in exchange for representation in the institutions.[11] To join the EU a country must meet the Copenhagen criteria, defined at the 1993 Copenhagen European Council. These require a stable democracy that respects human rights and the rule of law; a functioning market economy capable of competition within the EU; and the acceptance of the obligations of membership, including EU law. Evaluation of a country's fulfilment of the criteria is the responsibility of the European Council.[12] No member state has ever left the Union, although Greenland (an autonomous province of Denmark) withdrew in 1985.[13] The Lisbon Treaty now provides a clause dealing with how a member leaves the EU.[14]

Croatia is expected to become the 28th member state of the EU on 1 July 2013 after a referendum on EU membership was approved by Croatian voters on 22 January 2012. The Croatian accession treaty still has to be ratified by all current EU member states.[15]

There are five candidate countries: Iceland, Macedonia,[nb 3] Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey.[16] Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina are officially recognised as potential candidates.[16] Kosovo is also listed as a potential candidate but the European Commission does not list it as an independent country because not all member states recognise it as an independent country separate from Serbia.[17]

Four countries forming the EFTA (that are not EU members) have partly committed to the EU's economy and regulations: Iceland (a candidate country for EU membership), Liechtenstein and Norway, which are a part of the single market through the European Economic Area, and Switzerland, which has similar ties through bilateral treaties.[18][19] The relationships of the European microstates, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican include the use of the euro and other areas of cooperation.[20]

Main institutions

Institutions of the European Union [21][22][23]
Europarl logo.svg
European Parliament

- Legislative (lower house) -

Previous logo of European Council.svg
European Council

- Sets impetus and direction -

Former logo of the European Council and Council of the European Union (2009).svg
Council of the European Union

- Legislative (upper house) -

European Commission Logo.gif
European Commission

- Executive -

European Parliament
Members of the European Council 2011
EU Council room
European Commission building
  • acts together with the Parliament as a legislator
  • exerts together with the Parliament the budgetary power
  • ensures coordination of the broad economic and social policy and sets out guidelines for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)
  • conclude international agreements
  • based in Brussels
  • is the "government"
  • submits proposals for new legislation to the Parliament and to the Council
  • implements EU policy and administers the budget
  • ensures compliance with EU law
  • negotiates international treaties
  • based in Brussels
No image wide.svg Court of Justice of the European Union

- Judiciary -

European Court of Auditors

- Financial auditor -

Logo European Central Bank.svg
European Central Bank

- Monetary executive (central bank) -

No image wide.svg
ECJ room
ECA building
European Central Bank
  • ensure uniformity of interpretation of European law
  • has the power to decide legal disputes between EU member states, EU institutions, businesses and individuals
  • based in Luxembourg
  • shall examine the proper use of revenue and expenditure of the EU institutions
  • based in Luxembourg
  • forms together with the national central banks the European System of Central Banks and thereby determining the monetary policy of the EU
  • ensures price stability in the eurozone by controlling the money supply
  • based in Frankfurt am Main

Council of the European Union

Political system of the European Union

The Council of the European Union is the main decision-making group. The cabinet ministers of the member countries meet (Ministers for Foreign affairs, for Agriculture, for Justice, etc...) and discuss issues that are important to them.

Each member state takes a turn at being President of the Council for six months. For example, from January 2007 until July 2007, Germany held the presidency. The six months before that, 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 for that country.

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 enough countries vote against the decision.

Twice a year, the heads of government (Prime Ministers) and/or the heads of state (Presidents) meet to talk about the main issues and make decisions on different issues. This meeting is different and not as formal. It is known as a European Council.

Note: This is not the same thing as the Council of Europe, which is not part of the European Union.

European Commission

The European Commission runs 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 27 Commissioners, selected by the European Council. The Commission President is appointed by the European Council with the approval of the European Parliament.[24]

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 is the only directly elected body

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.


  1. Not including overseas territories
  2. .eu is representative of the whole of the EU, member states also have their own TLDs
  3. Referred to by the EU as the "former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia".
  1. Barnard, Catherine (August 2007). The Substantive Law of the EU: The four freedoms (2 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 447. . 
  2. United in diversity. Europa (web portal). European Commission. URL accessed on 20 January 2010.
  3. European Parliament: The Legislative Observatory. Europa (web portal). European Commission. URL accessed on 20 January 2010.
  4. The New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edn., Erin McKean (editor), 2051 pages, May 2005, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-517077-6.
  5. Total population as of 1 January. Eurostat. URL accessed on 23 October 2010.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 IMF World Economic Outlook Database, September 2011. International Monetary Fund. URL accessed on 28 January 2012.
  7. Nominal 2011 GDP for the European Union & 2011 population for the European Union, World Economic Outlook Database, September 2011, International Monetary Fund. Accessed on February 13, 2012
  8. Distribution of family income – Gini index. The World Factbook. CIA. URL accessed on 2012-01-28.
  9. Calculated using data from member states. If considered as a single entity, the EU would rank 14th among the other countries.
  10. European Countries. Europa web portal. URL accessed on 18 September 2010.
  11. EU institutions and other bodies. Europa. URL accessed on 4 September 2009.
  12. Accession criteria (Copenhagen criteria). Europa web portal. URL accessed on 26 June 2007.
  13. The Greenland Treaty of 1985. The European Union and Greenland. Greenland Home Rule Government. URL accessed on 10 November 2010.
  14. Article 50 of the Consolidated Treaty on European Union.
  15. "As EU’s luster fades, Croats vote in favor of joining European Union", 22 January 2012. Retrieved on 25 January 2012.  [dead link]
  16. 16.0 16.1 European Commission – Enlargement – Candidate and Potential Candidate Countries. Europa web portal. URL accessed on 13 March 2012.
  17. Enlargement Newsletter. Europa web portal. URL accessed on 3 November 2010.
  18. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named EEA
  19. The EU's relations with Switzerland. Europa web portal. URL accessed on 3 November 2010.
  20. European Commission. Use of the euro in the world. The euro outside the euro area. Europa web portal. URL accessed on 27 February 2008.
  21. Consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union/Title III: Provisions on the Institutions
  22. Institutions: The European Commission. URL accessed on 2007-06-25.
  23. Parliament's powers and procedures. European Parliament. URL accessed on 2007-06-12.
  24. Institutions of the EU: The European Commission. URL accessed on 2007-06-18.
  • Bindi, Federiga, ed. The Foreign Policy of the European Union: Assessing Europe's Role in the World (Brookings Institution Press; 2010) 367 pages; $E.U.'s foreign-policy mechanisms and foreign relations, including with its neighbours.
  • Bomberg, Elizabeth, Peterson, John, and Richard Corbett, eds. ‘The European Union: How Does it Work?’ (3rd ed) (2012, Oxford University Press) ISBN13: 978-0-19-957080-5 and ISBN10: 0-19-957080-9
  • Corbett, Richard; Jacobs, Francis; Shackleton, Michael (2011), 'The European Parliament' (8 ed.), London: John Harper Publishing, , 
  • Craig, Paul; de Búrca, Gráinne (2007). EU Law, Text, Cases and Materials (4th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. . 
  • Kaiser, Wolfram. Christian Democracy and the Origins of European Union (2007)
  • McCormick, John (2007). The European Union: Politics and Policies. Westview Press. . 
  • Pinder, John, and Simon Usherwood. The European Union: A Very Short Introduction (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Rifkin, Jeremy (2004). The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream. Jeremy P. Tarcher. . 
  • Smith, Charles (2007). International Trade and Globalisation, 3rd edition. Stocksfield: Anforme. . 
  • Staab, Andreas. The European Union Explained: Institutions, Actors, Global Impact (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Steiner, Josephine; Woods, Lorna; Twigg-Flesner, Christian (2006). EU Law (9th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. . 
  • Yesilada, Birol A. and David M. Wood. The Emerging European Union (5th ed. 2009)
  • Piris, Jean-Claude (2010). Lisbon Treaty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 448. . 

External links

Overviews and data

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