THE EUROPEAN UNION

KT 74:The degree to which political power within groupings of nations is centralised or decentralised and the consequences of this.

DM 6.7: The reasons for and consequences of groupings of nations with particular reference to the EU.

·       The European Union is currently made up of 15 countries. They form the largest voluntary and peaceful bloc in the world - with 375 million European citizens.
·       The historical roots of the EU lie in the Second World War. The EU was conceived in the search for a model of European integration which would prevent such killing and destruction from happening again.
·       The idea was first proposed in a speech by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman on 9th May 1950, a date since considered as the birthday of the EU.
·       The EU began as the European Coal and Steel Community, established by the Treaty of Paris in 1951. The EEC was formally established by the Treaty of Rome in 1957.
·       Ever since, co-operation has gradually been expanded and adapted to new challenges according to what a majority of Europeans agree on.
·       The latest changes are covered in the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam.

1957                       Initial six founder members are Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg,  Netherlands,

1973                       Prompted by success of the Six,  Denmark, Eire,The United Kingdom successfully apply for membership.

1981                       EU expands southwards with  Greece

1986                       and then  Spain, Portugal

1995                       The latest entrants to the EU are  Austria,  Finland, weden.

The Institutions of the EU;

(1)  The European Parliament;

·       Democratic voice of the people of Europe.

·       Directly elected every 5 years, the Parliament is made up of 626 MEPs who sit in eight blocs according to political ideology.

·       Principal roles of the Parliament are as follows;

a)                   The examination and approval of European legislation. Parliament and the Council have co-decision option over legislation.

b)                  Approval of the EU budget.

c)                   Exercise of democratic control over other EU institutions, including the power to set up committees of inquiry.

d)                  Agreement clause on important EU decisions, e.g. admittance of new Member States, and trade agreements.

·       European Parliament has parliamentary committees which deal with particular issues, e.g. foreign affairs, budget etc.

·       Parliament also has the power, never used, to dismiss the Commission en bloc, and call for a new one.

(2) The Council of the European Union;

·       Also known as the Council of Ministers.

·       Main legislative and decision making body in the EU.

·       Brings together representatives of the governments of each of the 15 Member States, elected at national level.

·       Is the forum in which government representatives can assert interests and reach compromises.

·       Meets regularly at different levels, from ambassadors to heads of state.

·       Role of the Council;

a)                   Works with the European Parliament to set the rules for the activities of the European Community, the first pillar of the EU.

b)                  Main objective is to establish an internal market and common policies, including the guarantee of the four freedoms of movement - for goods, persons, services and capital.

c)                   Also responsible for intergovernmental co-operation in the areas of common foreign and security policy, and justice and home affairs.

d)                  The principal drive currently is to combat terrorism and drug trafficking.

(3) The European Commission;

·       Consists of 20 men and women, nominated by the member governments in consultation with the incoming President.

·       The President is chosen by the member governments, and must be approved by the European Parliament.

·       The Commission is appointed for a five year term, but can be dismissed en bloc by Parliament.

·       The Commission acts independently of the governments of the Member States.

·       Role of the Commission;

a)                   Does much of the day to day work within the EU.

b)                  Drafts proposals for new laws, which it presents to the European Parliament and Council.

c)                   Looks after the practical execution of EU actions, and of the EU budget.

d)                  Ensures that everyone abides by EU treaties and laws.

(4)  The European Court of Justice;

·       Consists of 15 judges and 9 advocates general, who are appointed by a common accord of the Member States for a renewable term of six years.

·       All must be highly qualified and their independence must be beyond doubt.

·       The judges elect a President from among their number to serve for three years. The President directs the work of the Court and presides at hearings and deliberations.

·       The Court is assisted by advocates general whose task is to deliver independent and impartial opinions on cases brought before it.

·       The Court ensures uniform interpretation of Community Law throughout the Community, by close co-operation with national courts and tribunals through the preliminary ruling procedure.

·       The Court is not a court of appeal from the decisions of national courts, and can only rule on matters of Community Law.

(5)  The European System of Central Banks (ESCB);

·       Composed of the European Central Bank, and the EU National Central Banks.

·       The National Central Banks of the Members not participating in European Monetary Union have a special status; they are allowed to pursue their own monetary policy, and do not take part in the decision making process.

·       Role of the ESCB;

a)                   To define and implement the monetary policy of the Community.

b)                  To conduct foreign exchange operations.

c)                   To hold and manage the official foreign reserves of the Member States.

d)                  To promote the smooth operation of payment systems.

e)                   To advise the Community on matters which fall in to its areas of expertise.

·       The ESCB is an independent system. While it is consulting on ESCB related tasks, no external advice can be sought.

·       The National Central Banks are the sole subscribers to and holders of the capital of the ESCB.

·       The subscription of capital is based upon the shares of GDP and population of the Community in that country.

·       The ESCB is currently endowed with a capital of just under EUR 4 000 million.

The Schengen Agreement;

·       Freedom of movement applies to all, regardless of nationality.

·       Procedures concerning tourist, asylum seekers and legal immigrants from non member countries are standardised throughout the Schengen area.

·       Police continue to operate on their own national territory, in ports and in airports, but they will adopt a different approach. Closer co-operation will make controls at external borders more effective.

·       There are common rules on measures to combat terrorism, smuggling and organised crime. The Agreement also makes provision for co-operation between courts, police forces and government departments.

·       Visas, asylum, immigration and other policies on the freedom of movement of people will be transferred to the Community system.

·       The Council of the Union will replace the Schengen executive committee, and the Court of Justice will be declared the competent authority in these areas.