The European Union (EU) is a family of democratic European countries, committed to working together for peace and prosperity. It is not a state intended to replace existing states, but it is more than any other international organization. The EU is, in fact, unique. Its member states have set up common institutions to which they delegate some of their sovereignty so that decisions on specific matters of joint interest can be made democratically at European level.
This pooling of sovereignty is also called “European integration”. The historical roots of the European Union lie in the World War II. The idea of European integration was conceived to prevent such killing and destruction from ever happening again. It was first proposed by the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman in a speech on May, 9, 1950. This date, the “birthday” of what is now the EU, is celebrated annually as Europe Day.
There are five EU institutions, each playing a specific role: European Parliament (elected by the people of the member states); Council of the European Union (representing the governments of the member states); European Commission (Driving force and executive body); Court of Justice (ensuring compliance with the law); Court of Auditors (controlling sound and lawful management of the EU budget). These are flanked by five other important bodies:
European Economic and Social Committee (Expresses the opinions of organized civil society on economic and social issues); Committee of the Regions (expresses the opinions of regional and local authorities); European Central Bank (responsible for monetary policy and managing the euro); European Ombudsman (deals with citizen’ complaints about maladministration by any EU institution or body); European Investment Bank (helps achieve EU institution or financing investment projects); A number of agencies and other bodies complete the system.
The rule of law is fundamental to the European Union. All EU decisions and procedures are based on the treaties, which are agreed by all the EU countries. Initially, the EU consisted of just six countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined in 1973, Greece in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986, Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995. In 2004 the biggest over enlargement took place with 10 new countries joining.
In the early years, much of the cooperation between EU countries was about trade and the economy, but now the EU also deals with many other subjects of direct importance for our everyday life, such as citizens; rights; ensuring freedom, security and justice; job creation; regional development; environmental protection; making globalization work for everyone. The European Union has delivered half a century of stability, peace and prosperity. It has helped raise living standards, built a single Europe-wide market, launched then in the world.
Unity in diversity: Europe is a continent with many different traditions and languages, but also with shared values. The EU defends promoting unity while preserving diversity and ensuring that decisions are taken as close as possible to the citizens. In the increasingly interdependent world of the 21st century, it will be even more necessary for every European citizen to cooperate with people from other countries in a spirit of curiosity, tolerance and solidarity. The freedom European Union citizens enjoy to travel, work and live anywhere in the EU can easily be taken for granted.
To benefit fully from this right, people need to lead their lives and go about their business in security and safety. They must be protected against international crime and enjoy equal access to justice and respect for their fundamental rights across the Union. This is why the EU is creating an area of freedom, security and justice. The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council brings together justice ministers and interior ministers about once every two months to discuss the development and implementation of cooperation and common policies in this sector.
The creation of an area of freedom, security and justice, is a key aim of the EU Treaty. Member states began to cooperate in the area of justice and home affairs in the mid-1070s on an informal, intergovernmental basis outside the community frame work. In 1990, Germany, France and the Benelux countries signed the Schengen Agreement, which was an important step towards cooperation among the member states in this area. In the following years, several member states acceded to the Schengen Agreement.
The aim of the agreement was to introduce genuine freedom of movement of persons without being controlled at internal borders, while providing for flanking measures in the fields of external border controls, visa policy, police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. The Treaty on European Union, which entered into force in November 1983, took a further step by incorporating justice and home affairs in its institutional framework, thereby adding a further dimension to the construction of Europe.
The entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty in May 1999 incorporated the Schengen rules into the institutional framework of the European Union. One of the main objectives of the Treaty is to maintain and develop the Union as an area of freedom, security and justice , in which there would be free movement for persons combined with suitable measures pertaining to the control of external borders, asylum, immigration, as well as the prevention and combating of crime.
It should be noted that Denmark, the United Kingdom and Ireland do not participate fully in a number of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA)- matters or participate under certain conditions. In particular, the United Kingdom and Ireland do not take part in the Schengen rules of free movement of persons, external border controls and visa policy. The representatives of these states, therefore, do not vote on these matters in the council. Protecting the environment is essential for the quality of life of current and future generations.
The challenge is to combine this with continuing economic growth in a way which is sustainable over the long term. European Union environment policy is based on the belief that high environmental standards stimulate innovation and business opportunities. The European union is the world’s biggest trader, accounting for 20% of global imports and exports. Free trade among its members underpinned the successful launch nearly 50 years ago of the EU. The Union is, therefore, a leading player in efforts to liberalize world trade for the mutual benefit of rich and poor countries alike.
Although the European Union is one of the richest parts of the world, there are striking internal disparities of income and opportunity between its regions. The entry of 10 new member countries in May 2004, whose incomes are well below the EU average, has widened these gaps. Regional policy transfer resources from affluent to poorer regions. It is both an instrument of financial solidarity and a powerful force for economic integration. The social policy agenda, a programming instrument covering the period from 2000 to 2005, reached its midpoint in 2003.
To take account of changes in society and the labour market, and in view of the forthcoming enlargement, a mid-term review of the agenda was conducted and appropriate changes were made to the strategy. Also in 2003, the European Union formulated a simplified and more effective European employment strategy, based on a streamlined approach to the employment guidelines. Moreover, with a view to reinforcing the social dimension of the Lisbon strategy, the Commission adopted a communication seeking to streamline policy coordination processes in various area of social protection (inclusion, pensions, healthcare, employment incentives).
As further part of the modernization of social protection systems, it set about introducing a common model for a health insurance card, and supported the member states in their efforts to reform social protection system. Then there is another important body of EU which is called the European Commission. The European Commission does a lot of the European laws, which it presents to the European Parliament and the Council. The Commission makes sure that EU decisions are properly implemented and supervises the way EU funds are spent.
It also keeps an eye out to see that everyone abides by the European treaties and European law. The European Commission consists of a college of Commissioners, one from each member state. It has twent-seven members and one president. The president is chosen by the governments of the EU member states and must be approved by the European Parliament. The other members are nominated by the member governments in consultation with the incoming president and must also be accepted by parliament. The commissions appointed for a five year term, but it can be dismissed by parliament.
The commission acts independently of the governments of the member states. Many, but not all, of its staff works in Brussels, Belgium. Jose Manuel Barraso heads the EU executive as president of the European Commission. Another important body is the European Central Bank. The European Central bank is in charge of the single currency, the Euro. The ban independently manages European monetary policy deciding, for example, how high interest rates should be. The bank’s main objective is to ensure price stability, so that the European economy will both be damaged by inflation.
But the monetary policy also supports other political objectives decided in the EU. The European Central Bank is based in Frankfurt in Germany. It is managed by a president and an executive board in close cooperation with the national central banks of the EU countries. The bank lends money for investment projects of European interest, in particular projects that benefit less well-off regions. It schemes, and (via partner banks) investment by small businesses (SMEs) that helps create jobs and growth.
Loans also support the union’s enlargement process ant its development aid policy. The bank is based in Luxembourg and raises its funds on the capital markets. As a non-profit organization it is able to lend on favourable terms. Ranging from employers to trade unions and from consumers to ecologists of the Economic and Social Committee represent all of the most important interest groups in the EU. It is an advisory body and has to give its opinion on important aspects of new EU initiatives. This is part the common European tradition of involving civil society in political life.
Many decisions taken in the EU have direct implications at the local and regional level. Through the Committee of the Regions, local and regional authorities are consulted before the EU takes decisions in fields such as education, health, employment or transport. EU has done wonders since its incorporation. The details of its valuable functions are as follows: The euro is the name of the single European currency that was put into circulation on January 1, 2002. The euro has replaced the old national currencies in 23 European Union countries.
Having a single currency makes it easier to travel and to compare prices and it provides a stable environment for European business stimulating growth and competitiveness. You can travel, study and work wherever you want in the 28 member states, if you are a EU citizen. The EU is working constantly to give its citizens greater freedom of movement as a fundamental right and to get rid of all discrimination based on nationality. In most of the EU you can travel without carrying a passport and without being stopped for checks at the borders.
With very few exceptions, you may buy anything you want anywhere and take it all back home with you. War between EU countries is now unthinkable, thanks to the unity that has been built up between then over the last 50 years. Given this success, the EU is now increasingly involved in preserving peace and creating stability in neighboring countries. The European Union wants to prevent conflicts. The EU is the biggest donor of financial assistance to troubled places in the world. It is active in peacekeeping and peacemaking actions, and its runs many projects that help make human rights and democracy succeed in practical terms.
We all want safety and security in our lives. Some of the unrest that might threaten everyday life in our local neighborhood has international roots, and European countries are making a joint effort to tackle these problems. They include international terrorism, drug trafficking and abuse, trafficking in human beings and the illegal exploitation of foreign women for prostitution. The EU countries are determined to fight these evils by adopting common rules and through cooperation between their police, customs and law courts.
Safeguarding employment in Europe and creating new jobs in one of the European Union’s key tasks. European industry will not be able to provide more jobs unless the economic conditions are right. And the right conditions are exactly what the union is working to achieve. By creating a frontier free single market and a single currency, the euro, the EU has already given a significant boost to trade and employment in Europe. It has an agreed strategy for stimulating growth and generating more and better jobs. Tomorrow’s jobs will be created through research, training and better jobs.
Tomorrow’s jobs will be entrepreneurship, adaptability to new working methods and equal opportunities for everybody. A third of the entire EU budget is taken up by the Structural Funds which promote growth and jobs in less well of regions, in order to ensure that wealth in Europe is more evenly distributed. In a world of rapid technological change, the EU is increasingly active in helping European research to achieve scientific excellence. In a variety of sectors covering the whole spectrum of modern technology, the EU finances projects undertaken by research centers, universities and industry.
The emphasis is on putting research and innovation to work for precise socioeconomic objectives, such as job creation and improved quality of life. Pollution has no respect for national frontiers. That is why the European Union has a special role to play in environmental protection. Many environmental problems in Europe could not be tackled without joint action by all EU countries. The EU has adopted over 200 environmental protection directives that are applied in all member states. Most of the directives are designed to prevent air and water pollution and encourage waste disposal.
In order to become a member of the EU, a country must have a stable democracy that guarantees the rule of law, human rights and protection of minorities, and it must have a functioning market economy as well as a civil substantial financial assistance and advice to help the candidate countries prepare themselves for membership. This is the part where I tell you what I’ve learned, my conclusion, and my opinion. So here it is: I believe that within the European Union, each citizen has a voice and that is the only way to change things, to secure peace between all the European member states and bring them together as equals, without taking away our diversity and different cultures. I believe the globalization can bring economic benefits for all countries in the world-trade. It gives the possibility to move any citizen to another country to find a job or study abroad.
This leads to the tightening of the cultural bonds within Europe. The common currency, the Euro, would protect us against hyperinflation and instability of the monetary market. Furthermore the increased trade is most likely to boost world growth to everybody’s advantage. It improves our political stability, human rights and peace. And I believe we are well upon our way.