The European Union (EU) covers a large part of the continent of Europe. In 2004, its membership increases from 15 to 25. When two more countries join in 2007, the EU will have a population of nearly half a billion.
The European Union aims to be a fair and caring society. All EU countries are committed to peace, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, and they work together to promote these values in the wider world.
To become more competitive and prosperous, the EU is creating new and better jobs and giving its citizens new skills. In partnership with its near neighbours, the EU is also working to spread prosperity and democratic progress beyond its borders.
The European Union is built on an institutional system which is the only one of its kind in the world.
The Member States delegate sovereignty for certain matters to independent institutions which represent the interests of the Union as a whole, its member countries and its citizens. The Commission traditionally upholds the interests of the Union as a whole, while each national government is represented within the Council, and the European Parliament is directly elected by citizens. Democracy and the rule of law are therefore the cornerstones of the structure.
This "institutional triangle" of Commission, Council and Parliament is flanked by two more institutions - the Court of Justice and the Court of Auditors - and five other European bodies. In addition thirteen specialised agencies have been set up to handle certain essentially technical, scientific, or management tasks.
The European Union (EU) was set up after the 2nd World War.
The process of European integration was launched on 9 May 1950 when France officially proposed to create 'the first concrete foundation of a European federation'. Six countries (Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) joined from the very beginning. Today, after four waves of accessions (1973: Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom; 1981: Greece; 1986: Spain and Portugal; 1995: Austria, Finland and Sweden; 1 May 2004: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) the EU has 25 Member States and is preparing for the accession of 2 eastern European countries (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007).
The European Union is based on the rule of law and democracy. It is neither a new State replacing existing ones nor is it comparable to other international organisations. Its Member States delegate sovereignty to common institutions representing the interests of the Union as a whole on questions of joint interest. All decisions and procedures are derived from the basic treaties ratified by the Member States.
There are five EU institutions, each playing a specific role:
- European Parliament (elected by the peoples 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 organised 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 citizens' complaints about maladministration by any EU institution or body);
- European Investment Bank (helps achieve EU objectives by financing investment projects).
A number of agencies and bodies complete the system.
1. http://europa.eu.int/index_en.htm - Official website of the European Union.
Formal Name: European Union
Established: 7 February 1992; effective - 1 November 1993