• The European Union (EU) is an association of 27 European countries
• It began in 1951 as the European Coal and Steel Community involving Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany
• It gradually grew, becoming the European Union in 1993 and included economic, foreign policy and police cooperation
• In 1999 the Euro currency was born which is today used by 16 countries
• The EU has 4 main institutions – a Parliament, a Council, a Commission and a Court of Justice
• In November 2009 the organisation completed the process of agreeing on a new constitution created by the Lisbon Treaty
• The EU’s many benefits include open travel, work and study, and consistent economic cooperation and rules for conducting business between member countries
• It is criticised for financially supporting mainly French farmers, which makes trade for poor farmers in developing countries extremely difficult
• To become a member country of the EU, you must become a candidate country and undergo a test process which takes years and sometimes decades
The European Union (EU) is an association of 27 European countries with its own flag and anthem.
Its objective is the economical and political integration of all members to create one giant business market and political force on the world stage.
From the European Coal and Steel Community to the European Union
The EU began in 1951 as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), and included Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. The idea was to start European integration with these two key resources as the symbol.
It became the European Economic Community (EEC), or ‘Common Market’ in 1957. Membership grew to 12 by 1986 with the additions of Denmark, Ireland, UK, Greece, Portugal and Spain.
In 1993, the EEC became the European Union and branched out beyond merely economic ideals. The ‘three pillars’ were formed. These pillars created cooperation in the following areas:
- economic, social and environmental issues
- foreign policy and military aspects
- police and judicial matters
In 1995, Austria, Finland and Sweden became members and in early 1999 the Central Bank was created and the Euro currency was born.
In an historic moment, 10 Eastern European countries joined on May 1, 2004: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
In 2007, Bulgaria and Romania became the 26th and 27th members.
The current institutions
There are four main institutions in the EU:
- The Parliament for approving law and budgets
- The Council for ministerial decisions
- The Commission for drafting law and running the organisation
- The Court of Justice
The fifth smaller institution is the Court of Auditors.
The Constitution project
The EU has just completed a major change to its constitution, the document that defines the organisation. Any change must be approved by all member states’ populations.
The first new constitution was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005. After trying again, the Lisbon Treaty was presented and signed in December 2007.
The Lisbon Treaty was finally approved in November 2009 by all 27 member states, after Ireland voted 'yes' in a second referendum, and the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic also gave it the thumbs up.
It has modified the constitution by improving, among other things, the Parliament’s rule, making the organisation more efficient, and giving the EU a bigger presence on the world stage.
Benefits and criticisms
For EU citizens, the benefits of the EU include open borders for work, travel and study.
But by far the most benefits are economic:
- better financial assistance to grow the wealth of Europe and its people
- investment in infrastructure
- a European Central Bank
- a single currency (the Euro) used by 16 member states that comprise the ‘euro-zone.’
On the other hand, the EU has its critics. The overwhelming majority of criticism is directed at the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a highly contentious system of agricultural subsidies.
It represents no less than 48% of the EU’s budget (almost €50 billion). The CAP subsidises the production from farmers, mainly French. It does so on the basis that the EU must not depend on outsiders for food.
This makes it nearly impossible for farmers from poor countries to sell food in the EU market resulting in further poverty.
In fact, OECD (‘wealthy’) countries spend far more in agricultural subsidies to their own farmers than they do on total aid to poor countries.
Other criticisms of the EU include a slow and bureaucratic administration, interference with member states’ sovereignty, and cheap labour from poorer EU countries bringing down the wages in wealthier countries.
Countries wanting to join the EU hope to become wealthier through economic assistance.
Countries like Spain, Portugal and Greece have improved tremendously since they joined. But furthermore, the symbolic aspect also exists, in terms of joining a family.
Each member state and the European Parliament must agree to the new country and integration usually takes years, sometimes decades.
The current candidate countries are Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey.
Applications for Albania, Iceland and Montenegro are under consideration, though they do not yet have the status of ‘candidates’.
EU members are: 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.Back