Winston Churchill took the first step towards a European Union in 1946; he called for a “United States of Europe”. This Union was going to be very strong, and it has developed some very important decisions since 1946. In 1948, the Congress of Europe brought all the European movements together in The Hague. The first really big change that EU accomplished took place in 1950. The Treaty of Rome was signed and that was the beginning of EEC, the European Economic Community.
The Common Market included six countries: Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. These countries decided in 1959 to reduce the customs between them. Another milestone for EU took place in 1979, the European Monetary System (EMS) and the ECU was established. In 1989, 11 members decided to adopt a European Social Charter, they also approved the German reunification. The European Economic Area (EEA) was created in 1991 in one market of 380 million inhabitants. Another huge milestone for EU was the signing of the Maastricht Treaty a total of 12 Foreign Affairs Ministers signed it.
Austria, Finland, and SWEDEN joined EU in 1995. Since 1987, many other countries have applied to join the European Union: Turkey, Cyprus, Malta, Switzerland, and in 1994 Hungary and Poland. Today there is a total of 15 countries in EU. I am going to end this overview with a phrase by Robert Schuman, “Europe will not be built all at once or as a whole. It will come about by concrete achievements, creating first of all de facto solidarity.”
The European council is a very important part of EU when it comes to decision making. It was established in the early 60’s but it took until 1974 before it was named European Councils. This department brings together the Heads of State or Government of the fifteen Member States of the European Union and the President of the European Commission. They meet at least two tomes a year (generally June and December). These meetings are very important; it is always a very big deal for the city hosting the meetings. Their role is described as follows: “The European Council shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political guidelines thereof “.
The European is almost like the heart of EU. Their role is very unique but at the same time, sometimes hard to define. The Commission has transformed the framework into today’s integrated structures. By doing this, citizens and companies have freedom of movement, greater prosperity, and much less red tape. The Commission is working very close with all the other institutions. Their main job is to make sure that the EU can reach their goal that is a closer union of all the members. The free movement of goods, services, capital and persons throughout the territory of the Union is one task that the Commission has. Another one is making sure that the benefits are balanced between the members.
The European Parliament is the only part of EU that meets in public. All their work (debates, opinions and resolutions) can be found in the Official Journal of the European Union. The President is the one who represents the Parliament and takes care of all the chair meetings and conferences. The Bureau is responsible for the budget and for administrative, organizational and staff matters. The members of the Bureau are elected for two-and-a-half years. There are 17 committees that prepare the work for the Parliament. The parliament can also get some help from subcommittees, temporary committees, who takes care of specific tasks.
The Ministers are adopting proposed European directives and regulations during their meetings. The theme of the question decides which ministers that are meeting. If the question concerns education, the 15 ministers of education meet. The European legislative power is in the hands of the 15 ministers. The president of the European Union Council of Ministers comes from the country where the European Council is located.
The ESC (European Economic and Social Committee) can be described as “a key bridge between Europe and civil society”. It is an organization that gives Europe’s economic and social partners the chance to present their opinion on EU. ESC’s role in EU is important since it brings together socio-occupational interest groups that are supposed to be democratic and forward-looking. Their goals are:
- to be more effective,
- to be a part of the European social model, and also to make it more known,
- to make ESC a genuine partner both to other institutions and also to the main European socio-economic organizations.
ESC is known as the consultative body of EU and it is made up by 222 members from different organizations.
The Committee of the Regions (COR) is the newest institution in the EU. The Treaty on European Union set it up, and their first plenary session was held in March 1994. Their main job is to involve regional and local bodies, federal states, towns and cities, and municipalities – in shaping Community policies. The COR has 222 members and the same number of alternates. They meet five times every year in Brussels. After an expansion of the COR’s duties, their position was strengthened.
The Court of Justice was first developed in 1952 and since then, they have handled more than 8,600 cases. In 1978 they had 200 new cases and in 1985 more than 400 cases. Because of all the cases the Court of Justice requested a new judicial body in order to be able to keep up with all the work. A Court of First Instance was set up to strengthened the judicial safeguards and also to make it possible for the Court of Justice to concentrate on its primary task, the interpretation of Community law. The Court of Justice, is the backbone of the system of safeguards.
The European Investment Bank (EIB) is EU’s financial institution. Their goal is to contribute towards the integration, balanced development and economic and social cohesion of the 15 Member Countries. The EIB was created by the Treaty of Rome, and the shareholders are primarily the Member States, and the Board of Governors. In order to receive the support of EIB, projects and programmes must be viable in four areas: economic, technical, environmental and financial. Their number one mission is to further the objectives of the European Union by making long-term finance available for sound investment. They work close to all the others departments in EU and also with other business and banks around Europe.
The European System of Central Banks (ESCB) is defined as the organization that is to maintain price stability. They are supposed to support the general economic policies in the Community with a view that is accepted by the Community. Some of the tasks that the ESCB have to do is:
- define and implement the monetary policy of the Community,
- to conduct foreign exchange operations,
- to promote the smooth operation of payment systems.
The operational framework consists of a set of instruments; “the ESCB will conduct open market operations, it will offer standing facilities and it may require credit institutions to hold minimum reserves on accounts with the ESCB”.
After each election to the Parliament, an Ombudsman (Swedish word) is elected. He/she gets complaints from citizens of the Union usually concerning poor administration by Community institutions or bodies.
The question about the role of national parliaments and how much power they should have, has been discussed a lot and all members are not very pleased the way it works today. In November 1996 Denmark presented a proposal to the European Union concerning national parliaments. They feel that they are not informed enough about what is going on, and they want to be able to state their opinion. Denmark is not the only country that is disappointed; Ireland, Sweden, France and the United Kingdom have all said that they want more power fir their national parliaments.
Denmark proposes that there should be a committee for justice and home affairs. This committee should
- be kept informed about developments in the EU,
- be offered an opportunity to present their opinion,
- must submit an annual status report to the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission.
Sweden has been very critical after joining the Union. They feel that they don’t have anything to say about regulations and internal decisions. I read today (04.18.00) that EU decided that it is now legal to bring in 20 liters of wine. This is something that the Swedish parliament is very upset about. They did get to keep the Swedish snuff though that 25% of the Swedish men “can not” live without. There are limitations on the power of EU but sometimes you wonder if that is true or not.
The rights for citizens in the union is supposed to be same for all people. The treaty of Rome was primarily about outlawing discrimination based on what country your from. The Single Act (1987), the Maastricht (1992), and Amsterdam (1997) treaties are all about the rights for citizens. The United Union has always and will hopefully always be committed to human rights and freedom. The Amsterdam treaty guarantee that the decisions on Human Rights (ECHR) that was made up in Rome in 1950 are followed. One thing the treaty stresses is that EU has the right to take action when it comes to discrimination based on sex, race, ethnic origin, religion, belief, disability, age or sexual discrimination.
EU tries to encourage vocational training and free movement of workers inside the union. This will increase language skills and promote equal opportunity for men and women. There are many different organizations that work towards a more open movement of workers. However, there are a couple of conditions that has to be followed in order for professionals to practice throughout the union.
One policy area that I find interesting is environment. It is always an important topic and the commissioner for this department is Swedish, her name is Margot Wallstrom. Their mission is
- a high level of environmental protection,
- improvement of the quality of life,
- increased environmental efficiency,
- preservation of the rights of future generations to a viable environment,
- ensuring equitable use of our common environmental resources.
In 1992 the EU decided to set up some goals for the year 2000. They wanted to make sure that our ecosystems would continue in the future and also to be able to improve the environment through the Fifth Programme of Policy and Action. Their slogan for this was “Towards Sustainability” and it implies to set longer-term objectives and focuses on a more global approach. Some of the features were: to maintain the overall quality of life, to maintain continuing access to natural resources and to avoid lasting environmental damage. Commissioner Wallstrom says that this far they have been successful but there is along way to walk and this is not a problem that will be solved overnight.