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European Union

The European Union or EU is an international organisation of European states, established by the Treaty on European Union (the Maastricht treaty). The European Union is the most powerful regional organisation in existence, in some ways resembling a state. Some legal scholars believe that it should not be considered as an international organisation at all, but rather as a sui generis entity.

European Union (names)
(In Detail)
United in diversity (English)
Official languages²
see Languages of the European Union
Español (Spanish),
Dansk (Danish),
Deutsch (German),
Ελληνική; (Greek),
Français (French),
Italiano (Italian),
Nederlands (Dutch),
Português (Portuguese),
Suomi (Finnish )
Svenska (Swedish)
Capital Brussels
President of the European Council Ireland (Prime Minister: Bertie Ahern)
(until June 30, 2004)
President of the European Commission Romano Prodi
President of the European Parliament Pat Cox
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 8th³
3,191,100 km2
xx% / Negligible
 - Total (2003)
 - Density
Ranked 3rd³
 - Declared
 - Recognised
Maastricht treaty
February 7, 1992
November 1, 1993
Currency Euro (EUR)4
Time zone UTC 0 to +2
EU anthem Ode to Joy
Internet TLD.EU.INT, .EU5;
Calling CodesIn zones 3 and 4
(1) Not official, this is the motto proposed in the constitution, see European motto.
(2) Official languages of the Union, not in the Union. Member states set official language(s) in their territories. Some territories have official languages that are not official languages of the Union.
(3) If the EU is counted as a singular country
(4) The Euro is the currency of the Union and of all Member States excluding Denmark (DKK), Sweden (SEK) and the United Kingdom (GBP).
(5) The .eu TLD has been approved by ICANN and the EU, but is not yet active.

Table of contents
1 Current issues
2 Origins
3 Methods
4 History
5 Member states
6 Extension of the EU
7 Economic status
8 Main policies
9 Structure of the European Union
10 See also
11 External links

Current issues

Major issues concerning the European Union at the moment include its enlargement south and east (see below), the European constitution proposed by the Convention, the Union's relationship with the United States of America and participation in the Euro by those member states currently outside the Eurozone.


The original impetus for the founding of (what was later to become) the European Union was the desire to rebuild Europe after the disastrous events of World War II, and to prevent Europe from ever again falling victim to the scourge of war.


To accomplish this aim, the European Union attempts to form infrastructure that crosses state borders. The harmonized standards create a larger, more efficient market, because the member states can form a single customs union without loss of health or safety. For example, states whose people would never agree to eat the same food might still agree on standards for labelling and cleanliness.

The power of the European Union reaches far beyond its borders because to sell within it, it is helpful to conform to its standards. Once a non-member country's factories, farmers and merchants conform to EU standards, most of the costs of joining the union have been sunk. At that point, harmonizing laws to become a full member creates more wealth (by eliminating the customs costs) with only the tiny investment of actually changing the laws. This has led some commentators to compare the EU to a computer virus.


The body was originally known as the European Economic Community (informally called the Common Market in the UK), this later changed to the European Community and then to the European Union. The EU has evolved from a trade body into an economic and political partnership.

For a more detailed history, see the article History of the European Union.

Member states

At present, the European Union comprises 15 member states. In 1950 the six founding members were:

Nine further states have joined in successive waves of enlargement:

Note: In 1990 the European Union territory was effectively enlarged when East and West Germany were united.

EU territories outside Europe

Note: Ceuta, Melilla, Gibraltar and the Åland Islands are in the EU but not the customs union.

All other member states territories not in Europe are not in the EU (and not in the customs union), partial list:

In addition, the British crown dependencies of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man (which are not territories of the United Kingdom) are not in the EU proper, but are included in the customs union.


The European Commission made maps available online [1], [1].

Extension of the EU

The total area of the European Union is 3,235,000 km². Were it a country, it would be the eighth largest in the world by area. The number of EU citizens (all EU member State citizens are EU citizens under the terms of the Maastricht treaty) is approximately 379 million as of October 2001. This is the third largest in the world after India and China.

See Enlargement of the European Union for details of future enlargement.

Economic status

The EU, considered as a unit, has the second largest economy in the world, with a 2002 GDP of 8,447 billion euro, second only to that of the United States (9,239 billion euro, 2002 equivalent). The EU economy is expected to grow further over the next decade as more countries join the union - although the new States are usually poorer than the EU average, and hence GDP per capita over the whole Union will fall over the short-term.

Main policies

The trend has been for political power to shift from the individual states, mostly upwards to the EU but also downwards to the European regions.

Many of these objectives depend on the harmonisation of laws across the member states and so European Union Law is increasingly present in the systems of the member states.

All prospective members must enact legislation in order to bring them into line with the common European legal framework (see also EFTA, EEA and Single European Sky).

Structure of the European Union

The role of the European Community within the Union

In practice, the European Community is simply the old name for the European Union. Legally, however, they must be distinguished. The European Union has no legal personality; it is not an international organisation, but a mere bloc of states. The European Community is one of two international organisations these states are members of -- the other is the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). There was once a third organisation, the European Coal and Steel Community, but it ceased to exist in 2002. These three organisations used to have separate institutions; but in 1961 their institutions were merged, though legally speaking they are still separate organisations (ie: the single Commission acts for EC and Euratom, which are legally separate organisations).

Intergovernmentalism vs. supranationalism

A basic tension exists within the European Union between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism. Intergovernmentalism is a method of decision-making in international organisations where power is possessed by the member-states and decisions are made by unanimity. Independent appointees of the governments or elected representatives have solely advisory or implementational functions. Intergovernmentalism is used by most international organisations today.

An alternative method of decision-making in international organisations is supranationalism. In supranationalism power is held by independent appointed officials or by representatives elected by the legislatures or people of the member states. Member-state governments still have power, but they must share this power with other actors. Furthermore, decisions are made by majority votes, hence it is possible for a member-state to be forced by the other member-states to implement a decision against its will.

Some forces in European Union politics favour the intergovernmental approach, while others favour the supranational path. Supporters of supranationalism argue that it allows integration to proceed at a faster pace than would otherwise be possible. Where decisions must be made by governments acting unanimously, decisions can take years to make, if they are ever made. Supporters of intergovernmentalism argue that supranationalism is a threat to national sovereignty, and to democracy, claiming that only national governments can possess the necessary democratic legitimacy. Intergovernmentalism has historically been favoured by France, and by more Eurosceptic nations such as Britain and Denmark; while more integrationist nations such as Belgium, Germany, and Italy have tended to prefer the supranational approach.

In practice the European Union strikes a balance between two approaches. This balance however is complex, resulting in the often labyrinthine complexity of its decision-making procedures.

Starting in March 2002, a Convention on the Future of Europe will again look at this balance, among other things, and propose changes. These changes could in turn be adopted by an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC).

The Three Pillars

European Union policies are divided into three main areas, called pillars. The first or 'Community' pillar concerns economic, social and environmental policies. The second or 'Common Foreign and Security Policy' (CFSP) pillar concerns foreign policy and military matters. The third or 'Justice and Home Affairs' (JHA) pillar concerns co-operation in the fight against crime.

Within each pillar, a different balance is struck between the supranational and intergovernmental principles. Supranationalism is strongest in the first pillar, while the other two pillars function along more intergovernmental lines. In the CFSP and JHA pillars the powers of the Parliament, Commission and European Court of Justice with respect to the Council are significantly limited, without however being altogether eliminated. The balance struck in the first pillar is frequently referred to as the "community method", since it is that used by the European Community.

Why the three pillars structure?

The pillar structure had its historical origins in the negotiations leading up to the Maastricht treaty. It was desired to add powers to the Community in the areas of foreign policy, security and defence policy, asylum and immigration policy, criminal co-operation, and judicial co-operation.

However, some member-states opposed the addition of these powers to the Community on the grounds that they were too sensitive to national sovereignty for the community method to be used, and that these matters were better handled intergovernmentally. To the extent that at that time the Community dealt with these matters at all, they were being handled intergovernmentally, principally in European Political Co-operation (EPC).

As a result, these additional matters were not included in the European Community; but were tacked on externally to the European Community in the form of two additional 'pillars'. The first additional pillar (Common Foreign and Security Policy, CFSP) deal with foreign policy, security and defence issues, while the second additional pillar (JHA, Justice and Home Affairs), dealt with the remainder.

Recent amendments in the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice have made the additional pillars increasingly supranational. Most important among these has been the transfer of policy on asylum, migration and judicial co-operation in civil matters to the Community pillar, effected by the Amsterdam treaty. Thus the third pillar has been renamed Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters, or PJCC.

The Single Institutional Framework

The three communities, and the three pillars possess a common institutional structure. The European Union has five institutions: There are also two advisory committees to the above institutions, which advise them on economic and social (principally relations between workers and employers) and regional issues: There are also several other bodies to implement particular policies, established either under the treaties or by secondary legislation: Finally the European Ombudsman watches for abuses of power by EU institutions.

See also

External links