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European Union Basics FAQ #2: General Questions
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EU Basics FAQ: General questions
GENERAL EUROPEAN UNION QUESTIONS
What is the European Union or EU?
+European Union; is the name of the organization for the member countries
that have decided to co-operate on a great number of areas, ranging from a
single market to foreign policy, and from mutual recognition of school
diplomas to exchange of criminal records. This co-operation is in various
forms, officially referred to as three +pillars;:
The [three] European Communities (EC, supranational)
The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP, intergovernmental)
The Co-operation in the Fields of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA,
The Conservative government of the UK decided not to take part in
co-operation on social matters, which was designed to be part of the revised
EEC Treaty (and thus of the first pillar). All other member states then
decided to include this co-operation in a separate Social Chapter, or
rather a separate social protocol, added to the Maastricht Treaty, and which
is not applicable to the UK. As such, this area could now be considered a
fourth pillar, although most observers still consider it part of the first
pillar as it is a supranational form of cooperation. Note: The UK Labour
party has repeatedly promised to remove the British opt-out to the Social
Chapter if it gets elected.
Quick guide to EU legislation
EU legislation is known for its complexities and subtleties. The following
+Quick guide to EU legislation;, however, gives a good overview of the main
instruments used. It has been provided to us by Kevin Coates.
+All legislation is concluded by some combination of:
European Commission (makes proposals and oversees the process)
European Parliament and
Council of Ministers (ie the representatives of the Member States and
by far the most important)
MAIN TYPES OF LEGISLATION:
Regulations These are effectively equivalent to statutes in the UK
- ie they are effective as law without any further
intervention/action on the part of the Member States.
These are +binding as to the result to be achieved; - ie they should state
the goal/end-state that is aimed at, but leave the
Member States with some discretion as to how to
achieve it. The amount of discretion varies greatly.
One of the reasons for the use of directives is that
it is believed that the different Member States would
need to approach the same problems in different ways
because of the differences in their legal systems.
Because directives need to be +transposed; into national law (ie national
legislation must be passed to implement the goals of
the directive) a time limit is provided in the
directive by which time the directive must have been
implemented. Some cynical people who look closely at
directives believe that increasingly directives have
been used in circumstances where the Member States
simply want to avoid a particular piece of legislation
coming into force - ie there is no real question of
needing to implement it in a particular way, but the
Member States want to take advantage of the time for
transposition. Because the Member States must
transpose the directives, they obviously have a
certain measure of discretion as to how this is done.
Decisions Made by the Council. They are also usually compromises
(the details of which are not made public), and this
is where such +hidden agreements; come into play as
the Council decision consists of the (public) text of
the Directive PLUS the hidden terms/agreements.;
Is the EU a superstate or a voluntary association between sovereign states?
The existence of the three pillars mentioned above shows that the answer
to the above question is not very simple. To understand how the EU can be
classified as a political entity, it is first necessary to understand the
difference between two kinds of political integration/cooperation between
Supranationalists want to see European cooperation
evolve into a real European government which has real
(if perhaps limited) powers and is directly
accountable to voters across the European Union. They
are usually in favour of increasing the powers of the
+supranational; institutions (European Parliament,
European Commission, European Court of Justice)
at the expense of the intergovernmental institutions
(Council of Ministers, European Council).
Supranationalists can be subdivided into two main
Federalists want to see a political system in which everylevel of government
(local, regional, national and European) has real
political power, and is relatively independent from
other levels of government (especially the ones
above). They feel that responsibility for a certain
area of policy should rest with the lowest level of
government appropriate to deal with this area (also
called the principle of subsidiarity).
To counter the centralising tendencies of higher levels of government, most
federalists argue that the executives of national and
European levels of government should be accountable to
a double chamber parliament: one chamber consisting of
directly elected representatives of the people, the
other of appointed representatives of lower level
governments. The idea is that there should be a power
equilibrium between the two chambers.
Euro-nationalists would like to see a political system in which the European
level of government becomes the primary level of
government in a European superstate. All other levels
of government would have derived powers only, just
like most regional and local governments have derived
powers in centralized nation states such as Britain,
the Netherlands and Denmark.
Euro-nationalist are usually against the idea of a double chamber parliament
at higher levels of government, as they think that the
executive should only be accountable towards the
directly elected representatives of the European
people (or +nation;).
Euro-nationalists are quite rare these days: a very high percentage of
supranationalists are thought to be federalists (if
The first pillar of the European Union is mostly built on supranational
(federalist) principles. There is a European executive
which is accountable towards a double chamber
parliament, even if the chamber representing the
national governments is much more powerful than the
chamber representing the people. There is also a
European Court of Justice whose rulings have
precedence over national courts and governments.
When did the EU come into being?
The European Union as an umbrella organisation has come into existence only
in November 1993, after the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. Its
constituent organisations were founded/organised as below:
1952 The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was
established by the Treaty of Paris (1951).
1954 The European Defence Community (EDC) Treaty, signed in
Paris (1952) and ratified by all five other ECSC
member states, was vetoed by a majority of left-wing
and right-wing radicals in the French Assemblie
(Augus 30th). The Treaty had provided for a European
army, a common budget and common institutions, among
which a directly elected Common Assembly and for this
Assembly to study ways of creating a federal
organisation with a clear separation of powers and a
bicameral parliament. The French veto against the EDC
Treaty also meant the end of the draft Treaty
establishing a Political Community, approved by the
ECSC Assembly on 10 March 1953.
1958 The European Economic Community (EEC) and the European
Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) were established by
the twoTreaties of Rome (1957).
1967 The institutions of the ECSC, EEC and Euratom were
merged, with a single European Commission replacing
the ECSC High Authority, EEC Commission, Euratom
Commission. A single +European Parliament; (though
officially still called the European Parliamentary
Assembly) replaced the three virtual Assemblies of the
Communities, too, although the members of these
Assemblies had always been the same people acting in
different capacities on different matters.
1979 For the first time, Members of the European Parliament
were elected directly by the people of all Member
states (June 7-10).
1987 The Single European Act of 1987 provided the
implementation provisions for the Single European
Market, and it codified agreement on majority
voting in the Council on a range of questions. It
also formally codified the European Co-ordination in
the Sphere of Foreign Policy, which was known as
European Political Cooperation and dating back to the
1970 Davignon report.
1993 The European Union was established by the Maastricht
Treaty which came into force in November 1993. It
created an explicit three-pillar structure with a new
Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) replacing
the Single Act provisions in this field, and codifying
the Co-operation in the field of Justice and Home
Affairs (JHA). It also reexpanded the scope of the
EEC, to include provisions for an Economic and
Monetary Union with a single European currency from
the end of the century onwards, and it re-baptised the
EEC to simply European Community (EC).
1996 The Maastricht Treaty requires that +a conference of
representatives of the governments of the Member
States shall be convened in 1996 to examine those
provisions of the Treaty for which revision is
provided;. Martin Westlake writes that:
+[...] provisions subject to review include the scope of the new co
-decision procedure, the Common Foreign and Security Policy, defence,
the classification and hierarchy of Community Acts and the +pillar;
structure introduced by the Maastricht Treaty, although few suppose t
hat the 1996 inter-governmental conference will restrict its consider
ations to those areas alone.;
What countries are members of the EU?
The EU now consists of 15 member states. Its original membership of six was
gradually enlarged as follows:
From 1952 (original ECSC membership):
Germany (DE), the 5 new Ldnder of the former GDR joined in 1991;
From 1973 (first enlargement):
Republic of Ireland (IE);
United Kingdom (GB);
[Norwegians rejected membership];
From 1981 (second enlargement):
From 1986 (third enlargement):
From 1995 (fourth enlargement):
[Norwegians rejected membership again].
It is generally expected that after the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference is
finalised, new enlargement negotiations will take off with some other
countries. Turkey, Malta, Cyprus, Hungary and Poland have all applied for
membership officially; other countries (especially former direct or
indirect members of the +Comecon and Warszaw Pact;) may soon follow.
In preparation for this, Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and
Slovakia are invited to one meeting of the European Council every year,
although it has been made clear that this does not automatically mean that
all countries will be invited as new candidate members.Tanel Tammet
notes that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will sign similar agreements in the
first half of 1995.
Which are the languages of the EU?
Like most international organisations, the EU has two sorts of languages:
official languages and working languages. Official languages are used for
official public documents, especially those with legal value. Working
languages are the languages used internally. Sometimes there is also talk of
treaty languages: these are said to be official languages in which only
basic legal texts are translated, and not all official public documents with
legal value. Since EU legislation is directly applicable in national law,
all languages with official legal status in one or more of the member states
should be official EU languages as well. This means that there are now
eleven official EU languages:
German (88.8 million inhabitants of linguistic area*: in Germany,
Austria, Belgium, Italy and Luxembourg)
French (63.3 million, in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy)
English (60.0 million, in UK and Republic of Ireland)
Italian (56.4 million, in Italy)
Spanish (39.2 million, in Spain)
Dutch (21.1 million, in the Netherlands and Belgium)
Greek (10.3 million, in Greece)
Portuguese (9.8 million, in Portugal)
Swedish (9.0 million, in Sweden and Finland)
Danish (5.2 million, in Denmark)
Finnish (4.7 million, in Finland).
Every member state has decided for itself what language(s) to make official
EU languages; thus, these figures do not take into account recognised
+minority; languages such as Catalan and Frisian, nor of officially
recognised national languages such as irish (which is only a treaty
language, not an official language) and Letzebuergesch (which has been
recognised as a national language only in 1983).
Council members have never been able to agree on a limit to the number of
working languages within the institutions. All official languages are
considered equal in every way. It should be noted though that, in practice,
some languages are more equal than others. The Commission has limited much
of its internal translations to French, English and German; some informal
meetings do not have interpreters at all and are conducted in English
entirely. Nick Bernard says the Court of Justice uses French as an
internal working language. According to Bart Schelfhout, this is due to
the fact that French is far more considered a juristic language (precision
and vocabulary) than is English
EU interpretation services have already noted that the current expansion to
eleven working languages will already be virtually unworkable; an expansion
to sixteen or more (with some former Eastern Bloc countries joining) will be
technically impossible. It is therefore to be expected, in my view, that the
number of working languages will be limited to three (English, French and
German) or five (with Italian and Spanish), if only for passive use
(languages to translate into)
Still, Marc Bonnaud notes that
+The EU Coucil of Ministers of 12 June 95 has not only reaffirmed i
ts firm attachment to Linguistic Diversity , it has also decided to
setup a commission to check that all the Institutions respect this,
and first of all, those concerned with the +information society; (DG
XIII which violates daily the founding treaties and the regulation #
1 of the Commission). The Commission has been invited to make yearly
reports on the application of these decisions. [...] I expect these
decisions to be included one way or another in the revised Treaty.;
Carsten Quell of the Freie Universitdt Berlin has done extensive
research on this topic.
How come the flag has only twelve stars?
Questions that concern the European flag keep recurring. Especially since
the enlargement of the EU from twelve to fifteen member states, people are
wondering why there are still only twelve stars on the flag. The short
answer is mainly that the number of stars was never intended to correspond
to the number of member states; both just happened to be twelve between 1986
and 1994. [IMAGE]
The flag with twelve gold stars in a circle on a blue background was
originally designed for the Council of Europe, founded in 1949. One of
the founding members of this organisation was the country of Saarland, which
had been part of Germany only since 1935, but was occupied by the French
after World War II. At the time of the foundation of the Council of Europe,
it was not at all clear whether Saarland (which was in the French zone of
the allied occupation forces) would retain its international status under
the custody of the United Nations, become part of France or rejoin Germany
[it finally chose the latter in a 1955 referendum].
To reconcile any possible differences over the sovereignty of Saarland, the
founding members of the Council of Europe decided not to have a number of
stars corresponding to the disputed number of founding states. Rather, the
number of twelve stars was chosen to be a symbol of completeness and of
unity, as it corresponded to the number of stars in the zodiac, the number
of months in the year and (for the purpose of winning over Christians) to
the number of Jesus's apostles. Thus the flag of the Council of Europe still
consists of twelve stars, even though it has over thirty members now.
The then European Communities +borrowed; the flag of the European Council
only in 1986, after its enlargement to twelve members. Thus, as far as the
European Communities are concerned, there was indeed a (coincidental)
correspondence between the number of member states and the number of stars
in the flag. Still the enlargement of the EU to fifteen member states has
provoked no changes in the number of stars on the flag; therefore, it must
be concluded that the number of twelve on both the Council of Europe's flag
and the flag of the European Union retains it symbolic value of completeness
and unity, rather than of the number of members.
Edited by Roland Siebelink & Bart Schelfhout
corrections and suggestions welcome.
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