II. The European Union
The European Union (EU) is a group of democratic European countries "committed to working together for peace and prosperity". The European Union attempts to join member nations together in ways similar to the United Nations, but in most ways it is very different than the U.N. The EU actually has common institutions to which member nations delegate some of their sovereignty; in these institutions members make decisions on matters of joint interest (United Nations members do not delegate sovereignty to the U.N.)
Various political thinkers had proposed a union of European states as far back at the eighteenth century, but the horrors of World War Two convinced a larger number of Europeans of the need for such an organization. The idea of a EU was first proposed by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman on May 9, 1950 (May 9 is now annually celebrated as Europe Day). A more detailed history of the EU will follow below.The Institutions of the European Union:
There are five major institutions of the EU. These are:
The Council of the European Union: this body is the main decision-making body of the EU. Ministers from each of the 15 member states (France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg) makes regulations and directives, adopts international agreements for the EU, and coordinates the general economic policies of the fifteen member states. The Presidency of the Council rotates every six months among the ministers of the member states.
The European Parliament: this legislative body provides a democratic forum for debate among member countries. Elections for the European Parliament are held every five years (the next elections will be in 2004). The Parliament can also draft directives and regulations, and most approve the adding of additional countries to the EU. The Parliament also has the power to accept or reject the budget (which is created by the European Commission). There are presently 626 seats in the Parliament.
The European Commission: this is the main driving force and executive body of the European Union. The commission has twenty members: two from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, and one from each of the other member states. The Commission is the most independent of the bodies of the European Union, as commissioners are instructed to represent the interests of the European Community as a whole and not to take instructions from their "home" nations. The Commission insures that directives from the Council of the European Union are carried out, and can bring a case to the EU Court of Justice to insure that the laws of the EU are being carried out.
The Court of Justice: The Court of Justice is located in Luxembourg, and consists of fifteen judges, appointed by the member states. The courts function is to insure that member states comply with the laws of the European Community. The Court of Justice may rule, for example, that a member states has failed to carry out an obligation called for under EU treaties. The Court of Justice also can give an opinion on the correct interpretation of EU treaties or legislation passed by EU legislative bodies.
The Court of Auditors: the body has fifteen members, all appointed for six-year terms by member states. The role of this group is to insure that the financial affairs of the European Union are carried out "in a lawful and regular manner". The court must make a financial report each year. The Court can bring suit in the Court of Justice if it discovers financial impropriety.
Other important bodies of the European Union are the European Central Bank (which manages EU monetary policy and the euro), the European Investment Bank (while finances investment projects of the EU), the European Economic and Social Committee (which expresses the opinions of member states on social and economic issues), the Committee of the Regions (which solicits the opinions of regional and local governmental officials on policies of the EU), and the European Ombudsman (which handles complaints from citizens from member states about any aspect of the EU administration).
The History of the European Union
As stated above, after the horrors of World War I and World War II some in Europe saw the advantages of working together instead of against each other. In 1951 the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was established. Six member countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and West Germany) all agreed to give decision-making authority on coal and steel production in their countries to a independent body called the "High Authority". This process worked very well for the six nations involved, in the mid-1950s they decided to integrate other parts of their economies as well. In 1957 the same six countries all signed the Treaties of Rome, which created the European Atomic Energy Community and the European Economic Community (EEC). Member states soon spoke of creating a genuine "common market" between themselves and removing all trade barriers that hindered this. By 1967 the member states decided to create a single European Parliament and Council of Ministers. Members of the European Parliament were originally appointed by the parliaments of the member states, but in 1979 voters of member states began to vote for candidates to the European Parliament directly.
In the 1970s and 1980s the organization also grew in size. The original six countries were joined by the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland in 1973; Greece joined in 1981, followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986. The present membership of fifteen was completed in 1995 with the addition of Finland, Sweden and Austria. The actual "European Union" was created by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, which also stated that member states would cooperate on matters of mutual security and justice. In the 1990s continued economic and political integration between the member states increased greatly, and common approaches and policies were developed between the member states on both official and unofficial levels. Fifty years earlier very few would have dreamed that by the 1990s the EU would be freely negotiating trade agreements with other nations for all of its members, and would be working to develop a common foreign policy that would project all.
To be fair, resistance to the European Union was expressed by some in almost all of the member states during throughout this entire process. Many in the smaller states were convinced that, ultimately, EU policy would be directed by England, France, and Germany. Some citizens expressed concern about being in any union with Germany. The concept of a truly "common market" was opposed by many, although it was officially instituted in 1992.
Nevertheless, citizens in member states of the EU have generally benefited from membership in the organization. Passports and custom checks were largely eliminated between member states, allowing much greater mobility for citizens of the member states. In 1992 the EU announced support for a common currency, and on January 1, 2002 the euro replaced the national currencies of Germany, Belgium, Spain, Greece, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, the Netherlands, Austria, and Finland. This move was initially applauded by many, but the performance of the euro in world money markets has been mixed. In September of 2003 citizens of Sweden, one of the three member countries that has not adopted the euro, decisively rejected the adoption of it, demonstrating that total solidarity does not exist among citizens of EU member states.
The Goals of the European Union
At many levels, the European Union has been a resounding success. As stated above, the abolition of travel and financial barriers between member states has helped to stimulate business growth and interaction between member states. Europe was torn by war and conflict throughout the twentieth century; many argue that because of the EU it is unthinkable that a major conflict between EU members would ever again break out. Cooperation between law enforcement agencies in member states have done much to tackle the issues of terrorism and drug trafficking in member states. EU countries have also tackled the difficult issues of migration and immigration between member states; the EU maintains that by creating a single market and a single currency the EU has done much to create thousands of new jobs in Europe by stimulating growth.
The European Union has also undertaken large endeavors to fund projects to increase the living conditions in member states, to increase technology, and to decrease pollution and improve the environment in all of the member states. Significant waste disposal projects and significant efforts to put catalytic converters in all cars have been spearheaded by the EU.
Perhaps most significantly, because of all of the benefits almost all countries in Europe want to become members of the European Union. To become a member, a country must "have a stable democracy that guarantees the rule of law, human rights and protection of minorities, and it must have a functioning market economy." Therefore, EU members can argue that the EU has been a driving force in the move toward democracy and the free market across Europe.
There are also critics of the European Union. Some maintain that the economic gains expected from the introduction of a "common market" and the euro have been very slow to arrive. Proponents of the European Union have always stated that this new "government of Europe" would have the will and power to become the "protector of justice" in Europe. However, in trouble spots such as the Balkans the EU seems either unwilling or unable to completely embrace these stated goals. Supporters maintain that the EU is still in a development state, and will continue to expand its role over time.
The Future of the European Union
In 2004 the European Union will be greatly expanding in size, as ten countries from eastern and southern Europe will become members (these include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Cyprus). As noted in the previous section, at this point only part of Cyprus is scheduled to join. It is expected that by 2007 or 2008 that Bulgaria and Romania will become members. Turkey also desires to be a member of the EU, and is starting to meet some of the preconditions for membership.
Whether the European Union can remain an effective body with a large number of new members is a serious question. Many question whether the unanimity of purpose that has existed in most affairs undertaken by the EU can continue with a much larger membership. Others note that some of the countries joining are not nearly as economically strong as most of the states already in the EU; will the goals and efforts of the organization remain the same after 2004? Will the poorer states joining next year "pull down" the European Union? Can the European Union ever actually become the "government of Europe" and be the true arbiter of European political affairs? These are questions that all students of European need to watch as we approach 2004 and beyond.