The European Union while being one of the most important unions in the world today, holds a history of more then 50 years. Everything starts in the not so distant 1957 when Belgium, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Western Germany and Luxembourg sign the Treaty of Rome, which establishes the European Economic Community (EEC) and European Atomic Energy Community, thus removing trade barriers between them and creating a common market. Since then, the Community starts more and more enlarging, to 1981, when Greece joins, since the EEC is not only for promoting economic and political values, but also for promoting peace and security. In 1986, when Portugal and Spain, join the Community emphasizes to promote the four freedoms: free movement of goods, services, people and capital. 1992 marks the Treaty of Maastricht, officially creating the European Union, introducing new forms of cooperation between the governments of Member States’ like defense, justice, home affairs, etc. Since then steps are taken to create a single currency managed by a European Central Bank, which becomes a reality on January 1, 2002, when 12 of the 15 members adopt the currency. 2001 marks the Treaty of Nice, which introduces reforms to the institutions of the EU, preparing them for the expansions of 2004 and of 2007 join. Efforts from 2004 are made to adopt a common Constitution, which fails in 2006 when France and the Netherlands resign. A step towards such a constitution, is the recently signed treaty of Lisbon, which introduces more democratic and transparent Europe, where the European Parliament, national parliaments and the citizen plays a bigger role. It strives to improve the efficiency of Europe, its values, rights, freedoms, solidarity and security, but at the same time for the first time introduces a clause which allows Member States to resign their membership. It also aims to make the EU an actor on the global stage.
A complex institution like the EU is complexly run. Behind it stand three institutions, who work in unison. The European Parliament represents the citizens of the EU its members are chosen through universal suffrage and are proportional to the size of the country, all adding up to 785, serving for five years. The President serves for only 2,5 years. The members can belong to any of seven parties, which are non-regional, but arranged from right to left in orientation. The Parliament is then made of 20 committees, who work in different EU topics, and 34 delegations which interact with countries outside of the EU.
The institution with the highest influence is the European Council which represents the governments of the Member States and is made up of different ministers in different configurations. There is no single president, rather there is a rotating presidency of six months undertaken by a whole government to influence the direction of the EU. Nevertheless, every three presidencies work together; right now the presidency is in Slovenia. The last institution is the European Commission, which proposes legislation, implements decisions and upholds the Union’s treaties and the general day-to-day running of the EU. It, so to say, monitors the Council and Parliament and makes sure directives and regulations are executed. It is made of 27 Commissions with a Commissioner from each Member State.
The importance of the European Union grows every day, as the EU gains importance and becomes an even more global player, ensuring the quality of life of its citizens.
Mission of the EU
These are the five big things the EU has set out to do:
1. Promote economic and social progress.
Help people earn enough money and get treated fairly.
2. Speak for the European Union on the international scene.
By working as a group the EU hopes that Europe will be listened to more by other countries.
3. Introduce European citizenship.
Anyone from a member state is a citizen of the EU and gets four special rights.
4. Develop Europe as an area of freedom, security and justice.
Help Europeans to live in safety, without the threat of war.
5. Maintain and build on established EU law.
Make laws that protect people’s rights in the member countries.
The Institutions of the European Union
When speaking about the organization, structure and institutions behind the European Union (EU), one has to understand that those represent, organize and govern over 450 million people, in 27 countries, in an area of over 4.3 million square kilometers of land which holds history of some 3000 years. Just as a comparison, the United States of America, a union which could be used as a role model for its functionality as such, consists of 300 million people, living in 51 states on almost 10 million square kilometers of land which holds a known history of a little more than 300 years. Therefore, the EU deals with almost twice as much people on over twice as less amount of land. The history books on Europe hold on their pages the blood of wars and rivalry which has been going on since forever until the time of the EU, which aims to unite those peoples and countries and promote peace and economic stability. Citizens of the EU speak 23 languages and, hence, especially when comparing them to the Americans, it is rather difficult to navigate the administration of the Union of 27 European countries. In conclusion, one must say that the institutions of the EU are really successful, bearing in mind the circumstances, but a great amount of criticism can be and will be expected.
Another point important to mention in the introduction is that this section, since it is limited in space, will cover only briefly the institutions, but readers are invited to broaden their perspective at www.europa.eu.
The institutions of the EU create a governing triangle and function in unison. The three main institutions are:
The European Parliament which represents the people of the EU and its members are elected through universal suffrage
The European Council which represents the governments of EU states; its members are ministers of the countries
The European Commission – a body independent of EU governments that upholds the collective European interest
The European Parliament
The European Parliament (EP) is the only of the three supranational institutions, whose members are democratically elected by the people of the EU through universal suffrage; hence it is the institution that represents the people. Each term of the Parliament lasts five years.
The current President of the EP is Hans-Gert Pottering since 16 January 2007. The President is elected for a term of 2.5 years and apart from representing the EP with the outside world he oversees the work of the Parliament and its constituent bodies through the assistance of the 14 Vice-Presidents. Debates in the plenary are also coordinated and at the beginning of every European Council meeting he sets out the Parliament’s point of view. The EP President and the Council President both sign all legislative acts. This is a part of the Council/Parliament co-decision.
The European Council, the strongest political unit in the EU, is made up of the ministers of the member countries. It holds a rotating presidency, meaning that each EU-state holds presidency for six months. There is no single president as well, but rather that role is undertaken by a whole government in order to influence the direction of the EU policy for their term. Nevertheless, every three presidencies work together and there is a Secretary General Javier Solana. The Council meets in nine different configurations depending on the subjects upon discussions.
The European Commission can be said to be the executive branch of the EU. It proposes legislation, implements decisions and upholds the Union’s treaties and the general day-to-day running of the EU. Since 2004, the Commission’s President is Jose Manuel Barroso. The President is chosen by the Council following the criteria: the latest parliamentary elections, candidate’s political influence, area where candidate comes from and others, including that the candidate is fluent in French.
The European Commission functions as a cabinet government with 27 commissions, each led by a commissioner from each EU country, among whom five Vice-Presidents.
The Function of the European Union
The point of all the institutions working for and in the EU is to realize the ultimate goals of European Union, such as peace and stability, bringing Europe together again, safety and security, identity and diversity in a globalised world, etc. To achieve these goals which sometimes can seem to be a bit more idealistic than realistic the European Community should put a great emphasis on the economical, social and cultural development of the member countries, and of the regions within the countries. These are short term goals of the EU, in order to achieve the above mentioned ones. The European Citizen feels the real difference through the actions made in order to achieve these goals.
There are several policies that bring accomplishments that affect the European Citizen directly.
The Lisbon Treaty
Europe has been changed in the last 50 years.
Europe meets new issues: globalization, demographic shifts, climate change, the need for sustainable energy source and new security threats, and Europe has to find solution for these problems.
The EU members cannot meet them alone, but together they can deliver result and respond to the concerns of the public, that’s way Europe needs to modernize.
The previous treaty was made for 15 members and not for 27, so they decided to update the treaty.
The treaty signed in Lisbon on 13 December 2007. The European leaders made an agreement on the new rules. The Treaty defines what the EU can or cannot do, and what means it can use. It will alter the structure of the EU’s institutions and how they work. As a result, the EU will be more democratic and its core values will be better served.
The treaty will not apply until and unless it is ratified by each of the EU’s 27 members. It is up to each country to choose the procedure for ratification, in line with its own national constitution. That means they try to avoid what happened in France and in the Netherlands, the rejection of the European constitution. The end decision is now in the hand of the governments and not in the hand of the citizens.
1 January 2009 the Treaty will come into effect, before the elections to the European Parliament.
The treaty of Lisbon was signed by the EU leaders on 13. December 2007. The treaty of Lisbon modifies the current EU and EC treaties, but it doesn’t make place them.
The main topics of the treaty of Lisbon are the followings:
The role of European Parliament will be strengthening.
The participation of national parliaments will increase and they will have greater opportunities to be involved in the work of the EU. As a consequence of the strengthened role of the European Parliament and the national parliaments the functioning of EU will become more democratic and its legitimacy will increase.
The Citizens can enforce their conceptions. Thanks to the Citizens Initiative at least one million citizens from a number of Member States can request the Commission to present new policy proposals.
What are the tasks for everyone? With the categorization of competences the relationship between the Member State and the European Union will become clearer.
Withdrawal from the Union: In the Treaty of Lisbon is declared at first time that every Member State has a possibility to withdraw from the Union.
UE and UN
The term European Union is known to every single informed individual. Due to the last activity of this formation it is very hard to underestimate its importance as it plays the leading role in all decision making in Europe. The fact that EU is the European economic and political community consisting of twenty-seven countries is the first key factor explaining the nature of the EU primarily because it reveals the attempt of Europe to establish a political and economic uniform system for better self-positioning in international relations. EU has three foundations European communities, common security policy within these communities and of course police and judicial collaboration to make Europe a safe place. It has a solid law system applying to each and every single member-country. It may be said that its primary goal was the creation of a single market and the appearance of euro is the best proof. The Schengen Agreement gives EU citizens the possibility to cross the borders of the EU countries without a visa. The existence of such economic and political community gave birth to the European Commission, the Council, the Parliament, the Court of Justice and the Central Bank of the European Union. Basically, together all the small members of the EU have formed a strong political and economic force which protects them from each other and the rest of the world.
The United Nations (UN) is also a union of countries as EU but on international level and with a higher position. General objectives and issues of the EU bear resemblance to the objectives of UN. The United Nations like the European Union was created as a facilitator of political, economic and social relations within a given set of countries. The basic difference is that UN carries out these issues internationally and is primarily in contrast to EU focused on peacemaking and not on trade. Therefore its laws and securities apply to one hundred ninety-two countries of the world and therefore possess an international character. One might say that the United Nations is the Child of War, the post-war reaction of the world to the WWII. The world did not want this to happen again and the United Nations became the platform and a guarantee that peace will be maintained within the members. Both EU and UN have political and economic uniform systems. The UN the same way as the European Union has a court, security, social and economic councils. In spite of these similarities the United Nations has more to do with human rights and international security. It takes care of the wellbeing of the people suffering from aggression and provides financial help to indigen countries. Therefore, the idea of unity on base of one common goal is among one of the most coinciding objectives of the EU and the UN. Correspondingly, the objectives and the issues of these two organizations may be compared in this direction only. The European Union solves local political, economic and security problems but is dominantly concentrated on trade patterns. The United Nations solves international political, economic and security problems with a focus on being the human peace security resource. The EU’s most known resolution is the Schengen Agreement and the UN’s signed the United Nations Millennium Declaration dealing with eliminations of poverty, child mortality, hunger, provide education, security and other vital issues. It is obvious that the EU and the UN have different mass. The United Nations represents the interests of the world while the European Union represents mainly economic interests of twenty-seven countries.
In terms of comparative politics the analysis of these to cases reveals the dependent and independent variables. Both of the organizations are important for the foreign international relations. Nevertheless, the United Nations has a more global character as compared to the European Union. The comparison of these two formations completely fits Mill’s method of difference. According to it the fact that the EU and the UN are both organized unions of a set of countries with common goals leads to the conclusions that they have one objective foundation. This objective foundation is the independent variable and the difference of some issues and the general direction of work are dependent variables. The politics of Europe is totally reflected in the objectives of the European Union and in its turn the European Union is a very important formation. The United Nations in its turn is an example of a global organization with global objectives. Therefore this topic relate to comparative politics in the most evident way.