The European Union. What is it that they do exactly? Everyone has heard of them, the name regularly pops up in the newspaper or on the TV but to be honest most of us would be pretty stuck if we were asked to say what it was the European Union- or EU for short – actually did. Well, let me tell you that although we maybe (especially us who aren’t adults yet) don’t realise what the European Union does we would notice if it wasn’t there. The European Union does affect the everyday running of the UK.
The European Union, or European Community (EEC) as it was known then, was established in 1957. It was created to look at the economy of some of the countries in Europe after the Second World War had dramatically crippled it. The committee was set up so that it would be easier for the countries to trade without too much trouble. This was called the common market. It was also set up so that there would be a lasting reconciliation between France and Germany (because obviously Germany was the ‘enemy’.) Another reason why it was set up was to develop some kind of political union so that there would be less change on a World War Three.
The EEC was established by the treaty of Rome in international agreements signed in Rome on March 25, 1957, by Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands. One treaty established the European Community and created a common market and customs union among its members. The headquarters of the EU was (and still is) Brussels in Belgium.
The EC came into operation on January 1st 1958 with 6 countries in Europe being members. These countries were France, Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Italy and West Germany. The UK decided not to join due to the plans of the ECSE.
In July 1967 the EEC changed to the EC (European Community. The EC was actually made up of three separate organisations; The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Commission (Euratom).
In January1973 membership increased to 9 countries as Great Britain, Ireland and Denmark joined. It was hoped that Norway would join the EC but in a national vote the people of Norway voted overwhelmingly that it should not join.
However, even though Great Britain had joined the EU in Britain people were not happy. When the Labour Party regained power in 1974 they decided that they needed to negotiate British membership conditions, especially about financial issues. This however did not result in major changes. The labour party kind of split into groups about whether or nor to stay in the EU and is in June 1975 they decided to call a vote for all the people of Britain. Although some were against the idea, the British citizens voted to stay in the EU.
However just four years later the British government were still not happy. They claimed that their terms of contract were not fair and that they were not getting as much benefits as it deserved. They tried to change its terms of membership. There was a lot of arguments but eventually in Spring 1980 some members of the EU decided to pay more money. In 1984 Great Britain got refunded $800 million US dollars.
In 1981 Greece joined the EU increasing its members to ten. In 1986, after 8 years of deciding, Spain and Portugal joined the EU increasing member numbers to 12 countries.
In the 1979 ‘European Monetary System’ (EMS) was formed. The EMS was established to stabilise exchange rates, amongst other things. A common European Currency Unit was introduced to exchange rates could be set more easily. The EMS over time helped lower inflation rates in the EC.
During the 1980’s the most significant development in the EC was the progress of a single market. The campaign for this single market was led by Jaques Delors who was president of the European Commission in 1985. In a meeting in Italy he proposed a seven-year timetable for getting rid of all the trade barriers between all of the 12 countries that were members.
Luckily for him the European Council decided this was a good plan and so on December 31st 1993 a single market was created. This helped the Economy finally letting the countries mix and trade.
The direction of the EU has also changed. When it first started it was more about the economy but now it is also a lot about tourism, caring for the environment and new ideas such as the ones I will outline later in this essay.
In 1991 representatives from all 12 countries of the EC met and the council met in Maastricht, The Netherlands, to put together a draft version of a new treaty that would form the European Union. The final treaty, the treaty of Maastricht, was signed on February 7th 1992. The European Committee was then known as the European union.
In June 1994 Austria applied for EU membership and in 1995 Austria, Finland and Sweden became members. Norway had another election to see whether or not to join but once again its people decided to stay outside. Switzerland made an application in 1991 but later withdrew its application because it has been renowned for being neutral and if it joined the EU it would loose this status.
So now there are currently 15 member countries.
So what is it that the European Union actually does? Well, first let me explain about the four different parts to the European Union. Below are the four parts:
The European Commission
The Council of Ministers
The European Council
The European Parliament.
The European commission part of the EU tries to introduce new policies for the EU and then tries them against the Council of Ministers to see if they approve. The European Commission also represents the EU with economic issues worldwide. The European commission also manages the EU’s monetary funds and organises the aid to other countries if they need it.
The council of ministers are the law making part of the EU. The Council of Ministers consists of cabinet ministers from all of the governments of all of the member countries. As the cabinet ministers of various countries change every time a new party comes into power there is a need for permanent ambassadors and representative, and these come from all the member countries.
The European Council is when leaders of the member states meet at least twice a year. The meeting is of the heads of states and is therefor called the European council. These ‘summits’ as they are called were orders to happen on a regular basis and in 1987 the European council became an official part of the EU/C structure.
The European parliament is made up of members who are elected by citizens of the member states. The parliament meets in Strasbourg (Austria), although the work in done is the EU headquarters in Brussels and the secretarial work done in Luxembourg. It is all over the place really!
There are 567 seats available and the country with the highest population (Germany) gets the most seats and the country with the lowest population the smallest number of seats. The European Parliament works with the council of ministers to work out the EU budget and works with the Council of ministers about new proposals.
The committees- there are two main ones, the economic and social committee. It has 189 members that are appointed in four-year slots. The European Parliament and the council of ministers have to consult the committee if they are thinking of introducing new policies or whatever. The committees however do not have much power.
The court of Justice is made up of 15 judges who are given the job for 6 years with one judge for each member country. The courts deal with arguments against the member countries. It also deals with the rulings or decisions made. The rulings that take place in the court of justice have to be abided by by all of the member countries.
People who say the EU isn’t a good thing should reconsider their view. Since the EU has been about people can move more freely around the EU for jobs. Financial help is given by the EU to the member countries, which have problems with unemployment etc. There is a common agricultural policy. This has become very important over the last few weeks. The EU makes sure all countries agree on how they farm and how much produce they will produce. The Agricultural committee has been working hard with this foot and mouth crisis making bans of things like transporting British cattle about the EU, disinfecting lorries that come from Britain into places like France and stopping markets happening in countries such as Belgium and France so as to stop the disease hitting other countries.
Trade has been proven to have improved between EU members buying and selling from each other. This has helped all member countries.
And finally the EU has also taken a keen concern about the environment in recent years. They have created new rules, which included regulations about factories dumping waste into the oceans and topics similar to that.
In the past few years the EU has been talking a lot about a single currency. This single currency is called the Euro (, as if you needed telling- news about the Euro seems to be in the papers every day!). Basically what it means it all countries in the EU having this same currency. Pros for this is that trade is so much easier between big businesses. Also, normal citizen’s benefit, isn’t it a pain having to have your money exchanged every time you go on holiday to say France or Spain? Of course it is.
That’s why on January 1st 1999 the Euro was introduced and 11 of the 15 countries of the EU decided to adapt the Euro as their currency, usually along with their existing currency, at least for the time being. Great Britain decided (well, actually the government decided- us ‘normal’ people shouldn’t be allowed to have a national vote to see what we wanted.) That we shouldn’t join the Euro. Who knows if they will change their minds in the future and in the next few decades we will all be having Euro coins instead of penny and pounds!? (Oh by the way, there are no such things as Euro coins at the moment. If you want to pay in Euros in countries participating eg. France then you have to write a kind of cheque. Coins will be introduced in January 2002 if everything goes okay.
Some people in the UK would love to have the Euro introduced however some people say it is a bad thing. People argue it looses are national sense of pride in our country instead of being one big European ‘country’. Others say that it would bee too much trouble educating people about the Euro and changing all the machines all over the country. Can you imagine it? It would cost millions of pounds!!
The Future of the EU is quiet uncertain although many people are certain that more countries will join the EU. Turkey applied for membership in 1987 and Cyprus and Malta in 1990. Who knows if they will join in the next few years? Will Norway have a national vote for the third time and maybe vote to join the EU? Will Switzerland forget about being neutral and join the EU? I cannot look into the future but I can take an educated guess that the EU will grow.
Talking about the future of the EU, a newish idea brought forward by the EU is the idea of not having passports and having people roam wherever they want without any restriction! Now, business mean and people that travel about may love the sound of this idea but can you imagine the chaos it will cause? How do we prove our identities now? Our passport. What stops criminals from escaping the country? Their passports. If passports were abolished then you would have criminals racing all over the EU. Nice idea but somehow I don’t really see it taking off.
I am pretty confident that more policies will be made within the EU. I think people will become even more worried about our environment and will make more rulings and laws that help protect the earth. Maybe new rulings will be introduced now about agriculture after this foot and mouth disease crisis. What about some rules about tourism? Perhaps some rules will be got rid of? If countries start to find it hard to keep to policies or complain and want the altered then maybe the EU will abolish them.
So what do I think about the EU? At first I was like’ yeah whatever’ but now I see the good work they do to try and unite the countries of Europe and improve things for everyone I see it as a good thing. Some people may complain about the Euro but the Euro shouldn’t be the only thing people think about when they think about the EU. Think about the work done for the environment, think about the aid given for countries with a high unemployment rates, think about the agricultural policies. It really is a great thing. Well, at least I think so.
So to summarise the European Union (formerly the EEC and EC) is a union which has 15 countries that all try to work together to help trade, tourism, social and environmental issues. It is constantly coming up with new ideas and rulings that make the country members of the EU nice places to live. Europe without the EU would be a poorer place to live.
On the next few pages is a map with the countries of the EU coloured in, the EU flag and the man who has been the president for the EU a man named Jacques Santer.