European Union (EU)

In this article, the European Union is discussed for UPSC Civil Services Exam preparation.

European Union UPSC

The European Union’s evolution from a regional economic agreement between 6 neighbouring countries in the year 1951 to a supranational organization of European countries across the continent of Europe today is an unparalleled occurrence in recent human history. In Europe, unions between royal dynasties for territorial consolidation were the mode. There were also a few country-level unions arranged, such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. But, for such a huge number of countries to give up part of their sovereignty to a predominating entity was unheard of and very unique. The EU is not a federation in the real sense of the term, it is more of a free-trade association like the NAFTA, the ASEAN and the Mercosur. But, it also has several attributes of an independent nation such as its own flag, anthem, currency, founding date and emerging common security and foreign policies in its interactions with other countries. In the future, it is quite likely that many nation-like features would be increased.

European Union History

After the two destructive world wars, many leaders of Europe were convinced that the only manner in which lasting peace can be established was to unite the two nations that were at loggerheads with each other namely, Germany and France, politically and economically. The French Foreign Minister in 1950, Robert Schuman suggested an eventual union of the whole of Europe, for which the first step would be the integration of the industries of coal and steel of Western Europe. In 1951, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was established after 6 nations – Belgium, Italy, France, Luxembourg, West Germany and the Netherlands signed the Treaty of Paris. This organization found a lot of success that the countries decided to integrate other aspects of their economies as well. The Treaties of Rome established the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) in 1957, wherein the 6 countries took steps to do away with trade barriers between their countries by forming a common market. In 1967, the three communities were formally united to form the European Community (EC) which created a single Commission, a single Council of Ministers and also a European Parliament. The members to this parliament were initially selected by the national parliaments of the countries but in 1979, direct elections were held for the first time and they have been held every five years since. 

The EC was expanded for the first time in 1973 when Ireland, Denmark and the UK were admitted to it. Greece joined in 1981 and Portugal in 1986. The Treaty of Maastricht was signed in 1992 that laid the foundations for further cooperation in other aspects such as defense and foreign policy, internal affairs, judicial affairs, and in the development of a monetary and economic union which includes the adoption of a common currency. This enhanced integration led to the formation of the European Union (EU). Finland, Austria and Sweden joined the EU in 1995 making the total membership to 15. On 1st January 1999, a new currency Euro was launched into the world money market. The Euro was adopted as the currency of all the EU member states except Sweden, the UK and Denmark. In the year 2002, 12 euro-area nations started using Euro coins and notes. In 2004, 10 countries joined the EU – Estonia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Malta, Slovenia and Slovakia. Now, the total number of members was 25. To make sure that the expanding membership does not hamper the smooth functioning of the EU, the Treaty of Nice was signed in 2003 which set rules for streamlining the procedures and size of the EU institutions. An EU Constitutional Treaty, signed in Rome on 29 October 2004, gave member states 2 years to ratify the document before it was scheduled to take effect on 1st November 2006. Referenda held in France and the Netherlands in May-June 2005 rejected the proposed constitution. This development suspended the ratification effort and left the longer-term political integration of the EU in limbo.

Constitution

Based on a series of treaties, the Treaty of Paris, which set up the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951; the Treaties of Rome, which set up the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) in 1957; the Single European Act in 1986; the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht) in 1992; the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997; and the Treaty of Nice in 2001; note – a new draft Constitutional Treaty, signed on 29 October 2004 in Rome, gave member states two years for ratification either by parliamentary vote or national referendum before it was scheduled to take effect on 1 November 2006; defeat in French and Dutch referenda in May-June 2005 caused a suspension of the ratification process 

Executive branch

The European Council brings together heads of state and government and the president of the European Commission and meets at least twice a year; its aim is to provide the impetus for the major political issues relating to European integration and to issue general policy guidelines

Legislative branch

Council of the European Union (25 member-state ministers having 321 votes; the number of votes is roughly proportional to member-states’ population); note – the Council is the main decision-making body of the EU; European Parliament (732 seats; seats allocated among member states by proportion to population); members elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year term

Judicial branch

Court of Justice of the European Communities (ensures that the treaties are interpreted and applied correctly) – 25 justices (one from each member state) appointed for a six-year term; note – for the sake of efficiency, the court can sit with 11 justices known as the “Grand Chamber”; Court of First Instance – 25 justices appointed for a six-year term.

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