The European Union, since 1 November 1993, renamed the EC, the European Community, the cooperation between 15 states operating under the Maastricht Treaty. Members since the start of the Coal and Steel Union 1952 Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Germany (at that time only West Germany), since 1973 Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom, since 1981 Greece, since 1986 Portugal and Spain and since 1995 Sweden and Austria. According to AbbreviationFinder.org, twelve countries have applied for membership: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Hungary. However, Malta withdrew its application in 1996, after the Labor Party, the Malta Labor Party (MLP), won the election. During the year, the order of priority for the applicant countries was discussed.
Institutions and decision-making within the EU
For its structure, the EU can in many respects resemble a state, but it is really a special and very complex organization. It is based on a base of intergovernmentalism but with a strong element of supranationalism. The organization is constantly changing. Institutions and decision-making processes are subject to constant scrutiny, and in many cases there is a difference of opinion between the member states regarding both the composition of the institutions and their decision-making competence. The EU has a large and growing influence on social development in Europe. More and more issues that were previously considered national are now the subject of joint decisions within the EU. Cooperation between the national level and the EU level is crucial. However, contradictions between different national interests create problems for both Member States and the EU. The current,
Below is a brief presentation of the EU institutions and their role in policy development and decision making within the EU. More detailed descriptions of the various institutions can be found under the respective reference words.
The EU’s institutional structure, as well as the composition and competence of the various bodies, are governed by a number of treaties adopted unanimously by the Member States:
The Treaty establishing the Coal and Steel Community (Paris Treaty) was signed in 1951, entered into force on 23 July 1952 and expired 50 years later, that is, 23 July 2002.
The Treaty on European Economic Community (English EEC; Rome Treaty) was signed in 1957 and entered into force in 1958).
The Treaty on the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy (the EURATOM Treaty) was signed in 1957 and came into force in 1958.
The Single European Act (Single Act) was signed in 1986 and entered into force in 1987.
The Union Treaty (Maastricht Treaty) was signed in 1992 and entered into force in 1993.
The Amsterdam Treaty was signed in 1997 and came into force in 1999.
The Treaty of Nice was signed in 2001 and entered into force in 2003, after Ireland first said no in a referendum in 2001, but in a subsequent referendum in 2002, Parliament’s ratification of the Treaty of Nice was approved.
The Treaty on European Community, the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty of Nice have been merged into a consolidated version. The Lisbon Treaty, signed in 2007 and entered into force in 2009, involved revisions and additions to the Union Treaty and the Rome Treaty. Some amendments to the Treaties have been made in connection with the arrival of new Member States.
The European Council, which consists of the Heads of State and Government of the Member States and the President of the European Commission. The Foreign Ministers and another member of the Commission also attend the meetings. The Presidency alternates between Member States every six months. It is the EU’s body for dealing with horizontal, long-term policy issues (such as new treaties) and resolving conflicts of more fundamental importance. The results of these meetings, which are normally held four times a year, are presented as “Presidency Conclusions”.
The Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers) is the EU’s governing body and contains a representative of each Member State government. Which minister it is depends on the nature of the issue. Here, too, the Presidency rotates between Member States for six-month periods. The decision-making power is now divided into more and more issues with the directly elected European Parliament, which also has a great influence over the EU budget and in terms of scrutiny by the European Commission, which is the preparatory, proposing, executing, controlling and negotiating body.
European Court of Justice (ECJ) is to ensure that operations are conducted in accordance with the treaty texts and solving disputes and may, at the request of national courts give preliminary statements regarding the interpretation of existing legislation.
The Court examines the financial management of the EU institutions and the management of Community funds by external bodies.
The European Economic and Social Committee , like the Committee of the Regions, is an advisory body based on the economic and social interest organizations of the Member States and in regional and local political environments.
The European Ombudsman’s task is to safeguard, among other things, the interests of citizens towards the EU institutions and ensure good governance.
In addition to these are the European Investment Bank, which grants loans to projects primarily in EU countries but also in candidate and developing countries, and the European Central Bank (ECB), which is the central bank for the eighteen EU countries participating in the third stage of EMU and has introduced the single currency euro.
The EU has also set up a number of EU authorities to handle certain administrative or technical tasks (for example, the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, the European Police Office in The Hague and the European Center for the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases in Solna).
At present, the EU institutions are geographically dispersed in many places. The background to this arrangement is, as in so many other cooperation issues, a political compromise that reflects both the constant struggle for influence and the need to better anchor the EU in the member states.
In Brussels, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and a majority of the working groups of the various bodies operate. The European Parliament’s activities are now largely also located in Brussels; however, plenary sessions take place one week a month in Strasbourg. In Luxembourg there is the Court, the Court of Auditors, the European Investment Bank, the European Parliament Secretariat and the EU Information Secretariat. The European Central Bank is headquartered in Frankfurt am Main.
A number of specialized bodies are located in the different Member States. The summits of the European Council have been held since the EU enlargement in 2004 in Brussels, after having previously been held in the country of the Presidency in question. The widespread proliferation of EU agencies has created logistical problems and has led to significant increases in operations. Proposals for a stronger concentration in Brussels have been presented, but have been met by protests in France and Luxembourg in particular.
Language and decision making
In the EU, 24 official languages are used: Bulgarian, Danish, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, Greek, Irish, Italian, Croatian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Czech., German and Hungarian. Official texts are published in all languages, but in daily work French and English predominate.
The main principle of EU decision-making is that the European Commission (Commission) takes the initiative to prepare proposals for new legislation. The European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions comment on the proposal. Thereafter, the Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers) expresses its opinion and in many cases comes up with proposals for additions and amendments.
The most important role of the Council of Ministers is to make decisions. In the past, the Council of Ministers made most decisions alone, but nowadays this is increasingly done with the European Parliament in accordance with the co-decision procedure, which is referred to as the “ordinary legislative procedure” in about two thirds of all legislative matters. Under this scheme, the Commission submits draft legislation to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. The proposal also goes to the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions for its opinion. The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers have the opportunity to discuss the proposal and propose changes.
If these two institutions cannot agree, a conciliation committee will be set up (consisting of equal numbers of members from each institution), whose task is to negotiate a compromise proposal. When such a text has been presented, both the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament have six weeks to decide on it. The Council of Ministers must approve it by qualified majority and Parliament by absolute majority. If this fails to achieve this, the proposal for a new act has fallen.
In addition to the aforementioned decision procedures, “consultation” is also used with the European Parliament. The consultation procedure means that the Council of Ministers must, before a decision, obtain the opinion of the European Parliament. However, Parliament cannot directly influence the decision, that is, no veto power. The “consent” of the European Parliament is required, for example, on constitutional issues, issues that apply if any Member State violates the basic principles on which the EU is based and in matters concerning the adoption of new members or the conclusion of more important international agreements. The European Parliament has veto rights on these issues. The previously very significant “cooperation procedure”, in which the European Parliament had a less strong position, is now applied only in a few cases.
EU decision-making procedures can lead to a regulation, directive, decision, recommendation or opinion. A Regulation is immediately binding and applicable in all Member States. It takes precedence over national law and comes into force at the time specified. This directly creates rights and obligations for individuals and companies. A directive is binding on the Member States in terms of targets for certain activities and the deadline for achieving them. How the goal is to be achieved depends on the Member States themselves. In any legal process, the directive may be invoked, even if it had not been transposed into national law at the time of the legal process. A decision is binding on the party specified. In addition to regular publication, the decision can also be notified directly to the parties concerned. Recommendation and opinion are not binding on the member states.
All types of decisions in the Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers) and the European Parliament are published in the Official Journal of the European Union, OJ.