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Subject: European Union Basics (FAQ), Part2/8

This article was archived around: 22 May 2006 04:35:55 GMT

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+ NB READERS OF THIS TEXT VERSION: + The original and most recent version of this file is always available + on the world-wide web. If you have Web access, please consider viewing + it there at the URL mentioned above. EU Basics FAQ: General questions [generalquestions] What is the European Union or EU? +European Union; is the name of the organization for the member countries that have decided to co-operate on a great number of areas, ranging from a single market to foreign policy, and from mutual recognition of school diplomas to exchange of criminal records. This co-operation is in various forms, officially referred to as three +pillars;: The [three] European Communities (EC, supranational) The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP, intergovernmental) The Co-operation in the Fields of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA, intergovernmental) The Conservative government of the UK decided not to take part in co-operation on social matters, which was designed to be part of the revised EEC Treaty (and thus of the first pillar). All other member states then decided to include this co-operation in a separate Social Chapter, or rather a separate social protocol, added to the Maastricht Treaty, and which is not applicable to the UK. As such, this area could now be considered a fourth pillar, although most observers still consider it part of the first pillar as it is a supranational form of cooperation. Note: The UK Labour party has repeatedly promised to remove the British opt-out to the Social Chapter if it gets elected. When did the EU come into being? The European Union as an umbrella organisation has come into existence only in November 1993, after the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. Its constituent organisations were founded/organised as below: 1952 The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was established by the Treaty of Paris (1951). 1954 The European Defence Community (EDC) Treaty, signed in Paris (1952) and ratified by all five other ECSC member states, was vetoed by a majority of left-wing and right-wing radicals in the French Assemblie (August 30th). The Treaty had provided for a European army, a common budget and common institutions, among which a directly elected Common Assembly and for this Assembly to study ways of creating a federal organisation with a clear separation of powers and a bicameral parliament. The French veto against the EDC Treaty also meant the end of the draft Treaty establishing a Political Community, approved by the ECSC Assembly on 10 March 1953. 1958 The European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) were established by the twoTreaties of Rome (1957). 1967 The institutions of the ECSC, EEC and Euratom were merged, with a single European Commission replacing the ECSC High Authority, EEC Commission, Euratom Commission. A single +European Parliament; (though officially still called the European Parliamentary Assembly) replaced the three virtual Assemblies of the Communities, too, although the members of these Assemblies had always been the same people acting in different capacities on different matters. 1979 For the first time, Members of the European Parliament were elected directly by the people of all Member states (June 7-10). 1987 The Single European Act of 1987 provided the implementation provisions for the Single European Market[1], and it codified agreement on majority voting in the Council[2] on a range of questions. It also formally codified the European Co-ordination in the Sphere of Foreign Policy, which was known as European Political Cooperation and dating back to the 1970 Davignon report. 1993 The European Union was established by the Maastricht Treaty which came into force in November 1993. It created an explicit three-pillar structure with a new Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) replacing the Single Act provisions in this field, and codifying the Co-operation in the field of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA). It also reexpanded the scope of the EEC, to include provisions for an Economic and Monetary Union with a single European currency from the end of the century onwards, and it re-baptised the EEC to simply European Community (EC). 1996 A new Intergovernmental Conference (IGC, ie a round of negotiations over changes to the Treaties) will start in Turin on March 29. As the debate over the European Union is likely to focus strongly on the IGC in the course of this year, we have added a special section[3] on it to this list. What countries are members of the EU? The EU now consists of 15 member states. Its original membership of six was gradually enlarged as follows: From 1952 (original ECSC membership): Belgium (BE); Germany (DE), the 5 new Ldnder of the former GDR joined in 1991; France (FR); Italy (IT); Luxembourg (LU); Netherlands (NL); From 1973 (first enlargement): Denmark (DK); Republic of Ireland (IE); United Kingdom (GB); [Norwegians rejected membership]; From 1981 (second enlargement): Greece (GR); From 1986 (third enlargement): Portugal (PT); Spain (ES); From 1995 (fourth enlargement): Austria (AT); Finland (FI); Sweden (SE); [Norwegians rejected membership again]. Countries being considered for the fifth enlargement: Bulgaria (BL); Cyprus (CY); Czech Republic (CZ); Estonia (EE); Hungary (HU); Latvia (LV); Lithuania (LT); Malta (MT); Poland (PL); Romania (RU); Slovakia (SK); Slovenia (SL). Of these, only Malta and Cyprus have been promised that the actual negotiations for their accession will start six months after finalisation of the Intergovernmental Conference.[4] In December 1995, the European Council[5] decided that indidividual assessments of the remaining ten candidates' prospects as well as a collective assessment of enlargement should be ready by that time as well, so that membership negotiations with some of the other countries could start at the same time as those with Cyprus and Malta. In preparation for this, all twelve countries are invited to one meeting of the European Council every year, although it has been made clear that this does not automatically mean that all countries will be invited as new candidate members. Turkey and Morocco have applied for membership in the past, but their candidacies were rejected. Turkey did finally get its long-awaited customs union treaty with the EU in 1996. Which are the languages of the EU? Like most international organisations, the EU has two sorts of languages: official languages and working languages. Official languages are used for official public documents, especially those with legal value. Working languages are the languages used internally. Sometimes there is also talk of treaty languages: these are said to be official languages in which only basic legal texts are translated, and not all official public documents with legal value. Since EU legislation is directly applicable in national law, all languages with official legal status in one or more of the member states should be official EU languages as well. This means that there are now eleven official EU languages: German (88.8 million inhabitants of linguistic area*: in Germany, Austria, Belgium, Italy and Luxembourg) French (63.3 million, in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy) English (60.0 million, in UK and Republic of Ireland) Italian (56.4 million, in Italy) Spanish (39.2 million, in Spain) Dutch (21.1 million, in the Netherlands and Belgium) Greek (10.3 million, in Greece) Portuguese (9.8 million, in Portugal) Swedish (9.0 million, in Sweden and Finland) Danish (5.2 million, in Denmark) Finnish (4.7 million, in Finland). Every member state has decided for itself what language(s) to make official EU languages; thus, these figures do not take into account recognised +minority; languages such as Catalan and Frisian, nor of officially recognised national languages such as irish (which is only a treaty language, not an official language) and Letzebuergesch (which has been recognised as a national language only in 1983). Council members have never been able to agree on a limit to the number of working languages within the institutions. All official languages are considered equal in every way. It should be noted though that, in practice, some languages are more equal than others. The Commission has limited much of its internal translations to French, English and German; some informal meetings do not have interpreters at all and are conducted in English entirely. Nick Bernard[6] says the Court of Justice uses French as an internal working language. According to Bart Schelfhout[7], this is due to the fact that French is far more considered a juristic language (precision and vocabulary) than is English EU interpretation services have already noted that the current expansion to eleven working languages will already be virtually unworkable; an expansion to sixteen or more (with some former Eastern Bloc countries joining) will be technically impossible. It is therefore to be expected, in my view, that the number of working languages will be limited to three (English, French and German) or five (with Italian and Spanish), if only for passive use (languages to translate into) Still, Marc Bonnaud[8] notes that +The EU Coucil of Ministers of 12 June 95 has not only reaffirmed i ts firm attachment to Linguistic Diversity , it has also decided to setup a commission to check that all the Institutions respect this, and first of all, those concerned with the +information society; (DG XIII which violates daily the founding treaties and the regulation # 1 of the Commission). The Commission has been invited to make yearly reports on the application of these decisions. [...] I expect these decisions to be included one way or another in the revised Treaty.; Carsten Quell[9] of the Freie Universitdt Berlin has done extensive research on this topic. How come the flag has only twelve stars? Questions that concern the European flag keep recurring. Especially since the enlargement of the EU from twelve to fifteen member states, people are wondering why there are still only twelve stars on the flag. The short answer is mainly that the number of stars was never intended to correspond to the number of member states; both just happened to be twelve between 1986 and 1994. [IMAGE] The flag with twelve gold stars in a circle on a blue background was originally designed for the Council of Europe[10], founded in 1949. One of the founding members of this organisation was the country of Saarland, which had been part of Germany only since 1935, but was occupied by the French after World War II. At the time of the foundation of the Council of Europe, it was not at all clear whether Saarland (which was in the French zone of the allied occupation forces) would retain its international status under the custody of the United Nations, become part of France or rejoin Germany [it finally chose the latter in a 1955 referendum]. To reconcile any possible differences over the sovereignty of Saarland, the founding members of the Council of Europe decided not to have a number of stars corresponding to the disputed number of founding states. Rather, the number of twelve stars was chosen to be a symbol of completeness and of unity, as it corresponded to the number of stars in the zodiac, the number of months in the year and (for the purpose of winning over the mainly Christian European people) to the number of Jesus's apostles. Thus the flag of the Council of Europe still consists of twelve stars, even though it has over thirty members now. The then European Communities +borrowed; the flag of the Council of Europe only in 1986, after its enlargement to twelve members. Thus, as far as the European Communities are concerned, there was indeed a (coincidental) correspondence between the number of member states and the number of stars in the flag. Still the enlargement of the EU to fifteen member states has provoked no changes in the number of stars on the flag; therefore, it must be concluded that the number of twelve on both the Council of Europe's flag and the flag of the European Union retains it symbolic value of completeness and unity, rather than of the number of members. Quick guide to EU legislation EU legislation is known for its complexities and subtleties. The following Quick guide to EU legislation, however, gives a good overview of the main instruments used. It has been contributed by Kevin Coates[11] and Richard Corbett[12] (who supplied a new version of the part about +decisions;) +All legislation is concluded by some combination of: European Commission[13] (makes proposals and oversees the process) European Parliament[14] and Council of Ministers[15] (ie the representatives of the Member States and by far the most important) MAIN TYPES OF LEGISLATION Regulations These are effectively equivalent to statutes in the UK [or +Arrjti Ministeriel/Royal; that most member states have an equivalent of, RS] - ie they are effective as law without any further intervention/action on the part of the Member States. Directives These are +binding as to the result to be achieved; - ie they should state the goal/end-state that is aimed at, but leave the Member States with some discretion as to how to achieve it. The amount of discretion varies greatly. One of the reasons for the use of directives is that it is believed that the different Member States would need to approach the same problems in different ways because of the differences in their legal systems. Because directives need to be +transposed; into national law (ie national legislation must be passed to implement the goals of the directive) a time limit is provided in the directive by which time the directive must have been implemented. Some cynical people who look closely at directives believe that increasingly directives have been used in circumstances where the Member States simply want to avoid a particular piece of legislation coming into force - ie there is no real question of needing to implement it in a particular way, but the Member States want to take advantage of the time for transposition. Because the Member States must transpose the directives, they obviously have a certain measure of discretion as to how this is done.&187; +Decisions Decisions do not have general application but are binding on those to whom they are addressed (e.g. companies).; The Intergovernmental Conference of 1996 The EU being an association of member states, changes to the Treaties are negotiatied by representatives of the member state governments, and approved (and ratified) by all national parliaments, in some countries with the active involvement of the people at large through a referendum. The negotiation part of this process is conducted in what is called an Intergovernmental Conference or IGC. This year (1996), a new Intergovernmental Conference will start negotiating about changes to the treaties, as this is a legal requirement of the Maastricht Treaty (laid down at the insistence of the German and some other member states' governments that were unsatisfied with the +meagre; results of Maastricht. Although the Maastricht Treaty does not stipulate which parts of the Treaties should be open to revision, there has seemed to be agreement on the main topics of discussion for the 1996 IGC for some time now, if not at their outcome. The European Council[16] has clearly added to this by having a +Reflection Group; list an inventory of Member States' concerns for the Conference well in advance of its actual start (29 March 1996 in Torino, IT). CONCLUSIONS OF THE REFLECTION GROUP The Reflection Group preparing the agenda for the IGC under the chairmanship of Mr Carlos Westendorp (Minister of European Affairs, ES) delivered its report to the European Council of December 1995 in Madrid. It identified the following areas of concern among some or all Member State governments: Making Europe more relevant to its citizens Promoting European Values (democracy, human rights, equality) Freedom and internal security (terrorism, drugs, external border controls) Employment Environment A more transparent Union Subsidiarity Enabling the Union to work better and preparing it for enlargements The rules originally designed for a Community of 6 are not flexible enough for a Union of 15-25 Increased role for the European Council Improving representation and accountability to both European and national parliaments Simplifying over-complex procedures Looking at the roles of the Commission, the Court of Justice and the Committee of Regions Giving the Union greater capacity for external action Common Foreign Policy European Security and Defence Policy THE MAIN ISSUES ON THE AGENDA In its issue of 21-27 March 1996, the deputy editor of the weekly newspaper European Voice, Rory Watson, put forward a list of the main issues on the agenda for the Intergovernmental Conference starting at the end of that week: Flexibility Should member states with the will to do so be specifically allowed to integrate their policies further and faster than their more reluc tant EU partners? The European Commission, European Parliament, Franc e, Germany and the Benelux firmly believe the answer must be yes, arg uing the Union should not be forever bound to advance at the speed of its slowest members. To some extent, flexibility already exists. Social policy, a single currency and the Schengen border-free arrangement all involve fewer than all 15 member states. But critics fear it could create a permane nt two-tier Union, with a small cohesive inner core and a looser oute r group of countries. The practical implications, especially for the uniform application of EU law, are an even greater obstacle. Flexibility could apply mainly to defence/security and justice/home affairs areas, but not to the single market, or to the Union's insti tutions and basic objectives. Citizenship Almost every contribution to the IGC debate has placed citizenship in pole position. The gesture is more symbolic than substantive, brin ging under one heading principles already in the treaty such as free movement and non-discrimination. Of greater interest to non-governmen tal organisations is closer involvement in the EU's decision-making p rocess. Instead of +citizenship;, talk is now moving towards bringing the U nion closer to its citizens. Achieving that involves simplifying the treaties, increasing the transparency of Council of Ministers' meetin gs when legislation is debated, and strengthening democratic control by the European and national parliaments. That, cobmined with guaranteed access to documentation would, says supporters, enable people to know and influence what is going on, and rekindle public confidence in the EU. Common Foreign and Security Policy By common agreement, this is one of the major disappointments of th e Maastricht Treaty. But recipes for achieving a respectable CFSP dif fer. Some argue that the basic structure is sound and is only prevented from operating by the almost insurmountable hurdle presented by the r equirement for unanimity. But the dominant view that more majority vo ting is required is opposed by the UK in particular. It argues that i ssues so close to the heart of national sovereignty demand unanimity. Talk will focus on diplomatic techniques such as +constructive abste ntion; or +unanimity minus one; to skirt round the problem. There is general agreement on the need to create an analysis unit t o prepare CFSP strategy. However, there is no consensus on whether a Mr or Mrs CFSP should be appointed to give the policy an internationa l personality, on the financing of initiatives taken by some, but not all, member states, and on the roles of the Commission and Parliamen t. Defence At stake is the relationship between the Union and the defence alli ance, the Western European Union, whose founding treaty expires in 19 98. The UK wishes to keep the WEU as an autonomous organisation repre senting the European defence arm of the Atlantic alliance. It is conf ronted by Franco-German calls for eventual full WEU integration in th e Union. The defence debate will also cover the status of neutral members an d the ability of some Union states to take military action. It will focus not just on the collective defence of territorial int egrity, but also on ways of managing regional crises and the Petersbe rg tasks of humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. There is growing suppo rt for the Union to develop a European armaments policy. It would ens ure more effective integration of the industry, establish a consisten t approach to arms exports and create an armaments agency. Decision-making Streamlining is the order of the day for EU decision-making. Over 2 0 separate complex systems are now used to adopt legislation and pres sure is growing to reduce these to three. The main battlegrounds will be extending majority voting in the Cou ncil and equal co-decision powers to the Parliament. Both ideas have wide-spread support, but are firmly opposed by the UK. Supporters of change believe maintaining the unanimity requirement could paralyse a larger Union and prevent future treaty reform. They also suggest more majority voting would not prevent a country from us ing the Luxembourg Compromise to veto a proposal if a vital national interest really was at stake. Within the Council, attempts will be made to re-weight voting right s to reflect the size and populations of larger EU countries more acc urately. In exchange, there may be moves to strengthen the role of th e Commission and the Parliament to reassure smaller member states. Employment Fighting unemployment is near the top of the Union agenda, but only in the past few months has a head of steam built up to table the iss ue at the IGC. The initiative to inject a specific employment chapter to the treaty was launched by Sweden, but now has majority backing i n the Union. Swedes believe its presence would give the policy more weight, esta blishing common objectives and procedures and a joint commitment to o bserve certain principles in employment policies. Cynics suggest mechanisms for getting more of the EU's 18 million u nemployed back to work already exist in the White Paper on Growth, Co mpetitiveness and Employment. But political reality dictates that EU governments cannot consider the future without discussing an issue of the greatest importance to their electorates. Justice and Home Affairs Progress in this area has been minimal, yet some of the issues invo lved--organised crime, terrorism, illegal immigration and drug traffi cking--have a direct impact on the quality of the daily lives of EU c itizens. Like the CFSP, progress on improving the overall climate of security in the face of pan-European threats has been thwarted by the need for unanimity. Widespread agreement exists on the need for clear objectives, speci fic timetables and less complex working methods. Support is growing f or all the elements involved in crossing external frontiers--arrangem ents for aliens, immigration policy, asylum and external border contr ols--to be moved from the intergovernmental to the Community framewor k. But given the national sensitivity of these issues, the UK for one insists that they must remain matters for intergovernmental cooperati on to be agreed by unanimity. Source: WATSON (R.) The main issues on the agenda, in: European Voice, 21-27 March 1996, pp16-17. HOW MUCH TIME WILL IT TAKE? The Report does not explicitly state which Member States have expressed which opinions, but speaks in unexplicit terms such as +Many of us;, +Some of us; and +One of us;. It can only be derived from the current home and European politics of the different Member State governments who share the minority and majority opinions in the different issues. Still many commentators have hinted that +One of us; is more often than not the British Government of John Major, that is widely believed to be held hostage by radical Eurosceptics in the Westminster parliament. If only for that political reality (and thus ignoring the fact that so far all IGC's have always taken more than a year) the 1996 IGC is believed to continue into 1997, at least until the British Government has been re-elected or replaced--with both outcomes likely to vastly increase the manouvering space for the British negotiators. Even if the IGC is finished in 1997, all proposed Treaty changes must still be approved by all Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional procedures (always involving the assent of the national parliament(s), sometimes with the addition of a national referendum among the people at large). ___________________________________ Edited by Roland Siebelink & Bart Schelfhout[17] corrections and suggestions welcome. 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