Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What the EU is and what it does


European Union Delegation to the United States

Since arriving in the United States, I’ve found that the inner workings of the European Union can often be confusing to Americans. Because the EU is unique – it is neither a state intended to replace existing states, nor is it solely an international or regional organization for cooperation among governments – it can be difficult to explain and to define.

For that reason, in our latest issue of EU Focus, we hope to clarify in simple terms what exactly the European Union is – and what it is not – and how responsibilities are divided between the EU ! and the 27 Member States. We also explain how decisions are made at the EU level.

If you want to go deeper, I also encourage you to visit our website, where you can find in-depth information about the EU and learn how to contact our inquiries service.

João Vale de Almeida

To understand the European Union is to understand
both its origins and its values. Emerging from two
world wars that devastated the European continent,
the EU has evolved substantially from the early 1950s
when member nations merged their coal and steel
industries—both central to war-making capability—
in an effort to establish close economic ties, prevent
war, and ensure an enduring peace. The first six countries—
Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg,
and the Netherlands—agreed by treaty to cede selected
elements of sovereignty in order to achieve broad
objectives together.
Today’s European Union is a unique economic and
political partnership among 27 diverse democracies
united in their commitment to peace, democracy,
the rule of law and respect for human rights. The EU
seeks to uphold these values in Europe and beyond, to
build and share prosperity, and to exert collective influence
by acting together on the world stage. As a major
economic and commercial power and the world’s
biggest donor of official development assistance, the
EU’s influence stretches far beyond its physical borders.
In cooperation with partners like the United
States, the EU works to achieve a more secure and
peaceful world and to tackle global challenges ranging
from poverty to disease to terrorism.
In the context of world governance, the EU is a novel
entity. It is neither a government, nor an association
of states, nor an international organization. Rather,
Member States have relinquished part of their national
sovereignty to EU institutions, leading to descriptions
of the Union as a supranational entity, with many decisions
made and final authority residing exclusively
at the EU level.
In specified areas, the Member States work together
in their collective interest through EU institutions
to administer sovereign powers jointly. The EU also
acts in a supporting role to coordinate or complement
Member State actions.
The EU has the power to enact laws that are directly
binding on citizens from its 27 Member States, a fact
that distinguishes the Union from any other government
or international organization.
The EU operates according to the principle of subsidiarity,
which means that the European Union
does not take action (except in the areas which fall
within its exclusive jurisdiction) unless it is more
effective than action taken at national, regional, or
local level.
Exclusive EU jurisdiction: Only the EU may legislate
and adopt legally binding acts in fields including
the customs union, the common commercial
policy, competition rules, and monetary policy for
euro countries.
Shared EU-Member State jurisdiction: Jurisdiction
is shared between the EU and the Member
States in specified areas including internal market
rules; aspects of social policy; economic, social,
and territorial cohesion; agriculture and aspects of
fisheries; the environment; consumer protection;transport; trans-European networks; energy; the area
of freedom, security, and justice; aspects of public
health; aspects of research and technological development
and space; and aspects of development
cooperation and humanitarian aid.
Member State jurisdiction with support from the
EU: Although Member States retain jurisdiction
in areas related to the protection and improvement
of human health; industry; culture; tourism; education,
vocational training, youth and sport; civil
protection; and administrative cooperation, EU
actions can support, coordinate, or supplement
Member State activities.
The EU also coordinates economic and employment
policy and a common foreign and security
policy; however, these areas are managed separately
from the above framework.

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