Newsgroup FAQ's: alt.politics.ec/European Union Basics (FAQ), Part2 8
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This file is part of an eight-part posting containing basic information about the European Union and other related or unrelated European political organisations. It is hoped to serve both as background information for those wishing to discuss European politics on the talk.politics.european-union newsgroup, and as a general reference for anyone concerned with politics in Europe.
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EU Basics FAQ: General questions
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,
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, and it codified agreement on majority
voting in the Council 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 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):
Germany (DE), the 5 new Ldnder of the former GDR joined in 1991;
From 1973 (first enlargement):
Republic of Ireland (IE);
United Kingdom (GB);
[Norwegians rejected membership];
From 1981 (second enlargement):
From 1986 (third enlargement):
From 1995 (fourth enlargement):
[Norwegians rejected membership again].
Countries being considered for the fifth enlargement:
Czech Republic (CZ);
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. In December 1995, the European
Council 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
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 says the Court of Justice uses French as an
internal working language. According to Bart Schelfhout, 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 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 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
The flag with twelve gold stars in a circle on a blue background was
originally designed for the Council of Europe, 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 and Richard
Corbett (who supplied a new version of the part about +decisions;)
+All legislation is concluded by some combination of:
European Commission (makes proposals and oversees the process)
European Parliament and
Council of Ministers (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.
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
+Decisions Decisions do not have general application but are
binding on those to whom they are addressed (e.g.
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
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
The European Council 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
A more transparent Union
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
corrections and suggestions welcome.
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