European Union

From Max-EuP 2012

by Ninon Colneric

1. General

The European Union (EU) was founded by the Treaty on European Union signed in Maastricht on 7 February 1992 (EU Treaty), which entered into force on 1 November 1993. It currently has 27 Member States (the official EU codes being given in brackets as follows): Austria (AT), Belgium (BE), Bulgaria (BG), Cyprus (CY), the Czech Republic (CZ), Denmark (DK), Estonia (EE), Finland (FI), France (FR), Germany (DE), Greece (GR), Hungary (HU), Ireland (IE), Italy (IT), Latvia (LV), Lithuania (LT), Luxembourg (LU), Malta (MT), the Netherlands (NL), Poland (PL), Portugal (PT), Romania (RO), Slovakia (SK), Slovenia (SI), Spain (ES), Sweden (SE) and the United Kingdom (UK).

The Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community ([2007] OJ C306/1), signed on 13 December 2007 and in force since 1 December 2009, fundamentally reshaped the EU (European Constitution; EU Treaty). The legal position under the EU Treaty (1992) therefore differs considerably from that under the EU Treaty (2007).

2. Legal character and organizational structure

a) Legal position under the EU Treaty (1992)

The EU is a separate genus of international organization. It does not replace the European Communities, but—figuratively speaking—brings them under the same umbrella as policies and forms of cooperation achieved outside those Communities. Its three pillars are the European Communities, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. The heart of the EU is the EC (European Community). Whether the EU has its own legal personality is a matter of dispute.

The European Council (Council and the European Council) provides the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and defines the general political direction for that development. The institutions of the European Communities operate, first, in accordance with the treaties establishing the European Communities and, secondly, in accordance with the EU Treaty. The apportionment of powers under the EU Treaty differs from that under the first treaties mentioned.

In the CFSP field it is for the Council of the EU to take the decisions necessary for defining and implementing that policy on the basis of the general guidelines laid down by the European Council. The Council has formed a Political and Security Committee. The Secretary-General of the Council of the EU is at the same time the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Specific CFSP instruments of action are common strategies, which the European Council adopts on the basis of recommendations by the Council of the EU, joint actions and common positions which are adopted by the Council of the EU, and the conclusion of international agreements. There are no acts such as directives or regulations under the CFSP. Decisions under the CFSP are in principle adopted by the Council of the EU by unanimity. The jurisdiction of the ECJ does not extend to the provisions on the CFSP.

In the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, Member States inform and consult one another within the Council with a view to coordinating their actions. To that end, they establish collaborations between the relevant departments of their administrations. A coordination committee made up of senior officials from Member States coordinates the work in this field. The Council furthers police cooperation through Europol and judicial cooperation in criminal matters through Eurojust. On the initiative of a Member State or the Commission, the Council may unanimously adopt common positions, adopt framework decisions or decisions not having direct effect and may establish conventions. The European Parliament is heard by the Council before it adopts decisions and framework decisions or establishes a convention. The competences of the ECJ in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters are laid down in a special provision and are not as comprehensive as the powers that it holds under the EC Treaty; its jurisdiction over preliminary rulings is contingent on recognition by the Member State concerned (European Court of Justice (ECJ)).

b) Legal position under the EU Treaty (2007)

The Treaty of Lisbon changes the name of the EC Treaty to the ‘Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union’ (TFEU) and replaces the word ‘Community’ throughout by the word ‘Union’. The EU replaces the EC and is its legal successor in title. The EU is given legal personality. Its institutions are the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council (Council and the European Council), the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union (European Court of Justice), the European Central Bank and the Court of Auditors. Substantial reforms have been undertaken in the institutional arena aimed at strengthening the ability of the Union to act. The European Council, for example, is to elect a full-time president for a period of two-and-a-half years (European Constitution).

The CFSP remains the subject of specific provisions in the EU Treaty. The High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy is replaced by a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who is supported in the performance of his duties by a European External Action Service. The European Defence Agency, which had been set up in 2004, is expressly included in the wording of the treaty. As before, decisions are essentially taken within the CFSP by unanimity. Legislative acts are precluded in this field. Under the TFEU, the CFSP is generally not subject to review by the Court of Justice of the European Union. The latter does have jurisdiction, however, in actions for annulment in connection with reviewing the legality of decisions providing for restrictive measures against natural or legal persons adopted by the Council on the basis of the provisions on the CFSP.

Police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters is integrated in the TFEU, with the retention of certain special provisions. The ordinary legislative procedure also applies in these areas. By way of derogation from the general provisions, the Member States here have a right of initiative. The competences of the Court of Justice of the European Union in such matters are largely equivalent to those available to it as a general rule. The Council may establish a European Public Prosecutor’s Office to combat crimes affecting the financial interests of the Union.

3. Objectives and general principles of the EU

a) Legal position under the EU Treaty (1992)

The EU has set itself the following objectives: to promote economic and social progress and a high level of employment and to achieve balanced and sustainable development; to assert its identity on the international scene; to strengthen the protection of the rights and interests of the nationals of its Member States through the introduction of a citizenship of the Union; to maintain and develop the Union as an area of freedom, security and justice; to maintain in full the acquis communautaire and build on it. The objectives of the Union are to be achieved while respecting the principle of subsidiarity.

The Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, principles which are common to the Member States. The Union respects fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)) and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, as general principles of EU law. It respects the national identities of its Member States.

b) Legal position under the EU Treaty (2007)

The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.

The Union’s aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples. It offers its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers, in which the free movement of persons is ensured in conjunction with appropriate measures with respect to external border controls, asylum, immigration and the prevention and combating of crime. The Union establishes an internal market. It works for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. It promotes scientific and technological advance. It combats social exclusion and discrimination and promotes social justice and protection, equality between women and men, solidarity between generations and protection of the rights of the child. It promotes economic, social and territorial cohesion and solidarity among Member States. It respects its rich cultural and linguistic diversity and ensures that Europe’s cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced. The Union establishes an economic and monetary union whose currency is the euro. In its relationships with the wider world, the Union upholds and promotes its values and interests and contributes to the protection of its citizens. It contributes to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights, in particular the rights of the child, including respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter.

The Union respects the equality of Member States before the Treaties (EU Treaty (2007) and the TFEU) as well as their national identities inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-government. It respects their essential state functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the state, maintaining law and order and safeguarding national security. Pursuant to the principle of sincere cooperation, the Union and the Member States, in full mutual respect, assist each other in carrying out tasks that flow from the Treaties.

The limits of Union competences are governed by the principle of conferral. The use of Union competences is governed by the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.

The Union recognizes the rights, freedoms and principles set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union of 7 December 2000, as adapted at Strasbourg on 12 December 2007. It shall accede to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, constitute general principles of the Union’s law.

4. Agencies, inter-institutional bodies and other entities

The EU has numerous specialized and decentralized agencies available to it. Distinctions can be drawn here between four categories of agency: 1. Policy agencies (before the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon called Community agencies), 2. Common Foreign and Security Policy agencies, 3. Agencies for police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, 4. Executive agencies. The first three categories correspond to the three pillars of the European Union under the EU Treaty (1992).

The following policy agencies exist at present (the official abbreviation and headquarters being stated in brackets): Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER—Ljubljana, Slovenia); Community Fisheries Control Agency (CFCA—Vigo, Spain); Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO—Angers, France); European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (OSHA—Bilbao, Spain); European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at External Borders (FRONTEX—Warsaw, Poland); European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA—Cologne, Germany); European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC—Stockholm, Sweden); European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP—Thessalonica, Greece); European Chemicals Agency (ECHA—Helsinki, Finland); European Environment Agency (EEA—Copenhagen, Denmark); European Food Safety Authority (EFSA—Parma, Italy); European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (EUROFOUND—Dublin, Ireland); European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE—Vilnius, Lithuania); European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA—Lisbon, Portugal); European Medicines Agency (EMA—London, United Kingdom); European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA—Lisbon, Portugal); European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA—Heraklion, Greece); European Railway Agency (ERA—Valenciennes, France); European Training Foundation (ETF—Turin, Italy); European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA—Vienna, Austria); Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (Trade Marks and Designs) (OHIM—Alicante, Spain); The European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA—Brussels, Belgium); Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union (CdT—Luxembourg, Luxembourg).

The Common Foreign and Security Policy agencies are the European Defence Agency (EDA—Brussels, Belgium); the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS—Paris, France) and the European Union Satellite Centre (EUSC—Madrid, Spain).

The following agencies have been established for police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters: the European Police College (CEPOL—Hampshire, United Kingdom); the European Police Office (Europol—The Hague, Netherlands) and the European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit (Eurojust—The Hague, Netherlands).

Executive agencies are organizations entrusted with certain tasks in the management of Union programmes. These are at present the Education Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA—Brussels, Belgium); the European Research Council Executive Agency (ERC Executive Agency—Brussels, Belgium); the Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation (EACI—Brussels, Belgium); the Executive Agency for Health and Consumers (PHEA—Luxembourg, Luxembourg); the Research Executive Agency (REA—Brussels, Belgium) and the Trans-European Transport Network Executive Agency (TEN-T EA—Brussels, Belgium).

The Office for Official Publications of the European Communities (OPOCE); the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) and the European Administrative School have all been founded as inter-institutional bodies.

In January 2011, the following financial supervisory bodies were established: European Banking Authority (EBA—London, United Kingdom); European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA—Paris, France); European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA—Frankfurt, Germany) and European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB—Frankfurt, Germany).

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT—Budapest, Hungary) is an independent, decentralized EU body.

5. Language rule

There are 23 languages recognized as official languages of the EU: Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish. A distinction is drawn between the official languages and the internal working languages of the institutions and bodies. The working languages of the European Commission are German, English and French, for example, whereas the trend in practice is towards English, with German playing a purely subsidiary role. The working language of the Court of Justice of the European Union is French.

6. Demographic, geographic and economic data

Half-a-billion people live in the EU. The EU therefore has the third largest population in the world after China (approximately 1,300 million) and India (approximately 1,080 million). The population of the United States is approximately 60 per cent of the population of the EU, whilst the populations of Russia and Japan are approximately 29 per cent and 26 per cent of the EU population respectively.

The Member States of the EU with the largest populations are Germany (81.8 million inhabitants, as of 1 January 2010—the source for this and all following figures being EUROSTAT); France (64.7 million); the United Kingdom (62.0 million); Italy (60.3 million); Spain (46.0 million) and Poland (38.2 million). At the other end of the scale lie Malta (0.4 million); Luxembourg (0.5 million) and Cyprus (0.8 million); countries with more than 1 million but less than 10 million inhabitants are Estonia (1.3 million); Slovenia (2 million); Latvia (2.2 million); Lithuania (3.3 million); Ireland (4.5 million); Finland (5.4 million); Denmark (5.5 million); Slovakia (5.4 million); Bulgaria (7.6 million); Austria (8.4 million) and Sweden (9.3 million). The category of Member States with 10 million or more inhabitants includes Hungary (10.0 million); the Czech Republic (10.5 million); Belgium (10.8 million); Portugal (10.6 million); Greece (11.3 million); the Netherlands (16.6 million) and Romania (21.5 million).

The territory of the EU covers an area of approximately 4.3 million km2. This represents some 45 per cent of the area of either China or the United States. Russia is over four times larger than the EU, whilst the EU is almost 10 times larger than Japan. The largest EU Member State is France (544,000 km2), whilst the smallest is Malta (300 km2). The group of large Member States also includes Sweden (410,300 km2) and Finland (304,500 km2), both of which have relatively small populations. The Netherlands (33,800 km2) and Belgium (30,300 km2), which rank 8th and 11th in population, take 22nd and 23rd place in terms of area. The average number of inhabitants per km2 in the EU is 116. This ranges from 17.5 inhabitants per km2 in Finland to 1,303.6 inhabitants per km2 in Malta.

In the extreme north of the EU the climate is subarctic, whilst in the southern areas it is subtropical. If one disregards territories of Member States that are situated outside Europe, there are three different time zones in the EU, that is to say UTC 0 to +2.

In 2009, gross domestic product per inhabitant by purchasing power standards in the present Member States of the EU was, on average, a figure of €23,560. At the top was Luxembourg, with €63,941. A considerable distance behind in 2nd and 3rd place came the Netherlands (€30,749) and Ireland (€29,814). The figures for Bulgaria and Romania were just €10,396 and €10,865 respectively. By comparison, the figure for the United States was €34,412 and for Japan €24,260.

7. Development prospects

The European Council declared in Thessalonica in 2003 that the western Balkan countries would become part of the EU as soon as they satisfied the criteria laid down. Countries that currently have official status as accession candidates are Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Turkey and Iceland.


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Retrieved from European Union – Max-EuP 2012 on 14 July 2024.

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