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What is the European Union?

Aims and objectives

The principle aims of the European Union are to:
  • promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples.
  • offer its citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers, and an internal market where competition is free and undistorted.
  • work for sustainable development of Europe based on a social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and with a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment.
  • combat social exclusion and discrimination, promote social justice and protection, equality between women and men, solidarity between generations and protection of the rights of the child.
  • promote economic, social and territorial cohesion and solidarity among member states.
  • respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity and shall ensure that Europe's cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced.
  • uphold its values and interests in its relations with the wider world. It shall contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and protection of human rights and in particular the rights of a child, as well as to strict observance and to development of international law including respect for the principle of the United Nations Charter.
The basic objective, structures and operations of the EU are laid down within a number of treaties. The treaties make up the constitution of the EU and provide a legal basis for legislation and other measures. All member states have to abide by the treaties and the legislation agreed under them.
Treaties of the EU(Click here to return to the top.)

How does the EU work?

In order to achieve the aims and objectives of the European Union four institutions were established under the Treaty of Rome. These were:
  • The European Commission
  • The Council of the European Union
  • The European Parliament
  • The European Court of Justice

The European Commission

The Commission is a politically independent institution that represents and upholds the interest of the EU as a whole and acts a custodian to the aims, objectives, rules, decisions and regulations of the Union.

A new Commission is appointed every 5 years and is politically answerable to the European Parliament, which has the power to dismiss it. The Commission must attend all the sessions of the parliament, where it must clarify and justify its policies.  It also replies regularly to written and oral questions from MEPs.
The European Commission has four main roles:
  • to propose legislation to Parliament and the Council;
  • to manage and implement EU policies and the budget;
  • to enforce European law (jointly with the Court of Justice);
  • to represent the European Union on the international stage, for example by negotiating agreements between the EU and other countries.
In the EU, only the Commission can initiate new laws, which gives them a monopoly of power to initiate legislation.

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The Council of the European Union

The Treaty of Rome gives the European Council the ultimate power to either reject or adopt proposals for new laws proposed by the Commission.
The Council is made up of a number of levels.  There is the European Council level, which comprises of the Heads of State of the EU Member States who hold summit meetings at least twice a year to discuss major issues and decide on broad areas of policy. 
There is then the level of the Council of Ministers, which comprises of a minister for each member state. The minister who represents each member state in the Council will depend on what subjects are on the agenda. 
All together there are nine different Council configurations:
  • General Affairs and External Relations
  • Economic and Financial Affairs
  • Justice and Home Affairs
  • Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs
  • Competitiveness (Internal Market, industry and Research)
  • Transport, telecommunications and Energy
  • Agriculture
  • Environment
  • Education, Your and Culture

One of the main tasks of the Council is to formulate law. Critically, a proposal cannot become European law without the approval of the Council, a fact that establishes the Council as the main decision making body of the EU.

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The European Court of Justice

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is the supreme custodian of the EU and acts to ensure that all EU legislation is transposed and applied consistently within each member state. 

The Court is composed of one judge from each member state, so that all national legal systems are represented




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