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
- 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
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.
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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
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
- to propose legislation to Parliament and
- to manage and implement EU policies and
- 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
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The Council of the European
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
- 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
- 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
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The European Court of
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
The Court is composed of one judge from each
member state, so that all national legal systems are