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The European Union

a supranational organization that works toward economic integration among its member nations

The EU is composed of what originally were three separate organizations -- the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (EEC), and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). These three institutions were merged in 1967, with headquarters in Brussels.

Structure of the EU

The Council of Ministers of the European Union, which represents the member states, is the EU's main decision-taking body. When it meets at Heads of State or Government level, it becomes the European Council, whose role is to provide the EU with political impetus on key issues. The EU member states take it in turns to hold the Council Presidency for a six-month period. Every Council meeting is attended by one minister from each country. Which ministers attend a meeting depends on which topic is on the agenda -- foreign affairs, agriculture, industry, etc. The Council has legislative power, which it shares with the European Parliament. In addition, the Council and the Parliament share equal responsibility for adopting the EU budget. The Council also concludes international agreements that have been negotiated by the Commission. The number of votes allocated to each EU country roughly reflects the size of its population.

The European Parliament, which represents the people, shares legislative and budgetary power with the Council of the European Union. Since 1979, members of the European Parliament have been directly elected, by universal suffrage, every five years. The Parliament can give its opinion on draft directives and regulations proposed by the European Commission, which is asked to amend its proposals to take account of Parliament's position. Since 1987, the Parliament has the final vote on adoption of international agreements negotiated by the Commission, as well as on any proposed enlargement of the EU. In addition, the Parliament also has the power to throw out proposed legislation in specific fields if an absolute majority of members vote against the Council's common position. The Parliament can also reject a proposed budget, in which case the entire budget procedure must be re-started. Lastly, the Parliament has the power to dismiss the Commission by adopting a motion of censure.

The European Commission, which represents the common interest of the EU, is the main executive body. It has the right to propose legislation and ensures that EU policies are properly implemented. Members of the Commission are appointed for a five-year term by agreement between the member states, subject to approval by the European Parliament. The Commission has wide powers to manage the EU's common policies, and is also responsible for managing the budget for these policies.

The Court of Justice of the European Communities is made up of one judge from each member nation, assisted by eight advocates-general, each of which is appointed by joint agreement of the governments of the member states for a renewable term of six years. The Court's role is to ensure that EU law is complied with, and that the treaties are correctly interpreted and applied.

Important Dates in EU History

May 9, 1950 Robert Schuman, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, proposed that France and the Federal Republic of Germany pool their coal and steel resources in a new organization which other European nations could join.

April 18, 1951 In Paris, Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed a treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).

March 25, 1957 The six countries signed treaties establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).

January 1, 1958 The 1957 treaties went into effect.

January 7, 1958 Directing commissions were appointed with Walter Hallstein, West German Secretary of Foreign Affairs, as president for the Common Market and Louis Armand, president of the French National Railway, as president of the Euratom commission. Pietro Campilli of Italy was named president of the European Investment Bank, to be set up with $1 billion capital under the Common Market.

January 4, 1960 The Stockholm Convention established the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), comprising a number of European countries that were not part of the EEC.

April 8, 1965 The executive bodies of the three Communities were merged to create a single Council and a single Commission.

July 1, 1968 Customs duties between the member states on industrial goods were completely abolished and a common external tariff was introduced.

January 1, 1973 Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom became the first "new" nations to become members of the European Community.

March 13, 1979 The European Monetary System took effect among Common Market countries.

June 7-10, 1979 The first direct elections to the European Parliament were held.

July 17, 1979 Simone Veil of France was elected president of the European Parliament.

first session of the European Parliament
first session of the European Parliament

Simone Veil
Simone Veil

February 7, 1992 The Treaty on European Union was signed at Maastricht.

January 1, 1993 The single European market was created.

January 1, 1999 11 EU countries adopted the Euro.

Members of the European Union

member (date of joining)

Austria (January 1, 1995)
Belgium (April 18, 1951)
Bulgaria (January 1, 2007)
Croatia (January 7, 2013)
Cyprus (May 1, 2004)
Czech Republic (May 1, 2004)
Denmark (January 1, 1973)
Estonia (May 1, 2004)
Finland (January 1, 1995)
France (April 18, 1951)
Germany (April 18, 1951)
Greece (January 1, 1981)
Hungary (May 1, 2004)
Ireland (January 1, 1973)
Italy (April 18, 1951)
Latvia (May 1, 2004)
Lithuania (May 1, 2004)
Luxembourg (April 18, 1951)
Malta (May 1, 2004)
Netherlands (April 18, 1951)
Poland (May 1, 2004)
Portugal (January 1, 1986)
Romania (January 1, 2007)
Slovakia (May 4, 2004)
Slovenia (May 4, 2004)
Spain (January 1, 1986)
Sweden (January 1, 1995)
United Kingdom (January 1, 1973 -- currently negotiating an exit from the Market)

The European Union's official website is

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The Robinson Library >> Economics >> Economic History and Conditions: Europe

This page was last updated on June 13, 2018.