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About the EU



How was the EU established?

The EU has been forming since World War II. On 9 May 1950 the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Robert Schuman, gave it a symbolic start by suggesting the formation of a common market for the coal and steel industries. The transfer of decision-making in such important industries, which had thus far been used for military purposes, to a common international body, indirectly precluded unilateral management and thereby the abuse of these important raw materials.

On 18 April 1951, on the basis of the so-called Schuman Declaration, six European countries signed a treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community. Apart from France and Germany, the signatories were Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The common coal and steel market flourished, and so in 1957 the founding countries decided to form two more communities: the European Economic Community (EEC), which created a common market and enabled the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital; and the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM). European economic cooperation was strengthened further in 1987 with the establishment of the Single European Act, which represents a commitment to the common goal of ensuring a common internal market.

After the signing of the Treaty on European Union, known also as the Maastricht Treaty on 7 February 1992, cooperation included economic and monetary union, which eventually led to the introduction of a common currency. The treaty introduced three pillars known as the European Union and established new institutional structures for common foreign and security policies (second pillar) and cooperation in legal and internal matters (third pillar). The first pillar comprises the Communities (for coal and steel, the Economic Community and Atomic Energy Community).

With the Treaty of Amsterdam, signed on 2 October 1997, the member states further defined customs operations, and measures for encouraging economic growth and social protection. The Treaty of Amsterdam changed the content of the third pillar, reassigning matters connected with the free movement of persons to the first pillar. In December 2001 in the light of the preparations for the biggest enlargement in the history of European integration, the member states signed the Treaty of Nice, which introduced several institutional reforms so that the European Union could function efficiently after its enlargement. The same circumstances gave rise to the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, which was signed on 29 October 2004; however, due to referenda in France and Holland rejecting it, the chances of this treaty coming into effect are uncertain.



What are the symbols of the EU?

The European Union has three common symbols: a flag, an anthem and Europe Day on 9 May.

The flag consists of twelve golden-yellow stars set in a circle on a blue background. The number twelve does not represent the number of EU members, but symbolises perfection (twelve months, twelve hours of the day and night, the twelve apostles, the 12 tasks of Hercules) and their circular formation symbolises completeness and unity.

The Ode to Joy, the final movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, was selected for the European Union's anthem by the European Council in 1972 and has been in use since 1986.

May 9 was declared Europe Day in 1985. On this day in 1950, the French foreign minister Robert Schuman in a historical statement known as the Schuman Declaration suggested the formation of a common market in two important industries. He suggested that the French and German production of coal and steel, which were the basis of military power of the time, be connected on a trans-national level which could also be joined by other European countries. The man who thought of the idea was Schuman's adviser and peacekeeper, Jean Monnet, who is still remembered as “the Father of Europe”.



What rights do citizens of the EU have?

Citizenship of the European Union was introduced by the Treaty on European Union (the Maastricht Treaty). So-called European citizenship does not replace national citizenship, but supplements it. Citizens of all member countries are also citizens of the European Union and their rights include:

  • the right of free movement and residence throughout the Union;
  • the right to vote and the right to stand in local and European elections in any Member State, other than the citizen's own, under the same conditions as nationals of that state;
  • the right to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of other Member States when in a non-EU Member State if there are no diplomatic or consular authorities from the citizen's own state (for example, help in the case of death, illness or a severe accident, incarceration, detention or attack and safe repatriation in difficult circumstances);
  • the right to address petitions to the European Parliament;
  • the right to appeal to the European Ombudsman and the institutions of the EU (the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council of Ministers, the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Communities, the European Central Bank and the European Court of Auditors), as well as to any advisory bodies of the EU (the Committee of the Regions and the Economic and Social Committee), and to do so in any official European language, including Slovene, and the right to receive a reply in the same language.

European citizens have a number of other rights, such as the right to information or the right of access to documents of EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies.



Which countries are eligible to join the EU and how?

According to Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union any European country may apply to join provided it respects the following principles: "/…/principles of liberty, democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and of the rule of law." The countries must be prepared to achieve "/…/strengthening and the convergence of their economies and to establish an economic and monetary union including/…/a single and stable currency" and implement "a common foreign and security policy including the eventual framing of a common defence policy". Additionally, candidates are obliged to "/…/continue the process of creating an even closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity."

A country seeking to join the European Union must address a request to the Council of the European Union, which decides on the accession of the new country by a unanimous decision after having consulted the European Commission and having received the consent of the European Parliament, which decides with an absolute majority of its members.



Which countries are members of the EU and when did they join?

The countries that founded the EU in 1951 were France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Later they were joined by:



What are the differences between the Council of Europe, the European Council and the Council of the EU?

The Council of Europe is not part of the EU, but an international organisation with a registered office in Strasbourg. Its fundamental goal is the protection of cultural identities, the fight against all forms of discrimination and, first and foremost, the protection of all human rights, at which the Council of Europe is very successful within the framework of the European Court of Human Rights. The Council of Europe was founded on 5 May 1949 by ten European countries; today this organisation consists of 46 European and non-European countries.

The European Council is the supreme political body of the EU; however, until there is a constitution, it is not formally an institution. The European Council consists of heads of state or government of EU member states and the President of the European Commission. The idea of having the political leaders of member states meet regularly was introduced at the Paris Summit of 1974. Officially, the European Council appears for the first time in Article 2 of the Single European Act that came into force in 1986. The Council convenes at least twice a year under of the chairmanship of the country holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The European Council's fundamental task is to assure the necessary incentives for the development of European integrations and determine general political guidelines.

The Council of the EU (also the Council of Ministers) is the central institution of the EU which consists of government ministers from all EU countries. It shares legislative and budgetary authority with the European Parliament.



What does 'acquis communautaire' mean?

It is a French phrase that represents a body of principles, regulations, political guidelines, practices and obligations that have been accepted through the consent of EU member states. The expression therefore denotes the entire legislation of European communities. Generally, it preserves its French form in all languages of the European Union, and is often abbreviated to ‘acquis'.



What is the Lisbon Strategy about?

The Lisbon Strategy, adopted at the European Council in March 2000, is a long-term strategy with the fundamental goal of making Europe the most competitive, dynamic and knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable growth with more and better jobs by 2010. The strategy was amended in 2001 with environment measures, and now comprises three areas (the so called pillars): economy, social security and environment. Coordinated work of all three areas is aimed at ensuring the faster, sustained development of the European Union.

The European Commission annually reviews the progress of individual member states in implementing the Lisbon strategy, and reports about it to the European Council in the so-called Spring Report. The evaluations are based on structural indicators for each individual member state and encompass economic growth, employment, research and development, education, environment, social integration and economic reform.



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Date: 28.12.2007