May 14, 2012

The European Integration

The European Union is a unique economic and political partnership between 27 European countries. It has delivered half a century of peace, stability, and prosperity, helped raise living standards, launched a single European currency, and is progressively building a single Europe-wide market in which people, goods, services, and capital move among Member States as freely as within one country.

The EU was created in the aftermath of the second world war. The first steps were to foster economic cooperation: countries that trade with one another are economically interdependent and will thus avoid conflict. The European Union is the outcome of a process of integration, which started in 1950 with six original states: France, West Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
It is a unique model of integration based on treaties among member states which created an institutional framework.
The European Institutions - the Commission, the Council and the Parliament - are defining the aims and policies of the Union and conduct the management of the Union.
The idea behind the European integration process was to create an institutional framework of shared sovereignty in different sectors of the economy.
The ultimate goal of the process is the economic integration of the member states which will call for a political union in the final stage.

The Treaties

The road to European Union began with three separate treaties dating from the 1950s:
the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC),
the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom),
the European Economic Community (EEC).
Collectively, they became known as the European Community.

The Maastricht Treaty on European Union, which took effect in November 1993, was a major overhaul of the founding treaties. It created the "three pillars" of the European Union as it exists today.
Pillar One incorporates the three founding treaties and sets out the institutional requirements for EMU. It also provides for supplementary powers in certain areas, e.g. environment, research, education and training.
Pillar Two established the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) which makes it possible for the Union to take joint action in foreign and security affairs.
Pillar Three created the Justice and Home Affairs policy (JHA), dealing with asylum, immigration, judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters, and customs and police cooperation against terrorism, drug trafficking and fraud.

European Union : Three Pillars

The Union's Origins

Economic integration was launched in the wake of World War II, as a devastated Western Europe sought ways to rebuild its economy and prevent future wars.

On May 9, 1950, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman announced a plan, conceived by French businessman-turned-advisor, Jean Monnet. To control the forces of war, Monnet proposed pooling European coal and steel production under a common authority.

The Schuman Declaration was regarded as the first step towards achieving a united Europe - an ideal that in the past had been pursued only by force. Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands accepted the French proposal, and signed the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) Treaty in Paris on April 18, 1951.

The Six set up the ECSC High Authority, to which member governments transferred portions of their sovereign powers. The ECSC was so successful that coal and steel trade between the Six increased by 129 percent in the first five years.

Encouraged by the success of the ECSC, the Six tried to pursue integration in the military and political fields. When these were derailed following rejection by the French Parliament in 1954, European leaders decided to first continue the unification of Europe on the economic front alone. At an historic meeting in Messina, Italy, in June 1955, the project to create a common market was launched. Two treaties were negotiated to establish:

A European Economic Community (EEC) to merge separate national markets into a single market that would ensure the free movement of goods, people, capital and services with a wide measure of common economic policies, and a European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or Euratom) to further the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The Six signed the treaties creating these two Communities on March 25, 1957 in Rome. Often referred to as the Rome Treaties, they were ratified the same year and came into force in January 1958.

The European Union's Institutions

The European Union is governed by five institutions:

1. The Commission: the EU's executive organ
The Commission is the policy engine. It proposes legislation, is responsible for administration, and ensures that the provisions of the treaties and the decisions of the institutions are properly implemented. It has investigative powers, and can take legal action against persons, companies, or member states that violate EU rules. It manages the budget and represents the Union in international trade negotiations.
The European Commission is composed by 20 Commissioners of which two are from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, and one for each of the other member states. They are appointed for five-year terms, in line with the European Parliament, which approves the appointment of the Commission as a body.
The Commission President is appointed by agreement among the member governments in consultation with the European Parliament for a term of five years. Up to two Vice-Presidents are appointed from among the Commissioners. 

2. The European Parliament 
The European Parliament is composed of 626 members, directly elected in EU-wide elections for five-year terms. The President of the Parliament is elected for a two-and-a-half year term. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) form political rather than national groups. In July 1999 Nicole Fontaine was elected President.

The Parliament holds plenary sessions in Strasbourg and Brussels. Its 20 committees, which prepare the work for plenary meetings, and its political groups normally meet in Brussels.

The Parliament acts as the EU's public forum. It can question the Commission and the Council; amend or reject the EU budget; and dismiss the entire Commission through a vote of censure, a power it has never used. However, pressure from the Parliament led to a critical report and the Commission's collective resignation in March 1999. Since Maastricht, Parliament has an appointed Ombudsman to address allegations of maladministration in EU institutions and agencies.

The European Parliament cannot enact laws like national parliaments. However, its legislative role has been strengthened over the years. The Maastricht Treaty provides for a co-decision procedure which empowers Parliament to veto legislation in certain policy areas, and to confer with the Council in a "conciliation committee" to iron out differences in their respective drafts of legislation. The Amsterdam Treaty extends the number of policy areas in which Parliament can exercise these powers. Earlier, theSingle European Act (SEA) gave Parliament the right to amend proposals for legislation (cooperation procedure), and gave it veto power over the accession of new member states and the conclusion of association agreements with third countries (assent procedure).

3 The Council of the European Union
The Council of Ministers enacts EU laws, acting on proposals submitted by the Commission. Since the implementation of the Maastricht Treaty, its official name is the Council of the European Union.
Comprising Ministers from each member state, the Council strikes a balance between national and Union interests. Different Ministers participate in the Council according to the subject under discussion. Agricultural Ministers, for instance, discuss farm prices in the Agriculture Council, and Economic and Finance Ministers discuss monetary affairs in the ECOFIN Council. The Ministers for Foreign Affairs provide overall coordination in the General Affairs Council. They are also responsible for foreign policy in the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Presidency: Each Government acts as President of the Council for six months in rotation.
Coreper: The Council is assisted by a Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper), comprising member state officials holding ambassadorial rank, and a Secretariat, with a staff of about 2000.

4 The Court of Justice
The Court of Justice, located in Luxembourg, is the Community's "Supreme Court". It ensures that the treaties are interpreted and applied correctly by other EU institutions and by the member states.

The Court comprises 15 judges, one from each member state, appointed for renewable terms of six years.
Judgements of the Court in the field of EC law are binding on EU institutions, member states, national courts, companies and private citizens, and overrule those of national courts.

Since 1988 a Court of First Instance, consisting of 15 members, has assisted the Court of Justice. This court has power to hear actions brought by EU officials, competition and coal and steel cases, and actions for damages. Its decisions are subject to appeal to the Court of Justice on points of law only.

5 The Court of Auditors 

The Court of Auditors, based in Luxembourg, has extensive powers to examine the legality of receipts and expenditures and the sound financial management of the EU budget.
The Court of Auditors consists of 15 Members originating from the 15 Member States and appointed for a six-year term. They are independent and have specific experience in the audit of finances.

6 The European Central Bank
The European System of Central Banks (ESCB) and European Central Bank (Frankfurt) are responsible for monetary policy and the euro. The Central Bank's President is currently the Dutchman Wim Duisenberg.

7 Advisory and Technical Bodies

  • Economic and Social Committee (Brussels) a 222-member consultative body, representing labor, employers, agriculture, consumer and professional associations.
  • Committee of the Regions (Brussels) a 222-member advisory body, consisting of representatives of regional and local bodies.
  • European Investment Bank (Luxembourg) finances investments in line with EU objectives. It granted low interest loans totalling ecu 26.2 billion for projects both inside and outside the Union in 1997.
  • European Agency for Health and Safety at Work (Luxembourg)
  • European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products (London)
  • European Environment Agency (Copenhagen) a repository of environmental data
  • European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (Lisbon)
  • European Police Office (EUROPOL) (The Hague) for police coordination among EU member states
  • Office for Veterinary and Plant Health Inspection and Control (Dublin)

The Union has been described as a supranational entity. The member states have delegated part of their national sovereignty to the EU institutions.
The Union also operates according to the principle of "subsidiarity", which characterizes most federal systems. Under this principle, the Union is granted jurisdiction only for those policies that cannot be handled effectively at lower levels of government, i.e., national, regional, or local.

How decisions are taken in the EU

The Maastricht Treaty gave the European Parliament the power of "co-decision" with the Council in a limited number of areas such as research, health and culture. It left the Council with the last say on a significant number of other policies, but still substantially increased the Parliament's power.

Before Maastricht, the Parliament could amend the Council's draft legislation (the so-called cooperation procedure), offer its opinion through the "consultation" procedure, or withhold its "assent" to Council decisions in certain areas (residence rights, the Structural and Cohesion Funds, Treaties of Accession and others).

Since then, the union has developed into a huge single market with the euro as its common currency. What began as a purely economic union has evolved into an organisation spanning all areas, from development aid to environmental policy.

The EU actively promotes human rights and democracy and has the most ambitious emission reduction targets for fighting climate change in the world. Thanks to the abolition of border controls between EU countries, it is now possible for people to travel freely within most of the EU. It has also become much easier to live and work in another EU country.

While the immediate concern the founders of the Union was to avoid another war in Europe but establishing an economically integrated space in Europe which was called European Economic Communities, the ultimate goal was to create a European Political Union. It is only in 1993 that the European Economic Communities (EEC) became the European Union by the Treaty of Maastricht.

While deepening their integration via Intergovernmental Conferences the member states were interested in enlarging, the space of their integrated policies to new member states so that today the European Union includes 15 member states and prepares itself for new memberships in the years to come of all the European democratic states (twelve in number) which share the values of the European Union.

At the same time the member states of the Union are working hard to deepen their integration by amending their institutional framework and enlarging their scope to political matters.

By Phatrsamon Rattanangkun

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