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ESSENTIAL TERMS

The terms and titles given below are not listed alphabetically, but ranked in an order designed to reflect a progression: from organisations to methods.

ORGANISATIONS

European Union

The European Union came into being through the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993. It is presented in the Treaty as a "a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe". It rests on three "pillars", the first covers the "traditional" Community dimension (common agricultural policy, transport, internal market etc.), the second covers the common foreign and security policy, and the third covers police and judicial cooperation. The second and third pillars differ from the first by the provisions which apply to them.

European Community

The European Community, which replaced the European Economic Community, came into being through the Treaty of Maastricht. It covers, inter alia, the following areas: agriculture, customs union, environment, transport, competition, free movement of persons, consumer protection, monetary policy, common commercial policy, etc. All these areas make up what is referred to as the "first pillar" (or "Community pillar"). This pillar does not include the common foreign and security policy or police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, which are subject to different rules.

TREATIES

Treaty of Maastricht

The Treaty of Maastricht was signed on 7 February 1992 and entered into force on 1 November 1993. It brought together in a single framework - which it called "the European Union" - the Communities, the common foreign and security policy as well as cooperation in the fields of justice and home affairs (JHA). It also put into place Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) with a single currency (the "euro"). It further enshrined the concept of European citizenship and provided for greater involvement of the European Parliament in law-making by setting up the co-decision procedure (Council + Parliament) for a series of areas.

Treaty of Amsterdam

The Treaty of Amsterdam was signed on 2 October 1997 and entered into force on 1 May 1999. It amended the Treaty of Maastricht in particular with a view to the Union's future enlargement. It introduced, inter alia, a flexibility clause enabling enhanced cooperation to be set up among certain Member States under certain conditions. It transferred some areas, notably free movement of persons, from the third pillar to the first pillar (the "Community pillar"). It also introduced a Community employment policy, laid down the principle of citizens' access to the institutions' documents, broadened the scope of the co-decision procedures and increased the number of cases where the Council decides by a qualified majority.

BASIC PRINCIPLES

Subsidiarity and proportionality

The subsidiarity principle is intended to ensure that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen and that constant checks are made as to whether action at Community level is justified in the light of the possibilities available at national, regional or local level. Specifically, it is the principle whereby the Union does not take action (except in the areas which fall within its exclusive competence) unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level. It is closely bound up with the principle of proportionality, which requires that any action by the Union should not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Treaty on European Union.

INSTITUTIONS

European Parliament

The European Parliament is the assembly of the representatives of the 370 million European Union citizens. Since 1979 they have been elected by direct universal suffrage and today total 626 distributed between Member States by reference to their population, with an adjustment being made to favour the less populated Member States. Parliament's main functions are as follows:

· it is associated with the Council in the legislative process by means of various procedures, frequently as co-legislator;

· it has the power of control over the Union's activities through its confirmation of the European Commission (and the right to censure it) and through the written and oral questions it can put to the Commission and the Council;

· it shares budgetary powers with the Council in voting on the annual budget, rendering it enforceable through its President's signature, and overseeing its implementation via the vote giving a discharge to the Commission.

It can set up temporary committees of inquiry, whose powers are not confined to examining the actions of the Community institutions but may also relate to actions by Member States in implementing Community policies.

Members are elected on national or regional lists according to country.

Council of the European Union

The Council of Ministers of the Union is the European Union's main decision-making institution. It consists of the ministers of the fifteen Member States responsible for the matters on the agenda: foreign affairs, agriculture, industry, transport, etc. Each country in the Union in turn holds the Presidency of the Council for six months. Decisions are prepared by the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Member States (Coreper), assisted by working parties of national government officials. This Committee also carries out the instructions given to it by the Council.

The Council acts either by a qualified majority or unanimously depending on the legal basis of the act to be adopted. In the European Community context, the qualified majority rule is the one most often applied.

Procedural matters are decided on by a simple majority.

European Commission

The European Commission is an institution with powers of initiative, implementation, management and control. It embodies the general interests.

It is composed of twenty independent members (two each from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom and one each from all the other countries), including a President and two Vice-Presidents. It is appointed for a five-year term, by agreement among the Member States, and is subject to a vote of appointment by the European Parliament, to which it is answerable, before it can be sworn in. The Commissioners are assisted by an administration made up of directorates-general and specialised departments whose staff are divided mainly between Brussels and Luxembourg.

Court of Justice

The Court of Justice of the European Communities is made up of fifteen judges assisted by nine advocates-general appointed for six years by agreement among the Member States. It has two principal functions:

    · to check whether instruments of the European institutions and of governments are compatible with the Treaties;

    · at the request of a national court, to pronounce on the interpretation or the validity of provisions contained in Community law.

The Court is assisted by a Court of First Instance, set up in 1989, which has special responsibility for dealing with administrative disputes in the European institutions and disputes arising from the Community competition rules.

Court of Auditors

The Court of Auditors is composed of fifteen members appointed for six years by unanimous decision of the Council after consulting the European Parliament. It audits Union revenue and expenditure to make sure it is lawful and proper and ensures that financial management is sound.

DISTRIBUTION OF POLICIES

Pillars of the European Union

In Community parlance people often refer to the three pillars of the EU Treaty to designate the three categories into which are divided the various areas where the Union is active to varying degrees and in different ways. These are:

    · the "first pillar": the Community dimension, comprising the arrangements set out in the EC, ECSC and Euratom Treaties, i.e. Union citizenship, Community policies, Economic and Monetary Union, etc.;

    · the "second pillar": the common foreign and security policy, which comes under Title V of the EU Treaty;

    · the "third pillar": police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, which comes under Title VI of the EU Treaty.

The difference between the three pillars basically reflects the provisions applicable to them. The first pillar comes under the "Community method", and the second and third pillars under the "intergovernmental method".

METHODS

Community method and intergovernmental method

The "community method" is the expression used for the institutional operating mode for the first pillar of the European Union. It proceeds from an integration logic and has the following salient features:

    · Commission monopoly of hte right of initiative;

    · general use of qualified majority voting in the Council;

    · an active role for the European Parliament in co-legislating frequently with the Council;

    · uniformity in the interpretation of Community law ensured by the Court de justice.

The method used for the second and third pillars is similar to the so-called "intergovernmental method", with the difference that the Commission shares its right of initiative with the Member States, the European Parliament is informed and consulted and the Council may adopt binding acts. As a general rule, the Council acts unanimously.