European Union Members

Austria Belgium Bulgaria
Croatia Cyprus Czechia
Denmark Estonia Finland
Greece Hungary Ireland
Italy Latvia Lithuania
Luxembourg Malta Netherlands
Poland Portugal Romania
Slovakia Spain Sweden

*The United King withdrew from the EU and is currently in a transition period

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European Union Overview

The European Union (EU) was established with the purpose of unifying sovereign European nation-states.  Although the EU was not officially formed until 1993, following the Paris Peace Treaties, joint efforts were made to ensure European prosperity and peace post-World War II.  In 1956, the European Economic Community (EEC), a predecessor of the EU, was established.  A primary goal of the coalition was to reduce trade barriers amongst European nations, thereby reducing competition and establishing standards for agriculture and trade agreements between participating nations.

The Maastricht Treaty was signed on February 7, 1992, and entered into force on November 1, 1993, which paved the way for the establishment of the EU, moreover, granting citizenship status to each individual who is a citizen of participating nation-states.  In an effort to promote democracy, EU citizenship bestows their people the right to vote and run for local and federal offices in their respective residential country, regardless of national origin.

Additionally, the treaty influenced a central banking system and the creation of a common currency, the Euro.  The European Central Bank (ECB), working closely with each central bank within the EU, is responsible for maintaining stable prices; moreover, strengthening the value of the Euro.  However, membership to the EU does not require a nation to immediately adopt the Euro; while Hungary joined the EU sixteen years ago, their currency remains the Hungarian forint; and is still in the process of making the switch.  While nations outside this union, such as French overseas territories, recognize the positive influence of the ECB, have converted from their local currency to the Euro.  Considered one of the most essential central banks worldwide, the ECB is responsible for overseeing more than one-hundred-twenty commercial and central banks.

In addition to their influence over financial institutions, the EU is responsible for the implementation of common policies, specifically, in the foreign and security realm.   Furthermore, this coalition addresses vital issues such as social policy, policing, and environmental to aid in the betterment of Europe as a whole.

Political Structure

The signing of the Treaty of Lisbon (Reform Treaty), an agreement amongst participating nations to work in collaboration, aided in forming the EU’s political structure since 2007, moreover, entrusting the EU with decision-making powers.  In addition to the ECB operating in the financial realm, the EU consists of six additional institutions that provide executive, legislative and judicial services.

Financial: European Central Bank
Executive: European Counsel
European Commission
Legislative: European Parliament
Council of the EU (Council of Ministers)
Judicial: Court of Justice of the European Union
European Court of Auditors

 

Executive responsibilities of the EU are divided between the European Council and the European Commission.  The Council, comprised of the top political leader of each participating nation and led by a member-elected president who serves a 30-month term for a maximum of two terms, is responsible for the EU’s broad direction, additionally, addressing urgent high-level questions.  The day-to-day responsibilities fall under the jurisdiction of The European Commission.  Its members, appointed by the European Council, represent the EU on a global scale at international organizations and summits, as well as in negotiations.  Additional responsibilities included the management of the budget, decision implementation, and issue regulation.

In order for an EU law to be put into effect, it must be passed by both legislative branches – The European Parliament and the Council of European Union.  The European Parliament, consisting of elected officials representing each membership nation proportionately by population, oversees the commission and is responsible for the negotiation and approval of the EU budget.  The Council of the European Union, organized by policy such as foreign and agriculture, is comprised of government ministers from each nation represented in the EU.

The jurisdictional system of the EU is comprised of The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), considered the highest judicial authority within the EU and the European Court of Auditors (ECA).  The CJEU, responsible for interpreting EU laws and settling disputes, divides its responsibilities between the European Court of Justice, which takes responsibility for communicating and clarifying the law for national courts.  As well as cases of member state violations and the General Courts who takes on a broader range of appointments including cases against EU institutions by individuals and organizations.  The ECA is responsible for auditing the EU budget, moreover, assuring money is properly spent, while reporting fraudulent activities to the proper authorities – Parliament, the commission, and sovereign governments.

While the ECB, European Council, European Commission, European Parliament, Council of EU, CJEU, and ECA are the seven official institutions, the EU consists of additional establishments that aid in implementing EU policies.  Amongst these organizations are banks, schools, committees, foundations, offices whose contributions include research, recommendations, and administrative tasks.

Goals and Values of the EU

The EU is profoundly grounded in democracy, freedom, equality, as well as human rights and dignity.  Driven by the rule of law, the EU was established via treaties voluntarily established by participating nations and is upheld under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.  Established as a representative democracy, every adult EU citizen is granted the right to run for office, vote in the European Parliament elections, as well as their country of residence of origin. Additionally, the EU allows for free trade amongst its members, eliminating tariffs, extra checks, and charges. The EU’s goals and values are contained in the Lisbon Treaty and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The values shared by EU nations are vital to European lifestyles that value justice, tolerance, non-discrimination, inclusion, equality, and solidarity, which are the pillars of the EU.  An essential right under the EU is freedom of movement, which grants citizens access to reside in any EU nation.  The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights explicitly guarantees certain freedoms, such as thought, religion, assembly, as well as respect for private life, inclusive to all EU nations.  Additionally, this charter protects its citizens from being discriminated against based on sex, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, or disability, as well as protection of personal data and access to obtain justice.

There is a direct connection to the EU’s carefully written laws and their goals.  One can consider the EU’s main goal to be “freedom, security, and justice without internal borders.”  The EU emphasizes the importance of peace and the well-being of its people.  Crucial to the EU is developing a sustainable union through balanced economic growth, price stability, a competitive market economy, and full employment, without sacrificing social progress and environmental protection to obtain these goals.

Equality amongst all its citizens is embedded in all European policies, resulting in, amongst other things, the EU narrowing the income gap between men and women.  Beyond equality in the workplace, the EU opposes social exclusion and discrimination and respects Europe’s cultural diversity.  Successfully working together in solidarity, the EU won the 2012 Nobel peace prize for advancing “the causes of peace, reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe.”

In addition to its commitment to economic improvements and social justice, the EU recognizes the importance of science and technology.  Providing financial resources, cooperation, and collaboration between research teams from various disciplines and nation-states, including agreements with Morocco, Algeria, the United States, China, and Iceland amongst other nations worldwide, has led the EU to breakthrough discoveries.  A prime example is the EU’s funding for cell stem research conducted by a joint effort between Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Karolinska’s Institute in Sweden, which includes contributions from twenty-one research teams across ten countries to the development for disease treatment.

Foreign Policy of the EU

 

While the EU’s collaborative efforts have proven to be successful on a more local level, its foreign policy, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), has been under criticism for its failure to establish a common stance amongst its participants.  Although the EU has played a vital role in negotiating international agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord, and the Iranian Nuclear Deal, other issues such as migration policies, have divided members, ultimately resulting in Brexit.

Primarily concerned with security, diplomacy, The EU and its member’s national government representatives establish defense cooperation amongst its members, the general direction of CFSP via the European Council and the Council of Ministers.  Implementation of foreign policies is the responsibility of the EU Ministers within the European Commission, a position created by the Treaty of Lisbon to centralize and strengthen EU diplomacy; however, CFSP decisions must be unanimous. Each nation maintains the power to create its own foreign policies, thereby promoting an environment in which it is difficult for EU foreign policies to be implemented.

Brexit

Brexit, an acronym for British Exit, refers to the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.  This marks the first nation to exit the union.  Brexit dates back to the June 2016 referendum, in which fifty-two percent of the 17.4 million voters opted out of the EU.  However, the United Kingdom did not formally leave the EU until January 31, 2020 (known as Brexit Day), at which time the UK agreed to the terms of departure.  Although the terms of departure have been agreed upon, the future relationship between the UK and the EU remains in negotiation.

Immediately following Brexit day, the UK and the EU entered the transition period, also referred to as the implementation period, in which a new free trade period is being negotiated.  This period is expected to end on December 31, 2020.  If a trade deal cannot be agreed upon by then, the UK faces the possibility of incurring tariffs, extra checks, and chargers.  In addition to the trade agreement, other issues that need to be resolved and finalized include law enforcement, security data sharing, aviation issues, electrical and gas supply access and licensing, and medication regulation.  During this transition period, the EU agrees to follow EU law.

 

Current Issues -EU’s Handling of COVID-19 Pandemic

Although the WHO did not declare COVID-19 a pandemic until March 11, 2020, the EU was proactive regarding this virus as early as January, 2020, when COVID-19 began to appear in isolated incidents in some EU nations, this prompted the activation of EU’s integrated political crisis response mechanism (IPCR), into an information-sharing model.  In this mode, the IPCR, which serves as the highest political level coordinator of cross-sectional crisis, allows member nations permissions to a secured web platform to share information, as well as access to regular situational awareness and analysis reports by the European Commission and the European External Action Service.  The level was subsequently escalated to full mode on March 2, 2020, permitting affected member states, the European Commission, the European External Action Service, the President of the European Council’s office, and relevant EU agencies and experts to participate in crisis roundtables.  At this point, cases of COVID-19 were being reported, moreover, increasing in all EU member states, especially in Northern Italy, that had been seeing a drastic increase since the end of February.

The EU declared these priorities in combatting COVID-19:

  • Ensuring the availability of medical equipment.
  • Limiting the spread of the virus.
  • Researching treatments, including developing a vaccine, and supporting the economy.

Resources have been mobilized for emergency responses and adequate supplies of protective equipment made available.  Member states are working collectively, increasing research efforts.  In addition to the collaborative medical efforts, the EU recognizes the importance of a recovery plan, as well as the socio-economic impact of the virus.

 

Bibliography

https://www.britannica.com/event/Maastricht-Treaty

https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/eu-in-brief_en

https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-status-iran-nuclear-agreement

https://www.thestreet.com/politics/what-is-european-union-14690672

https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/how-does-european-union-work

https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/coronavirus/

https://cordis.europa.eu

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-32810887