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The European Union is a Community of 28 European nations and almost a half billion citizens gathered around common political, economical, cultural and social values.

Historical roots of the EU

The European Community was founded by the declaration of the 9th of May 1950 of the French Foreign Minister, Robert Shuman, proposing the integration of the coal and steel industries of Western Europe.

The “Schuman Declaration” becomes reality on 18th of April 1951 when 6 countries (Belgium, West Germany, Luxembourg, France, Italy and the Netherlands) signed the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The Treaty entered into force on the 23rd of July 1952.

The first success registered by the ECSC determined the foreign ministers of the 6 founding countries to go further and integrate other sectors of their economies. In 1956 they signed the Treaties creating the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) and the European Economic Community (EEC) which entered into force on the 1st of January 1958.

During 50 years of existence, there have been five waves of accession:

  • 1973: Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom;
  • 1981: Greece;
  • 1986: Spain and Portugal;
  • 1995: Austria, Finland and Sweden;
  • 2004: Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia;
  • Bulgaria and Romania in 2007;
  • Croatia in 2013. 

Following successive accessions the most used denomination for this structure is “European Community”. This brought the recognition of a single Commission and a single Council of Ministers, as well as a European Parliament that already existed de facto, following the merge in 1967 of the institutions of the three European Communities (ECSC, EURATOM, and EEC).

The Treaty of Maastricht, entered into force in 1993, introduced new forms of co-operation between the member state governments - for example on defense, and in the area of justice and home affairs. By adding this inter-governmental co-operation to the existing "Community" system, the Maastricht Treaty created the “European Union” (EU). In the same time the EC Council becomes the EU Council and the EC Commission becomes the European Commission.

The first treaties of the European Communities have been completed by:

· The Single European Act (1987)

· The Maastricht Treaty (1992)

· The Amsterdam Treaty (1997)

· The Treaty of Nice (2000).

The Reform Treaty

The Convention for the Future of Europe, chaired by Mr. Valéry Giscard D"Estaing, proposed after months of negotiations and debates a project for a Constitution for Europe. The text of the Constitution gives more coherence to the existing Treaties and brings the Union closer to its citizens. The works of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) were concluded by the adoption of the Constitution Project during the European Council of June 2004.

The text of the Constitution was officially signed by the Head of Sates and Governments in Rome, on the 29th of October 2004. Following the rejection of the European Constitution by France and the Netherlands in 2005 and a two year reflection period, on the 23rd of June 2007 the EU leaders agreed on a mandate for a new Intergovernmental Conference. The task of this Intergovernmental conference was to draw up a new Treaty on Institutional reform by the end of 2007.

The Reform Treaty focuses on the EU’s need for modernisation and reform. Its main objectives are to make the EU:

- more democratic, meeting the European citizens’expectations for high standards of accountability, openness, transparency and participation;

- more efficient and able to tackle today's global challenges such as climate change, security and sustainable development.

The final text of the Treaty drawn up by the ICG was approved during the informal European Council in Lisbon on 18-19 October and will be signed by the Member States on the 13th of December 2007. The signature of the Treaty will be followed by the ratification process in all 27 countries. It is hoped that the new Treaty will come into force before the next European Parliament elections in June 2009.

The Enlargement Process

At present, the European Union has 27 Member States and the accession process with Croatia and Turkey is ongoing. There are three candidate countries: Croatia, Turkey and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. All the other Western Balkan countries are potential candidate countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia including Kosovo under UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

The European Union isbased on a Community evolving to the Economic and Monetary Union, as well as on the co-operation among the Member States in the field of internal and external policy.

The European Union has the mission to organise in a coherent way the relations among the Member States, by:

· Promoting the economic and social progress (achievement of the Single Market starting with 1993, launching the single European currency from 1999);

· Stating the European identity on the international scene (European humanitarian aid for third countries, Common Security and Defense Policy, interventions to manage the international crises, Member States common position within the international organisations);

· Setting up the European citizenship (which complements the national citizenship without replacing it, and which confers to the European citizen certain political and civil rights);

· Creating an area of freedom, security and justice (in close connection with the functioning of the Single Market and free movement of persons);

· Maintaining and developing the acquis communautaire (the whole set of legal texts adopted by the European institutions, including the founding Treaties).

Symbols of the European Union

    The European Flag is blue, with 12 stars. Initially, the flag has been adopted by the Council of Europe, in 1955, and it became the official flag of the European Community in May 1986. The number of stars has nothing to do with the number of Member States; there are 12 stars because this number is traditionally the symbol of perfection, completeness and unity; it is also the number of months in a year and the number of hours shown on a clock face.

 The European Anthem, adopted in June 1985 by the European Council of Milan, is the “Ode of Joy”, prelude of the fourth part of the Ninth Symphony composed by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is not intended to replace the national anthems of the Member States but rather to celebrate the values they all share and their unity in diversity.

The Single European Currency – Euro – entered into force on the 1st of January 1999 and on the 1st of January 2002 the Euro banknotes and coins were put in circulation. The Euro symbol design was inspired by the Greek letter epsilon, and the first letter of the word "Europe". The two parallel lines indicate the stability of the Euro.

Starting with May 2000, Europe has a motto:United in Diversity, which is the result of a contest in which participated with proposals 80.000 young people, between 10 and 20 years old.

 

Photos: © European Union 2010

 

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