Monday, August 21, 2006

European Union

The European Union (EU) is an intergovernmental and supranational union of 25 democratic member states. The European Union was established under that name in 1992 by the Treaty on European Union (the Maastricht Treaty). However, many aspects of the Union existed before that date through a series of predecessor relationships, dating back to 1951.
The Union currently has a common single market consisting of a customs union, a single currency managed by the European Central Bank (so far adopted by 12 of the 25 member states), a Common Agricultural Policy, a common trade policy, and a Common Fisheries Policy. A Common Foreign and Security Policy was also established as the second of the three pillars of the European Union. The Schengen Agreement abolished passport control, and customs checks were also abolished at many of the EU's internal borders, creating a single space of mobility for EU citizens to live, travel, work and invest.
The most important EU institutions include the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, the European Court of Justice, the European Central Bank and the European Parliament. The European Parliament's origins go back to the 1950s and the founding treaties, and since 1979 its members have been elected by the people they represent. Every five years elections are held in which registered EU citizens may vote.
The European Union's activities cover all areas of public policy, from health and economic policy to foreign affairs and defence. However, the extent of its powers differs greatly between areas. Depending on the area in question, the EU may therefore resemble a federation (e.g. on monetary affairs, agricultural, trade and environmental policy, economic and social policy), a confederation (e.g. on home affairs) or an international organisation (e.g. in foreign affairs).

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