The European Community
How it all began
After World War Two, Europe was weak.
• Millions of its citizens had died.
• The age of Empire was dead.
• Two new superpowers, America and the Soviet Union, now dominated
Europe had to find a new role.
It began to do this in 1952 with the creation of the European Coal and Steel
Community (ECSC). This organisation had six members — France, West Germany,
Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Its job? To unite Europe's coal
and steel industries. Why? (a) To make them more efficient, (b) To increase
profits, (c) To promote peace and co-operation. Five years later, the same
countries went even further. At a conference in Rome they decided to form the
European Economic Community (or 'EEC'). This agreement created a 'common
market' with ... (a) central organisations like the European Commission and the
European Parliament run it, (b) common rules on trade and agriculture, which
each government in the Community agreed to follow.
France, West Germany, Italy
and the Benelux countries signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Denmark, the UK
and Ireland joined the Community sixteen years later in 1973. Greece became a
member in 1981, and five years later, so did Spain and Portugal. That made a
total of twelve as the 1990s began, but more countries seem certain to join.
Austria, Sweden and Turkey have already applied for membership. And then, of
course, there are ex-Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
What the EC does
Today's Community (it's
usually called the EC now, not the EEC) works hard to promote European
business, industry and free trade. It's not just an economic organisation,
though. These days, EC decisions and laws affect almost every aspect of life in
the member countries, including:
• education • employment •
energy • the environment • foreign aid •
human rights • the law • medical and scientific research • transport. Now let's
look at some of the organisations which propose (the European Commission),
debate (the European Parliament) and take those decisions (the Council of
The European Commission
This is where new 'Euro' ideas
are born. The Commission's headquarters are in Brussels and it employs over
1,500 people. The most important of these are ... (a) the President of the
Commission, (b) seventeen 'Commissioners' — two each from Germany, France,
Italy, Britain and Spain — one from each of the other member nations. They
serve for four years and are responsible not to their national parliaments, but
to the European Parliament.
Ideas come from the
Commissioners and their teams or 'cabinets' (each one specialises in a
different subject, e.g. trade or agriculture). These ideas are then either
accepted or rejected by a majority vote of all the Commissioners. If an idea is
accepted, it moves forward to the European Parliament.
The European Parliament
Members of the European
Parliament (MEPs) are directly elected every five years by voters in their own
countries. There are 518 of them:
• France, Britain, Germany and Italy have 81 each.
• Spain has 60.
• The Netherlands has 25.
• Belgium, Greece and Portugal have 24 each.
• Denmark has 16.
• Ireland has 15.
• Luxembourg has 6.
OK — that's where they come from. Now... where do they work and what powers do
they have? Well... they work in two different places. (1) Strasbourg (in
northern France). That's where the main Parliament building is and where
debates take place. (2) Brussels. The majority of MEP's job consists of
research, meetings and committee work. Most of this happens in the Belgian
capital. As for powers — MEPs can't actually pass laws What they can do,
though, is represent the views of ordinary Europeans. The Parliament's... •
reports • debates • recommendations... are a vital democratic link between the
Commission and the Council of Ministers.
The Council of Ministers
This organisation consists of
government ministers from all member countries who meet regularly to talk about
Community business. For example, when important agricultural issues (which have
come through the Commission and the Parliament) need to be discussed, there's a
meeting of the agriculture ministers — when transport issues need to be
discussed, the transport ministers meet, and so on.
Most EC decisions are made by the Council of Ministers. Most, but not all. Why
is that? Because really central questions are decided at an even higher level —
namely at Euro-Summits.
These crucial meetings take
place three times per year. The people who go to them are:
• (a) Heads of State (Presidents and Prime Ministers).
• (b) Foreign Ministers.
It's during summits that the
EC's biggest decisions are taken (or sometimes not taken) — for example...
What will a single European currency mean for the Community?
Should Europe have a common defence and foreign policy?
So... that's the end of our
brief EC tour. But what about the future? How will the Community develop in
years to come? Will there be a European government one day, for example? Maybe
even a "United States of Europe"? Perhaps. Perhaps not. For now, it's
too early to say, but one thing is cer¬tain — despite all its problems — Europe
has never been more united in its long history than it is today.