It is often said that the EU's
decision-making system is too remote from ordinary people, who cannot
understand its complexities and its difficult legal texts. The proposed
new constitution of the Eu was to have addressed many of the issues raised
under this heading.
changes under the new constitutional treaty – this was rejected by the
voters of France and The Netherlands and is curently ‘in limbo’
awaiting a re-visit at some time in the future.
revisions of the treaties that form the constitution of the European Union
have increased the power of the directly-elected
Parliament in an attempt to reduce the perceived democratic
establishing a Constitution for Europe, if it had been
ratified, would have made the following changes in this regard:
some commentators argued that the treaty did not go far enough in reducing
the perceived democratic deficit. In particular, they pointed out that:
would be no change to the
principle that EU laws, and the terms of constitution itself,
supersede national laws: "The Constitution and law adopted by
the institutions of the Union in exercising competences conferred on
it shall have primacy over the law of the Member States" (Article
I-6). The constitution specifically spelled out that, for
those areas of policy where member states share competence with the EU,
national governments may act at national level only where they have
not already acted through the EU. In other areas, member states confer
sole competence on the EU, i.e. they agree to act only at European
I-12). In any case, the question of whether EU laws can
reasonably be described as "national governments acting at EU
level", when the European Commission has the sole right to
propose those laws, is controversial.
national parliaments would acquire the right to send a proposal back
to the Commission for reconsideration,
but there is no explicit requirement for the Commission to make any
changes to its proposal as a result.
principle of susidiarity
is the principle which states that matters ought to be handled by the
smallest (or, the lowest) competent authority
is presently best known as a fundamental principle of European
Union law. According to this principle, the EU may only act
(i.e. make laws) where member states agree that action of individual
countries is insufficient.
was established in EU law by the Treaty of Maastricht, signed on 7
February 1992 and entered into force on 1 November 1993. The present
formulation is contained in Article 5 of the Treaty Establishing the
European Community (consolidated version following the Treaty of Nice,
which entered into force on 1 February 2003):
Community shall act within the limits of the powers conferred upon it by
this Treaty and of the objectives assigned to it therein.
areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community
shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only
if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be
sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of
the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the
action by the Community shall not go beyond what is necessary to achieve
the objectives of this Treaty.
more descriptive analysis of the principle can be found in Protocol 30 to
the EC Treaty.
9 of the proposed European constitution states
the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its
exclusive competence the Union shall act only if and insofar as the
objectives of the intended action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the
Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but
can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be
better achieved at Union level.
the principle of subsidiarity applies to those areas where the Community
does not have exclusive competence, the principle delineating those areas
where the Community should and should not act. In practice, the concept is
frequently used in a more informal manner in discussions as to which
competences should be given to the Community, and which retained for the
Member States alone.
concept of subsidiarity therefore has both a legal and a political
dimension. Consequently, there are varying views as to its legal and
political consequences, and various criteria are put forward explaining
the content of the principle. For example:
The action must be
necessary because actions of individuals or member-state governments alone
will not achieve the objectives of the action (the sufficiency criterion)
The action must bring added
value over and above what could be achieved by individual or member-state
government action alone (the benefit criterion).
Decisions should be taken
as closely as possible to the citizen (the close to the citizen criterion)
The action should secure
greater freedoms for the individual (the autonomy criterion).
The European Union,
however, has as part of its phraseology a call for "an ever-closer
union." What restraints upon the progress of centralised decision
making would be brought about by strict reference to the principle of
subsidiarity have yet to be proven by major constitutional clashes.
introduction to EU jargon
People within the EU institutions and in
the media dealing with EU affairs often use 'euro jargon' words and
expressions that they alone understand. Euro jargon can be very confusing
to the general public. Hopefully, this guide will help you understand most
of the terms used in EU discussions.
This usually means the ability of a
country or organization to receive aid and use it effectively. Developing
countries often lack this capacity. For example, a country may receive
enough money to enable all its children to attend primary school - but
owing to a lack of teachers, lack of schools or a poor administrative
system, it is impossible to spend this money in the short term. Work must
first be done to train teachers, build schools and improve the efficiency
of the system - thus raising the country's 'absorptive capacity'.
This is a candidate country that has met
the Copenhagen criteria and has completed negotiations for joining the
This is a French term meaning,
essentially, "the EU as it is" – in other words, the rights
and obligations that EU countries share. The "acquis" includes
all the EU's treaties and laws, declarations and resolutions,
international agreements on EU affairs and the judgments given by the
Court of Justice. It also includes action that EU governments take
together in the area of "justice and home affairs" and on the
Common Foreign and Security Policy. "Accepting the acquis"
therefore means taking the EU as you find it. Candidate countries have to
accept the "acquis" before they can join the EU, and make EU law
part of their own national legislation.
For a fuller explanation, see
"Community acquis" in the glossary.
This term literally means "things
to be done". It normally refers to the list of items for discussion
at a meeting, but politicians also use it as a jargon term meaning
"things we want to achieve". For example, the EU’s
"Social Agenda" sets out what the Union wants to achieve, over
the next few years, in terms of employment and social policies. It forms
part of the “Lisbon Strategy.
The EU aims to guarantee fair and free
competition in the single market, and to ensure that companies compete
rather than collude. So EU rules prohibit agreements that restrict
competition (e.g. secret agreements between companies to charge
artificially high prices) and abuses by firms who hold a dominant position
on the market. Rules of this kind are known as “anti-trust”
legislation. The Commission has considerable powers to prohibit
anti-competitive activities, and to impose fines on firms found guilty of
This means a country that has applied to
join the European Union. Once its application has been officially
accepted, it becomes a candidate country.
For further details see glossary.
This means measuring how well one
country, business, industry, etc. is performing compared to other
countries, businesses, industries, and so on. The 'benchmark' is the
standard by which performance will be judged. Benchmarking is one of the
techniques used in the 'Lisbon process'.
One way of improving policies in the EU
is for governments to look at what is going on in other EU countries and
to see what works best. They can then adopt this 'best practice', adapting
it to their own national and local circumstances.
"Brussels has decided…":
The term “Brussels” is often used in
the media to refer to the EU institutions, most of which are located in
the city of Brussels. EU laws are proposed by the European Commission but
it is the Council of the European Union (ministers from the national
governments) and the European Parliament (elected by the European
citizens) that debate, amend and ultimately decide whether to pass these
A technical term meaning the gap between
a government's revenue and its expenditure
This means a country that has applied to
join the European Union and whose application has been officially
accepted. At present there are four candidate countries: Bulgaria,
Croatia, Romania and Turkey. Before a candidate country can join the EU it
must meet the 'Copenhagen criteria'.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was
first introduced in 1960, to ensure that Europe had secure food supplies
at affordable prices. But it became a victim of its own success,
generating unwanted surpluses of some products such as beef, barley, milk
and wine. Also, the subsidies paid to European farmers were distorting
world trade. So the European Commission began reviewing the CAP in 1999.
The EU agreed further reforms in 2003, with the emphasis on high-quality
farm produce and animal-friendly farming practices that respect the
environment and preserve the countryside. The EU plans to cut back on
direct subsidies to farmers, so as to redress the balance between EU
agricultural markets and those of the developing world.
This means consulting civil society (see
below) when the European Commission is drawing up its policies and
proposals for legislation. It is a broader concept than 'social dialogue'.
This is the collective name for all
kinds of organizations and associations that are not part of government
but that represent professions, interest groups or sections of society. It
includes (for example) trade unions, employers' associations,
environmental lobbies and groups representing women, farmers, people with
disabilities and so on. Since these organizations have a lot of expertise
in particular areas and are involved in implementing and monitoring
European Union policies, the EU regularly consults civil society and wants
it to become more involved in European policymaking.
This means (literally) 'sticking
together'. The jargon term 'promoting social cohesion' means the EU tries
to make sure that everyone has a place in society – for example by
tackling poverty, unemployment and discrimination. The EU budget includes
money known as the 'Cohesion Fund' which is used to finance projects that
help the EU 'stick together'. For example, it finances new road and rail
links that help disadvantaged regions take a full part in the EU economy.
This is more correctly known as
"committee procedure". It describes a process in which the
Commission, when implementing EU law, has to consult special advisory
committees made up of experts from the EU countries.
For a fuller explanation, go to
When the EEC (see below) was founded in
1957, it was based on a 'common market'. In other words, people, goods and
services should be able to move around freely between the member states as
if they were all one country, with no checks carried out at the borders
and no customs duties paid. However, this took a while to achieve: customs
duties between the EEC countries were not completely abolished until 1
July 1968. Other barriers to trade also took a long while to remove, and
it was not until the end of 1992 that the 'Single Market' (as it became
known) was in place.
This technical term means transferring a
matter from the second or third 'pillar' of the EU to the first 'pillar'
so that it can be dealt with using the 'Community method '
This is a procedure for transferring
certain matters from the third 'pillar' of the EU to
the first 'pillar' so that they can be dealt with using the Community
method (see below). Any decision to use the bridge has to be taken by the
Council, unanimously, and then ratified by each Member State.
Community/communities: see 'European Communities'.
This is the EU's usual method of
decision-making, in which the Commission makes a proposal to the Council
and Parliament who then debate it, propose amendments and eventually adopt
it as EU law. In the process, they will often consult other bodies such as
the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the
This is euro jargon for 'powers and
responsibilities'. It is often used in political discussions about what
powers and responsibilities should be given to EU institutions and what
should be left to national, regional and local authorities.
This usually means the government
department or other body responsible for dealing with a particular issue.
It is 'competent' in the sense of having the legal power and
of the EU:
At present, the EU is founded on four
basic treaties that lay down the rules by which it has to operate. These
treaties are big and complex, and EU leaders intend to replace them with a
single, shorter, simpler document spelling out the EU's purposes and aims
and stating clearly who does what. This new document (technically known as
the 'constitutional Treaty') will be rather similar to the constitution of
a country - even though the EU is not, and does not aim to be, a single
country. The text of this new EU Constitution was agreed in June 2004 and
signed by all the member state governments in October 2004. It is due to
come into force in 2006, but first it must be ratified by all the national
parliaments and, in some countries, be approved by referendum.
This term has various meanings,
including (in the EU context) a group of people representing the EU
institutions, the national governments and parliaments, who come together
to draw up an important document. Conventions of this sort met to draw up
the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the draft EU
on the future of Europe:
The European Convention (also known as
the Convention on the future of Europe) was set up in December 2001. It
had 105 members, representing the presidents or prime ministers of the EU
member states and candidate countries, their national parliaments, the
European Parliament and the European Commission. Its Chairman was former
French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. The Convention's job was to
draw up a new Treaty that would set out clear rules for running the
European Union after enlargement. It was, in effect, to be the
Constitution of the EU (see above). The Convention completed its work on
10 July 2003.
In June 1993, EU leaders meeting in
Copenhagen set three criteria that any candidate country (see above) must
meet before it can join the European Union. First, it must have stable
institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and
respect for minorities. Second, it must have a functioning market economy.
Third, it must take on board all the acquis (see above) and support the
various aims of the European Union. In addition, it must have a public
administration capable of applying and managing EU laws in practice. The
EU reserves the right to decide when a candidate country has met these
criteria and when the EU is ready to accept the new member.
There are three different European
bodies with the word 'council' in their names:
The European Council
This is the meeting of heads of State
and government (i.e. presidents and/or prime ministers) of all the EU
countries, plus the President of the European Commission. The European
Council meets, in principle, four times a year to agree overall EU policy
and to review progress. It is the highest-level policy-making body in the
European Union, which is why its meetings are often called “summits”.
The Council of the European Union
Formerly known as the Council of
Ministers, this institution consists of government ministers from all the
EU countries. The Council meets regularly to take detailed decisions and
to pass European laws.
The Council of Europe
This is not an EU institution. It is an
intergovernmental organization based in Strasbourg and it aims (amongst
other things) to protect human rights, to promote Europe's cultural
diversity and to combat social problems such as xenophobia and
intolerance. The Council of Europe was set up in 1949 and one of its early
achievements was to draw up the European Convention on Human Rights. To
enable citizens to exercise their rights under that Convention it set up
the European Court of Human Rights.
Every year a different European city is
designated as the “European capital of culture”. The aim is to
publicise and celebrate the cultural achievements and charms of this city
and so make European citizens more aware of the rich heritage they share.
Cork (in Ireland) has been chosen as European capital of culture for 2005.
Further information is available at www.cork2005.ie The Greek town of
Patras has been designated for 2006.
It is often said that the EU's
decision-making system is too remote from ordinary people, who cannot
understand its complexities and its difficult legal texts. The EU is
trying to overcome this “democratic deficit” through simpler
legislation and better public information, and by giving civil society
(see above) a greater say in European policymaking. Citizens are already
represented in EU decision-making via the European Parliament.
The staff of the main EU institutions
(Commission, Council and Parliament) are organized into a number of
distinct departments, known as “Directorates-General” (DGs), each of
which is responsible for specific tasks or policy areas The administrative
head of a DG is known as the 'Director-General' (a term sometimes also
abbreviated to 'DG').
This abbreviation refers either to the
'European Community' or to the 'European Commission'.
The European Community
Is the present name for what was
originally called the 'European Economic Community' (EEC):
The European Commission
Is the politically independent
institution that represents and upholds the interests of the European
Union as a whole It proposes legislation, policies and programmes of
action and it is responsible for implementing the decisions of Parliament
and the Council.
This abbreviation refers to the European
Economic Area – which consists of the European Union and all the EFTA
countries (see below) except Switzerland. The EEA Agreement, which entered
into force on 1 January 1994, enables Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway to
enjoy the benefits of the EU's single market without the full privileges
and responsibilities of EU membership.
This is the abbreviation for the
European Economic Community – one of three European Communities (see
below) set up in 1957 to bring about economic integration in Europe. There
were originally six member countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy,
Luxembourg and the Netherlands. In 1993, when the Treaty of Maastricht
came into force, the EEC was re-named the European Community (EC) and it
forms the basis of today's European Union.
This is the abbreviation for the
European Free Trade Association – an organization founded in 1960 to
promote free trade in goods amongst its member states. There were
originally seven EFTA countries: Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal,
Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom (UK). Finland joined in 1961,
Iceland in 1970, and Liechtenstein in 1991. In 1973, Denmark and the UK
left EFTA and joined the EEC. They were followed by Portugal in 1986 and
by Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995. Today the EFTA members are
Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
This is an arrangement whereby a group
of EU countries (there must be at least eight of them) can work together
in a particular field even if the other EU countries are unable or
unwilling to join in at this stage. The outsiders must, however, be free
to join in later if they wish.
In the 1950s, the EU began with just six
member states. It now has 25. Growth in EU membership is known as
'enlargement', and it has happened several times:
1950Belgium, France, Germany, Italy,
Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom
Austria, Finland, Sweden
Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta,
Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
This is not really euro jargon. Named
after the great Renaissance scholar, it is an EU-supported education
programme that began in 1987. By 2007, two million students will have
studied in another country thanks to Erasmus. From 2004, a new programme,
Erasmus Mundus, is spending more than €40 million annually on promoting
Masters courses offered by a consortium of at least three universities in
at least three different European countries. Scholarships to take these
courses are available to students from any country.
This is a Commission service, set up in
1973, which measures and analyses trends in public opinion in all the
member states and in the candidate countries. Knowing what the general
public thinks is important in helping the European Commission draft its
legislative proposals, take decisions and evaluate its work. Eurobarometer
uses both opinion polls and focus groups. Its surveys lead to the
publication of around 100 reports every year.
The term “Eurocrats” (a pun on the
word “bureaucrats”) refers to the many thousands of EU citizens who
work for the European institutions (Parliament, the Council, the
This is an unofficial nickname for what
is officially called “the euro area” - also often referred to as
“the euro zone”. This area consists of the EU member states that have
adopted the euro as their currency. So far the countries involved are
Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy,
Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.
This is not really eurojargon. It is the
Latin name for Europe, and it is also the name of the European Union's
official website. This contains a wealth of useful information about the
EU, regularly updated, and it is available in all the official languages
of the EU.
In the 1950s, six European countries
decided to pool their economic resources and set up a system of joint
decision-making on economic issues. To do so, they formed three
The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC),
The European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom)
The European Economic Community (EEC)
These three communities – collectively
known as the 'European communities' – formed the basis of what is today
the European Union. The EEC soon became by far the most important of the
three and was eventually renamed simply 'the European Community' (EC).
EC decisions are taken using the
'Community method' (see above), which involves the EU institutions. This
covers everything the EU does except for those things that are decided
purely by agreement between governments.
This means building unity between
European countries and peoples. Within the European Union it means that
countries pool their resources and take many decisions jointly. This joint
decision-making takes place through interaction between the EU
institutions (the Parliament, the Council, the Commission, etc.).
European Year of…:
Every year or two, the EU or the Council
of Europe may draw public attention to a particular European issue by
organising a series of special events in connection with it.
Day, 9th May:
It was on 9 May 1950 that Robert
Schumann (then French Foreign Minister) made his famous speech proposing
European integration (see above) as the way to secure peace and build
prosperity in post-war Europe. His proposals laid the foundations for what
is now the European Union, so 9 May is celebrated annually as the EU's
This term is often used to mean a person
who is opposed to European integration or who is 'sceptical' of the EU and
Broadly speaking, this means any system
of government where several states form a unity and yet remain independent
in their internal affairs. People who are in favour of this system are
often called “federalists”.
A number of countries around the world
– e.g. Australia, Canada, Germany, Switzerland and the United States –
have federal models of government, in which some matters (such as foreign
policy) are decided at the federal level while others are decided by the
individual states. However, the model differs from one country to another.
The European Union is not based on any
of these models: it is not a federation but a unique form of union in
which the member states remain independent and sovereign nations while
pooling their sovereignty in many areas of common interest. This gives
them a collective strength and influence on the world stage than none of
them could have on their own.
Part of the debate about the future of
Europe is the question of whether the EU should or should not become more
The word 'perspective' here really means
'plan'. The EU has to plan its work well in advance and ensure that it has
enough money to pay for what it wants to do. So its main institutions
(Parliament, the Council and the Commission) have to agree in advance on
the priorities for the next few years and come up with a spending plan
which is called a 'financial perspective'. This financial perspective
states the maximum amount the EU can spend, and what it can spend it on.
In a world of rising costs, the purpose
of the financial perspective is to keep EU expenditure under control.
This expression is often used to mean an
attitude that wants to defend Europe from outside influences, especially
cultural influences. The term 'Fortress Europe' often appears in
discussions about asylum and immigration regulations.
In the years following the Second World
War, people like Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman dreamed of uniting the
peoples of Europe in lasting peace and friendship. Over the following
fifty years, as the EU was built, their dream became reality. That is why
they are called the “founding fathers” of the European Union.
One of the great achievements of the EU
has been to create a frontier-free area within which (I) people, (2)
goods, (3) services and (4) money can all move around freely. This
four-fold freedom of movement is sometimes called “the four freedoms”.
This means a group of countries that
have removed barriers to trade between them – barriers such as import
tariffs and quotas. Several free trade areas have been established around
the world: Mercosur in South America, NAFTA in North America and EFTA in
Europe, for example. The European Union is also a free trade area, but it
is much more than that because it is built on a process of economic and
political integration, with joint decision-taking in many policy areas.
This may mean bringing national laws
into line with one another, very often in order to remove national
barriers that obstruct the free movement of workers, goods, services and
capital. In other words, harmonisation means making sure that, on any
particular issue for which the EU has responsibility, the rules laid down
by the different EU countries impose similar obligations on citizens of
all those countries and that they impose certain minimum obligations in
Harmonisation can also mean co-ordinating
national technical rules so that products and services can be traded
freely throughout the EU. Contrary to popular myth, this does not mean
pointlessly standardising everything from the curvature of cucumbers to
the colour of carrots. Often it simply means that EU countries recognise
one another's safety rules.
This literally means 'between
governments'. In the EU, some matters – such as security and defence
issues – are decided purely by intergovernmental agreement (i.e.
agreement between the governments of the EU countries), and not by the
'Community method' (see above). These intergovernmental decisions are
taken by ministers meeting in the Council of the European Union, or at the
highest level by the prime ministers and/or presidents of the EU
countries, meeting as the European Council.
Intergovernmental Conference (IGC):
This means a conference at which the EU
member states' governments come together to amend the European Union
treaties. The IGC held in 2003 led to the signing, in 2004, of the EU
To compete with other major world
players, the EU needs a modern efficient economy. Meeting in Lisbon in
March 2000, the EU's political leaders set it a new goal: to become,
within a decade, "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based
economy in the world, capable of sustainable growth with more and better
jobs and greater social cohesion.”
The EU's leaders also agreed on a
detailed strategy for achieving this goal. The 'Lisbon strategy' covers
such matters as research, education, training, Internet access and on-line
business. It also covers reform of Europe's social protection systems,
which must be made sustainable so that their benefits can be enjoyed by
future generations. Every spring the European Council meets to review
progress in implementing the Lisbon strategy.
These are five criteria that determine
whether an EU country is ready to adopt the euro. They relate to:
The inflation rate should be no more
than 1.5 percentage points above the rate for the three EU countries with
the lowest inflation over the previous year;
This must generally be below 3% of gross
domestic product (GDP);
The national debt should not exceed 60%
of GDP, but a country with a higher level of debt can still adopt the euro
provided its debt level are falling steadily;
The long-term rate should be no more
than two percentage points above the rate in the three EU countries with
the lowest inflation over the previous year;
Exchange rate stability:
The national currency's exchange rate
should have stayed within certain pre-set margins of fluctuation for two
These criteria were laid down in the
Treaty of Maastricht – hence their name.
Put simply, mainstreaming an issue means
making sure it is fully taken into account in all EU polices. For example,
every European Union policy decision must now take account of its
environmental implications. In other words, environmental considerations
have been 'mainstreamed'.
The countries that belong to an
international organisation are its 'member states'. The term is also often
used to mean the governments of those countries.
From 1 May 2004, the member states of
the European Union are Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark,
Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy,
Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal,
Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. For the years
when they joined the EU, see 'enlargement' (above).
From 1 May 2004 there are 20 official
languages in the European Union: Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian,
Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian,
Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, and Swedish.
EU legislation is published in all the
official languages, and you may use any of these languages to correspond
with the EU institutions. In addition, of course, there are many other
languages spoken in Europe, and this diversity of national and regional
languages is something Europeans cherish. It is part of their rich
cultural heritage. The European Commission runs programmes to promote
language learning and linguistic diversity.
method of coordination:
In many policy areas (for example
education and training, pensions and health care, immigration and asylum),
EU governments set their own national policies rather than having an EU-wide
policy laid down in law. However, it makes sense for governments to share
information, adopt best practice (see above) and bring their national
policies into line. This way of learning from one another is called the
'open method of coordination'.
Pillars of the EU:
The European Union takes decisions in
three separate 'domains' (policy areas), also known as the three 'pillars'
of the EU.
The first pillar is the 'Community
domain', covering most of the common policies, where decisions are taken
by the 'Community method' – involving the Commission, Parliament and the
The second pillar is the common foreign
and security policy, where decisions are taken by the Council alone.
The third pillar is 'police and judicial
cooperation in criminal matters', where – once again – the Council
takes the decisions.
Within the first pillar, the Council
normally takes decisions by 'qualified majority' vote. In the other
pillars, the Council decision has to be unanimous: it can therefore be
blocked by the veto of any one country.
If the Council so decides, it can use
the 'Community bridge' to transfer certain matters from the third to the
On most issues, the Council of the
European Union takes its decisions by voting. Each country can cast a
certain number of votes, roughly in proportion to the size of its
population. The number of votes per country is as follows: France,
Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom 29
Poland and Spain 27
Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary
and Portugal 12
Austria and Sweden 10
Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania and
Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg and
For a proposal to be adopted by the
Council there must be a 'qualified majority' in favour. This means at
least 232 votes out of the total of 321. A majority of the countries (in
some cases a two-thirds majority) must also be in favour. In addition, any
country can ask the Council to check that the countries in favour account
for at least 62% of the total EU population.
Sometimes, when EU leaders are
discussing an important legal document, they cannot reach agreement on a
particular issue. So they may decide to come back to this subject at a
later date. Their decision is made official by putting it in writing and
including it as a clause in the legal text they are discussing. This type
of clause is sometimes known as a “rendezvous clause”.
land (= the Schengen area, the Schengen countries):
In 1985, five EU countries (France,
Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) agreed to abolish all
checks on people travelling between them. This created a territory without
internal borders which became known as the Schengen area. (Schengen is the
town in Luxembourg where the agreement was signed).
The Schengen countries introduced a
common visa policy for the whole area and agreed to establish effective
controls at its external borders. Checks at the internal borders may be
carried out for a limited period if public order or national security
makes this necessary.
Little by little, the Schengen area has
been extended to include every EU country plus Iceland and Norway, and the
agreement has become an integral part of the EU treaties. However, Ireland
and the United Kingdom do not take part in the arrangements relating to
border controls and visas. More on this subject.
You do not need a visa for travelling
within the Schengen area if you are a citizen of one of the Schengen
countries. If you have a visa for entering any Schengen country it
automatically allows you to travel freely throughout the Schengen area,
except Ireland and the United Kingdom.
This means discussion, negotiation and
joint action between the European social partners and discussions between
these social partners and the EU institutions.
This is jargon for the two sides of
industry – i.e. employers and workers. At EU level they are represented
by three main organisations:
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC),
The Union of Industries of the European
Community (UNICE), representing private sector employers;
The European Centre for Public
Enterprise (CEEP), representing public sector employers.
The European Commission consults them
when drawing up proposals for social and employment legislation.
For further details see glossary.
Any person or organisation with an
interest in or affected by EU legislation and policymaking is a
'stakeholder' in that process. The European Commission makes a point of
consulting as wide a range of stakeholders as possible before proposing
new legislation or new policy initiatives.
Strasbourg is a French city located
close to the border with Germany. The plenary sessions of the European
Parliament are held here for one week every month. It is also home to the
European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe – which are not
EU institutions. The term “Strasbourg” is sometimes used in the media
to mean one or other of these bodies.
The “subsidiarity principle” means
that EU decisions must be taken as closely as possible to the citizen. In
other words, the Union does not take action (except on matters for which
it alone is responsible) unless EU action is more effective than action
taken at national, regional or local level.
Meetings of the European Council are
sometimes referred to as European (or EU) 'summit' meetings, because they
bring together the EU's heads of state or government. Some countries are
represented by their Prime Minister, others by their President, some by
both. It depends on their Constitution.
This literally means 'at a level above
national governments' – as distinct from 'intergovernmental' which means
'between governments' Many EU decisions are taken at 'supranational' level
in the sense that they involve the EU institutions, to which EU countries
have delegated some decision-making powers. Do not confuse this term with
This phrase simply means a non-EU
country. The meaning is clearest when we are speaking about relations
between two EU member states (or between the EU institutions and a member
state) and another country - literally a third country - that is outside
the European Union.
This word is often used to describe
cooperation between businesses or organisations based in more than one EU
country. Part of the EU's purpose is to encourage this cross-border or
The term 'transparency' is often used to
mean openness in the way the EU institutions work. The EU institutions are
committed to greater openness. They are taking steps to improve public
access to information, and they are working to produce clearer and more
readable documents. This includes better drafting of laws and, ultimately,
a single, simplified EU Treaty.
This refers to the theoretical
possibility that, in future, a particular “core” group of EU Member
States may decide to move faster than others along the road of European
integration. It is already possible for a group of EU countries to work
together more closely than others under an arrangement known as
When taking decisions on some issues, the Council of
the European Union has to be in unanimous agreement – i.e. all countries
have to agree. Any disagreement, even by one single country, will block
the decision. This would make progress very difficult in a Union of 25
countries, so the unanimity rule now applies only in particularly
sensitive areas such as asylum, taxation and the common foreign and
security policy. In most fields, decisions are now taken by qualified