European Union

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Posted by sonny 03/06/2009 @ 05:09

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News headlines
European Union hits Intel with record $1.45 billion antitrust fine - San Jose Mercury News
The European Union has fined Intel Corp. a record euro1.06 billion (US$1.44 billion) for monopoly abuse. It is ordering the chip maker to halt sales tactics that it said blocked smaller rival AMD from selling computer chips....
For Intel CEO Otellini, It's Time To Get Paranoid - Wall Street Journal
Otellini has said he is "baffled" by the European Union's allegations that the company essentially bribed and coerced customers to shut out AMD. His argument is straightforward: that Intel never - ever - played the tricks the EU alleged,...
EU criticizes Myanmar over new Suu Kyi charges - Reuters
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union joined international criticism of Myanmar's military rulers on Friday for pressing new charges against detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. "I deeply regret that ... (Nobel Peace Prize winner) Mrs Aung...
EU workers in Brussels protest for job protection - BusinessWeek
Trade union representatives from several European Union nations are gathering near the European Union headquarters to urge a "new social deal for Europe" in which workers get the same kind of protection as banks. Friday's march comes a day after as...
EU, WADA to intensify talks on data protection - USA Today
By Derek Gatopoulos, AP Writer ATHENS, Greece — World Anti-Doping Agency and European Union officials promised Friday to intensify talks on privacy disputes, warning that disagreement could hurt global cooperation in catching drug cheats....
EU states seen blocking 500 mln euro aid facility - Reuters
BRUSSELS, May 15 (Reuters) - EU states are expected to block a push by the EU executive to release 500 million euros ($677.1 million) in aid to support developing countries hit by the global recession, an EU official said on Friday....
Iceland govt to present EU proposal next week - Reuters
By Omar Valdimarsson REYKJAVIK, May 15 (Reuters) - Iceland's new coalition government said on Friday it would ask lawmakers next week to back moves to seek EU membership, and a clear majority were expected to vote in favour....
Slovenia wants to amend EU plan on Croatia dispute - Reuters
SWEIMEH, Jordan, May 15 (Reuters) - Slovenia has submitted amendments to a European proposal for international arbitration over a border dispute with Croatia that is blocking Croatia's EU membership talks, Slovenia's president said on Friday....
Airline Ads Continue to Mislead, EU Finds - New York Times
Although another 39 carriers have made improvements or said they would fall into line, 12 have rejected complaints from Brussels or simply failed to respond, said the commission, the executive body of the European Union. Many analysts think the...
Swedish Fin Min: EU May Need Further Fiscal Stimulus - Wall Street Journal
BRUSSELS (Dow Jones)--European Union countries might need to expand their fiscal stimulus spending in specific areas, Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg said Thursday. Borg could play a key role in any decision to expand the bloc's current EUR200...

Economy of the European Union

EUR 5 holographic band.jpg

The economy of the European Union combines the economies of 27 member states and is generating an estimated nominal GDP of €12 581 billion ($18 493.009 in 2008) according to the IMF. It accounts for about 31% of the world's total economic output. Sixteen member states have adopted a single currency, the euro, managed by the European Central Bank. The EU economy consists of a single market and is represented as a unified entity in the WTO.

The official currency of the European Union is the euro, used in all its documents and policies. The Stability and Growth Pact sets out the fiscal criteria to maintain for stability and (economic) convergence. The euro is also the most widely used currency in the EU, which is in use in 16 member states known as the Eurozone. All other member states, apart from Denmark and the United Kingdom which have special opt-outs, have committed to changing over to the euro once they have fulfilled the requirements needed to do so. Although Sweden formally has an effective opt-out by choosing when or whether to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism which is the preliminary step towards joining. The remaining states are committed to join the Euro through their Treaties of Accession.

The operation of the EU has an agreed budget of €116 billion for the year 2007, and €862 billion for the period 2007-2013, this represent around 1% of the EU's GDP. By comparison, the UK expenditure for 2004 alone was estimated at about €759 billion and France was estimated at about €801 billion. In 1960, the then "EU" (EEC) budget was 0.03% of GDP.

Below is a table showing, respectively, the GDP (PPP) and the GDP (PPP) per capita for the European Union and for each of its 27 member states, sorted by GDP (PPP) per capita. This can be used as a rough gauge to the relative standards of living among member states, with Luxembourg the highest and Bulgaria the lowest. Eurostat, based in Luxembourg, is the Official Statistical Office of the European Communities releasing yearly GDP figures for the member states as well as the EU as a whole, which are regularly updated, supporting this way a measure of wealth and a base for the European Union's budgetary and economic policies. Figures are stated in euro. All data for 2008 are projections.

These are the official Eurostat figures, as of 21 April 2007.

Source:GDP(PPP): EUROSTAT PERCENTAGES: EUROSTAT().

Economic performance varies from state to state. The Growth and Stability Pact governs fiscal policy with the European Union. It applies to all member states, with specific rules which apply to the eurozone members that stipulate that each state's deficit must not exceed 3% of GDP and its public debt must not exceed 60% of GDP. However, many larger members have consistently run deficits substantially in excess of 3%, and the eurozone as a whole has a debt percentage exceeding 60% (see below).

With the exception of Portugal, all countries with below average GNI per capita are those which joined the EU in May 2004 and all countries with above average GNI per capita come from the existing (pre-2004) member states.

The following table shows information relating to the member states of the European Union, ordered according to the 'Size' of their economies. (NB: Were the table ordered according to 'GDP per capita' this would perhaps better reflect the strength of an individual economy. But this is not how such tables are commonly structured).

A special mention should be made on official figures from the French government ministry of finance ("Bercy" and "Agence France Tresor". According to respected public individuals (ex: M Pebereau, head of BNP and MP Charles de Courson, expert on finance), the real French public debt is grossly underreported by French officials. The official figures of 1,200 billion in public debt (state and others) should be closer to 2,000 billion. This figure would make France the world most indebted country in relation with its private GDP (as opposed to total GDP which includes private & public GDP). M de Courson going as far as saying that public figures are "cooked" by the ministry through "deconsolidation" of deficit budget chapters. These suspicions are enhanced by the 8 January announcements from Agence France Tresor that, through 2008, they would call on the market for a surprising €150 Billion ($230 billion) in new borrowings due to unfunded final payments on previous loans. Additionally, French official figures do not add up with previous budget deficits as well as deficit figures reported by the British government showing figures close to French figures while France suffers from much larger public expenses. French figures should be significantly worse than British figures considered as reliable.

The EU's share of Gross world product (GWP) is stable at around one fifth . GDP growth, though strong in the new member states, is being affected by sluggish growth in France, Italy and Portugal.

The twelve new member states of Central and Eastern Europe have enjoyed a higher average percentage growth rate than their Western European counterparts. Notably the Baltic states have achieved massive GDP growth, with Latvia topping 11%, close to China, the world leader at 9% on average for the past 25 years. Reasons for this massive growth include government commitments to stable monetary policy, export-oriented trade policies, low flat-tax rates and the utilisation of relatively cheap labour. For the last year (2008), Romania had the biggest GDP growth from all the states in EU.

The current map of EU growth is one of huge regional variation, with the larger economies suffering from stagnant growth and the new nations enjoying sustained, robust economic growth.

Although EU27 GDP is on the increase, the percentage of Gross world product is decreasing due to the emergence of economic powers such as China, India and Brazil. In the medium to long term, the EU will be looking to increase GDP growth in the central European economies such as France, Germany and Italy and stabilise growth in the new Central and Eastern European states to ensure sustained economic prosperity.

The European Union has large coal, oil, and natural gas reserves. There are six oil producers in the European Union, primarily in North Sea oilfields. The United Kingdom by far is the largest producer, however Denmark, Germany, Italy, Romania and the Netherlands all produce oil. If it is treated as a single unit, which is not conventional in the oil markets, the European Union is the 7th largest producer of oil in the world, producing 3,424,000 (2001) barrels a day. However, it is also the world's 2nd largest consumer of oil, consuming much more than it can produce, at 14,590,000 (2001) barrels a day.

All countries in the EU have committed to the Kyoto Protocol, and the European Union is one of its biggest proponents. The European Commission published proposals for the first comprehensive EU energy policy on 10 January 2007.

The European Union is the largest exporter in the world () and the second largest importer. Internal trade between the member states is aided by the removal of barriers to trade such as tariffs and border controls. In the eurozone, trade is helped by not having any currency differences to deal with amongst most members. The European Union Association Agreement does something similar for a much larger range of countries, partly as a so-called soft approach ('a carrot instead of a stick') to influence the politics in those countries.

The European Union represents all its members at the World Trade Organization, and acts on behalf of member states in any disputes.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in the European Union (EU27) in January 2009 was 7.6% compared to 6.8% in January 2008. The Eurozone (EA16) unemployment figure for January 2009 was 8.2% compared to 7.3% in January 2008. The unemployment rate (EU25) had already declined in prior years from 8.9% in March 2005 to 8.4% in March 2006. The rate varies widely by member state. By comparison in March 2008 the United States had an unemployment rate of 5.1% (2007: 4.4; 2006: 4.7; 2005: 5.1) and Japan a rate of 3.9% (2007: 4.0; 2006: 4.1; 2005: 4.5) measured by Eurostat.

The services sector is by far the most important sector in the European Union, making up 69.4% of GDP, compared to the manufacturing industry with 28.4% of GDP and agriculture with only 2.3% of GDP.

The agricultural sector is supported by subsidies from the European Union in the form of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This currently represents 40-50% of the EU's total spending. It guarantees a minimum price for farmers in the EU. This is criticised as a form of protectionism, inhibiting trade, and damaging developing countries; one of the most vocal opponents is the UK, the second largest economy within the bloc, which has repeatedly refused to give up the annual UK Rebate unless the CAP undergoes significant reform; France, the biggest benefactor of the CAP and the bloc's third largest economy, is its most vocal proponent.

The European Union is a major tourist destination, attracting visitors from outside of the Union and citizens travelling inside it. Internal tourism is made more convenient for the citizens of some EU member states by the Schengen treaty and the Euro. All citizens of the European Union are entitled to travel to any member state without the need of a visa. If the EU component states are considered separate entities, France is the world's number one tourist destination for international visitors, followed by Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom at 2nd, 5th and 6th spots respectively. If the EU is considered a single entity, the number of international visitors is less, as most visitors to EU nations are from other EU member states.

The European Union's member states are the birthplace of many of the world's largest leading multinational companies, and home to its global headquarters. Among these are distinguished companies ranked first in the world within their industry/sector, like Allianz, which is the largest financial service provider in the world by revenue; Airbus, which produces around half of the world's jet airliners; Air France-KLM, which is the largest airline company in the world in terms of total operating revenues; Amorim, which is the world's largest cork-processing and cork producer company; ArcelorMittal, which is the largest steel company in the world; Groupe Danone, which has the world leadership in the dairy products market; Anheuser-Busch InBev, which is the largest beer company in the world; L'Oréal Group, which is the world's largest cosmetics and beauty company; LVMH, which is the world's largest luxury goods conglomerate; Nokia Corporation, which is the world's largest manufacturer of mobile telephones; Royal Dutch Shell, which is one of the largest energy corporations in the world; and Stora Enso, which is the world's largest pulp and paper manufacturer in terms of production capacity, in terms of banking and finance the EU has some of the worlds largest notably HSBC- the worlds largest company- and Grupo Santander, the largest bank in Europe in terms of Market Capitalisation. Many other European companies rank among the world's largest companies in terms of turnover, profit, market share, number of employees or other major indicators. A considerable number of EU-based companies are ranked among the worlds' top-ten within their sector of activity.

To date, one of the most commonly used measure of income inequality is the Gini index. The Gini coefficient measures income inequality on a scale from 0 to 1. On this scale 0 represents perfect equality with everyone having the exact same income and 1 represents perfect inequality with one person having all income. According to the United Nations (UN), gini index ratings for countries range from 24.7 in Denmark to 74.3 in Namibia. Most post-industrial nations had a gini coefficient in the high twenties to mid thirties. In 2005 the gini index for the EU was estimated at 31, as a comparison the USA have 46.3, a surprising result since the EU has virtually no interstate income redistribution power and poorer new member states joined in 2004.

Comparing the richest areas of the EU can be a difficult task. This is because the NUTS 1 & 2 regions are not homogenous, some of them being very large regions, such as NUTS-1 Hesse (21,100 km²) or NUTS-1 Île-de-France (12,011 km²), whilst other NUTS regions are much smaller, for example NUTS-1 Hamburg (755 km²) or NUTS-1 Greater London (1,580 km²). An extreme example is Finland, which is divided for historical reasons into mainland Finland with 5.3 million inhabitants and Åland, an island with a population of 26,700, or about the population of a small Finnish city.

One problem with this data is that in some areas, including Greater London, are subject to a large number of commuters coming into the area, thereby artificially inflating the figures. It has the effect of raising GDP but not altering the number of people living in the area, inflating the GDP per capita figure. Similar problems can be produced by a large number of tourists visiting the area.

The data is used to define regions that are supported with financial aid in programs such as the European Regional Development Fund.

The decision to delineate a Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS) region is to a large extent arbitrary (i.e. not based on objective and uniform criteria across Europe), and is decided at European level (See also: Regions of the European Union).

The 10 NUTS-1 and NUTS-2 regions with the highest GDP per capita are all in the first fifteen member states: none are in the 12 new member states that joined in May 2004 and January 2007. The NUTS Regulation lays down a minimum population size of 3 million and a maximum size of 7 million for the average NUTS-1 region, whereas a minimum of 800.000 and a maximum of 3 million for NUTS-2 regions ¹ . This definition, however, is not respected by Eurostat. E.g.: the région of Île-de-France, with 11.6 million inhabitants, is treated as a NUTS-2 region, while the state of Bremen, with only 664,000 inhabitants, is treated as a NUTS-1 region.

The fifteen lowest regions in the ranking in 2004 were all in Bulgaria, Poland and Romania, with the lowest figures recorded in Nord-Est in Romania (25% of the average), followed by Severozapaden, Yuzhen tsentralen and Severen tsentralen in Bulgaria (all 25-28%). Among the 68 regions below the 75% level, fifteen were in Poland, seven each in Romania and the Czech Republic, six each in Bulgaria, Greece and Hungary, five in Italy, four in France (all overseas departments) and Portugal, three in Slovakia, one region in Spain and Slovenia, and the countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

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European Union

Flag of the European Union

The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of 27 member states, located primarily in Europe. It was established by the Treaty of Maastricht on 1 November 1993 upon the foundations of the pre-existing European Economic Community. With almost 500 million citizens, the EU combined generates an estimated 30% share (US$16.8 trillion in 2007) of the nominal gross world product.

The EU has developed a single market through a standardised system of laws which apply in all member states, guaranteeing the freedom of movement of people, goods, services and capital. It maintains a common trade policy, agricultural and fisheries policies, and a regional development policy. Sixteen member states have adopted a common currency, the euro. It has developed a role in foreign policy, representing its members in the World Trade Organisation, at G8 summits, and at the United Nations. Twenty-one EU countries are members of NATO. The EU has developed a role in justice and home affairs, including the abolition of passport controls between many member states under the Schengen Agreement, which incorporates also non-EU states.

The EU operates through a hybrid system of intergovernmentalism and supranationalism. In certain areas it depends upon agreement between the member states. However, it also has supranational bodies, able to make decisions without unanimity between all national governments. Important institutions and bodies of the EU include the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the European Council, the European Court of Justice and the European Central Bank. EU citizens elect the Parliament every five years.

The EU traces its origins to the European Coal and Steel Community formed among six countries in 1951 and the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Since then the union has grown in size through the accession of new countries, and new policy areas have been added to the remit of the EU institutions.

After the end of the Second World War, moves towards European integration were seen by many as an escape from the extreme forms of nationalism which had devastated the continent. One such attempt to unite Europeans was the European Coal and Steel Community which, while having the modest aim of centralised control of the previously national coal and steel industries of its member states, was declared to be "a first step in the federation of Europe". The founding members of the Community were Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany.

Two additional communities were created in 1957: the European Economic Community (EEC) establishing a customs union and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for cooperation in developing nuclear energy. In 1967 the Merger Treaty created a single set of institutions for the three communities, which were collectively referred to as the European Communities, although more commonly just as the European Community (EC).

In 1973 the Communities enlarged to include Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Norway had negotiated to join at the same time but a referendum rejected membership and so it remained outside. In 1979 the first direct, democratic elections to the European Parliament were held.

Greece, Spain and Portugal joined in the 1980s. In 1985 the Schengen Agreement created largely open borders without passport controls between most member states. In 1986 the European flag began to be used by the EC and leaders signed the Single European Act.

In 1990, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the former East Germany became part of the Community as part of a newly united Germany. With enlargement toward East-Central Europe on the agenda, the Copenhagen criteria for candidate members to join the European Union were agreed.

The European Union was formally established when the Maastricht Treaty came into force on 1 November 1993. and in 1995 Austria, Sweden and Finland joined the newly established EU. In 2002, euro notes and coins replaced national currencies in 12 of the member states. Since then, the Eurozone has increased to encompass sixteen countries, with Slovakia joining the Eurozone on January 1, 2009. In 2004, the EU saw its biggest enlargement to date when Malta, Cyprus, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary joined the Union (see 2004 enlargement of the European Union).

On 1 January 2007, Romania and Bulgaria became the EU's newest members and Slovenia adopted the euro. In December of that year European leaders signed the Lisbon Treaty which was intended to replace the earlier, failed European Constitution, which never came into force after being rejected by French and Dutch voters. However, uncertainty clouds the prospects of the Lisbon Treaty's coming into force as result of its rejection by Irish voters in June 2008.

The European Union is composed of 27 independent sovereign countries which are known as member states: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

There are three official candidate countries, Croatia, the Republic of Macedonia, and Turkey. The western Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia are officially recognised as potential candidates. Kosovo is also listed by the European Commission as a potential candidate but the Commission does not list it as an independent country because not all member states recognise it as an independent country, separate from Serbia.

To join the EU, a country must meet the Copenhagen criteria, defined at the 1993 Copenhagen European Council. These require a stable democracy which respects human rights and the rule of law; a functioning market economy capable of competition within the EU; and the acceptance of the obligations of membership, including EU law. Evaluation of a country's fulfillment of the criteria is the responsibility of the European Council. The current framework does not specify how a country could exit the Union (although Greenland, a Territory of Denmark, withdrew in 1985), but the proposed Treaty of Lisbon contains a formal procedure for withdrawing.

Four Western European countries that have chosen not to join the EU have partly committed to the EU's economy and regulations: Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway are a part of the single market through the European Economic Area, and Switzerland has similar ties through bilateral treaties. The relationships of the European microstates Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City include the use of the euro and other co-operation.

The territory of the EU consists of the combined territories of its 27 member states with some exceptions outlined below. The territory of the EU is not the same as that of Europe, as parts of the continent are outside the EU, such as Iceland, Switzerland, Norway, and European Russia. Some parts of member states are not part of the EU, despite forming part of the European continent (for example the Channel Islands and Faroe Islands). Several territories associated with member states that are outside geographic Europe are also not part of the EU (such as Greenland, Aruba, the Netherlands Antilles, and all the non-European territories associated with the United Kingdom). Some overseas territories are part of the EU even if they are not geographically part of Europe, such as the Azores, the Canary Islands, Madeira, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Réunion (this seven regions have the status of Outermost Regions of the EU), Ceuta, Melilla, Saint Martin, and Saint Pierre and Miquelon. Although being technically part of the EU, access to EU law is suspended in Northern Cyprus due to the Turkish occupation.

The EU's member states cover a combined area of 4,422,773 square kilometres (1,707,642 sq mi). The total territory of the EU is larger than all but six countries and its highest peak is Mont Blanc in the Graian Alps, 4807 metres above sea level. The landscape, climate, and economy of the EU are influenced by its coastline, which is 65,993 kilometres (41,006 mi) long. The EU has the world's second longest coastline, after Canada. The combined member states share land borders with 21 non-member states for a total of 12,441 kilometres (7,730 mi), the fifth longest border in the world.

Including the overseas territories of member states, the EU experiences most types of climate from Arctic to tropical, rendering meteorological averages for the EU as a whole meaningless. In practice, the majority of the population lives either in areas with a Mediterranean climate (Southern Europe), a temperate maritime climate (Western Europe), or a warm summer continental or hemiboreal climate (Eastern Europe).

The EU is often described as being divided into three areas of responsibility, called pillars. The original European Community policies form the first pillar, while the second consists of Common Foreign and Security Policy. The third pillar originally consisted of Justice and Home Affairs, however owing to changes introduced by the Amsterdam and Nice treaties, it currently consists of Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters. Broadly speaking, the second and third pillars can be described as the intergovernmental pillars because the supranational institutions of the Commission, Parliament and the Court of Justice play less of a role or none at all, while the lead is taken by the intergovernmental Council of Ministers and the European Council. Most activities of the EU come under the first, Community pillar. This is mostly economically oriented pillar and is where the supranational institutions have the most influence.

The activities of the EU are regulated by a number of institutions and bodies. They carry out the tasks and policies set out for them in the treaties. The EU receives its political leadership from the European Council, which is composed of one representative per member state — either its head of state or head of government — plus the President of the Commission. Each member states' representative is assisted by its Foreign Minister. The Council uses its leadership role to sort out disputes which have arisen between member states and the institutions, and to resolve political crises and disagreements over controversial issues and policies.

The Council is headed by a rotating presidency, with every member state taking the helm of the EU for a period of six months during which that country's representatives chair meetings of the European Council and the Council of Ministers. The member state holding the presidency typically uses it to drive a particular policy agenda such as economic reform, reform of the EU itself, enlargement or furthering European integration. The Council usually meet four times a year at European Summits.

The European Council should not be mistaken for the Council of Europe, an international organisation independent from the EU.

The European Commission acts as the EU's executive arm and is responsible for initiating legislation and the day-to-day running of the EU. It is intended to act solely in the interest of the EU as a whole, as opposed to the Council which consists of leaders of member states who reflect national interests. The commission is also seen as the motor of European integration. It is currently composed of 27 commissioners for different areas of policy, one from each member state. The President of the Commission and all the other commissioners are nominated by the Council. Appointment of the Commission President, and also the Commission in its entirety, have to be confirmed by Parliament.

The European Parliament forms one half of the EU's legislature. The 785 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are directly elected by EU citizens every five years. Although MEPs are elected on a national basis, they sit according to political groups rather than their nationality. Each country has a set number of seats. The Parliament and the Council form and pass legislation jointly, using co-decision, in certain areas of policy. This procedure will extend to many new areas under the proposed Treaty of Lisbon, and hence increase the power and relevance of the Parliament. The Parliament also has the power to reject or censure the Commission and the EU budget. The President of the European Parliament carries out the role of speaker in parliament and represents it externally. The president and vice presidents are elected by MEPs every two and a half years.

The Council of the European Union forms the other half of the EU's legislature. It is an organised platform where national ministers responsible for the area of policy being addressed, meet. Although the Council meets in different compositions, it is considered to be one single body. In addition to its legislative functions, the Council also exercises executive functions in relations to the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

The judicial branch of the EU consists of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the Court of First Instance. Together they interpret and apply the treaties and the law of the EU. The Court of First Instance mainly deals with cases taken by individuals and companies directly before the EU's courts, and the ECJ primarily deals with cases taken by member states, the institutions and cases referred to it by the courts of member states. Decisions from the Court of First Instance can be appealed to the Court of Justice but only on a point of law.

The EU is based on a series of treaties. These first established the European Community and the EU, and then made amendments to those founding treaties. These are power giving treaties which set broad policy goals and establish institutions with the necessary legal powers to implement those goals. These legal powers include the ability to enact legislation which can directly affect all member states and their inhabitants. National courts are required to enforce the treaties that their member states have ratified, and thus the laws enacted under them, even if doing so requires them to ignore conflicting national law, and (within limits) even constitutional provisions.

The main legislative acts of the EU come in two forms: Regulations and Directives. Regulations become law in all member states the moment they come into force, without the requirement for any implementing measures, and automatically override conflicting domestic provisions. Directives require member states to achieve a certain result while leaving them discretion as to how to achieve the result. The details of how they are to be implemented are left to member states. When the time limit for implementing directives passes, they may, under certain conditions, have direct effect in national law against Member States. Decisions offer an alternative to the two above modes of legislation. They are legal acts which only apply to specified individuals or companies. They are most often used in Competition Law, or on rulings on State Aid, but are also frequently used for procedural or administrative matters within the institutions. Regulations, directives and decisions are of equal legal value and apply without any formal hierarchy.

One of the complicating features of the EU's legal system is the multiplicity of legislative procedures used to enact legislation. The treaties micro-manage the EU's powers, indicating different ways of adopting legislation for different policy areas and for different areas within the same policy areas. A common feature of the EU's legislative procedures, however, is that almost all legislation must be initiated by the Commission, rather than member states or European parliamentarians. The two most common procedures are co-decision, under which the European Parliament can veto proposed legislation, and consultation, under which Parliament is only permitted to give an opinion which can be ignored by European leaders. In most cases legislation must be agreed by the council.

National courts within the Member States play a key role in the EU as enforcers of EU law, and a "spirit of cooperation" between EU and national courts is laid down in the Treaties. National courts can apply EU law in domestic cases, and if they require clarification on the interpretation or validity of any EU legislation related to the case it may make a reference for a preliminary ruling to the ECJ. The right to declare EU legislation invalid however is reserved to the EU courts.

At present the EU does not have a codified catalogue of fundamental rights against which its legal acts might be judged. However the European Court of Justice does give judgements on fundamental rights derived from the "constitutional traditions common to the Member States," and may even invalidate EU legislation based on its failure to adhere to these fundamental rights. While the EU may be said to have an unwritten fundamental rights code, there have, nonetheless, been efforts to establish a written catalogue. In 2000 the EU drew up the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Charter is not legally binding at present but would become so if the Lisbon Treaty comes into force.

Although signing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is a condition for EU membership, the EU itself is not covered by the convention as it is neither a state nor has the competence to accede. Nonetheless the Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights co-operate to ensure their case-law does not conflict. If the Lisbon Treaty comes into force the EU would be required to accede to the ECHR.

Foreign policy cooperation between member states dates from the establishment of the Community in 1957, when member states negotiated as a bloc in international trade negotiations under the Common Commercial Policy. Steps for a more wide ranging coordination in foreign relations began in 1970 with the establishment of European Political Cooperation which created an informal consultation process between member states with the aim of forming common foreign policies. It was not, however, until the 1987, when European Political Cooperation was introduced on a formal basis by the Single European Act. EPC was renamed as the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) by the Maastricht Treaty.

The Maastricht Treaty gives the CFSP the aims of promoting both the EU's own interests and those of the international community as a whole. This includes promoting international co-operation, respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

The Amsterdam Treaty created the office of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (currently held by Javier Solana) to co-ordinate the EU's foreign policy. The High Representative, in conjunction with the current Presidency, speaks on behalf of the EU in foreign policy matters and can have the task of articulating ambiguous policy positions created by disagreements among member states. The Common Foreign and Security Policy requires unanimity among the now 27 member states on the appropriate policy to follow on any particular issue. The unanimity and difficult issues treated under the CFSP makes disagreements, such as those which occurred over the war in Iraq, not uncommon.

Besides the emerging international policy of the European Union, the international influence of the EU is also felt through enlargement. The perceived benefits of becoming a member of the EU act as an incentive for both political and economic reform in states wishing to fulfil the EU's accession criteria, and are considered an important factor contributing to the reform of former Communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe. This influence on the internal affairs of other countries is generally referred to as "soft power", as opposed to military "hard power".

Besides the CFSP, the Commission also has its own representation in international organisations. This is primarily through the European Commissioner for External Relations, who works alongside the High Representative. In the UN, as an observer and working together, the EU has gained influence in areas such as aid due to its large contributions in that field (see below). In the G8, the EU has rights of membership besides chairing/hosting summit meetings and is represented at meetings by the presidents of the Commission and the Council. In the World Trade Organisation (WTO), where all 27 member states are represented, the EU as a body is represented by Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton.

The European Community Humanitarian Aid Office, or "ECHO", provides humanitarian aid from the EU to developing countries. In 2006 its budget amounted to €671 million, 48% of which went to the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. Counting the EU's own contributions and those of its member states together, the EU is the largest aid donor in the world.

The EU's aid has previously been criticised by the Eurosceptic think-tank Open Europe for being inefficient, mis-targeted and linked to economic objectives. Furthermore, some charities have claimed European governments have inflated the amount they have spent on aid by incorrectly including money spent on debt relief, foreign students, and refugees. Under the de-inflated figures, the EU did not reach its internal aid target in 2006 and the EU would not reach the international target of 0.7% of GNP until 2015. However, only a few countries have reached that target, most notably the Netherlands. In 2005 EU aid was 0.34% of the GNP which was higher than that of either the United States or Japan. The current commissioner for aid, Louis Michel, has called for aid to be delivered more rapidly, to greater effect, and on humanitarian principles.

Member states are responsible for their own territorial defence. Many EU members are also members of NATO although some member states follow policies of neutrality. The Western European Union (WEU) is a European security organisation related to the EU. In 1992, the WEU's relationship with the EU was defined, when the EU assigned it the "Petersberg tasks" (humanitarian missions such as peacekeeping and crisis management). These tasks were later transferred from the WEU to the EU by the Amsterdam Treaty and now form part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the European Security and Defence Policy. Elements of the WEU are currently being merged into the Common Foreign and Security Policy, and the President of the WEU is currently the EU's foreign policy chief.

Following the Kosovo War in 1999, the European Council agreed that "the Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and the readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises without prejudice to actions by NATO". To that end, a number of efforts were made to increase the EU's military capability, notably the Helsinki Headline Goal process. After much discussion, the most concrete result was the EU Battlegroups initiative, each of which is planned to be able to deploy quickly about 1500 men. EU forces have been deployed on peacekeeping missions from Africa to the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East. EU military operations are supported by a number of bodies, including the European Defence Agency, satellite centre and the military staff.

Over the years, the EU has developed a wide competence in the area of justice and home affairs. To this end, agencies have been established that co-ordinate associated actions: Europol for co-operation of police forces, Eurojust for co-operation between prosecutors, and Frontex for co-operation between border control authorities. The EU also operates the Schengen Information System which provides a common database for police and immigration authorities.

Furthermore, the Union has legislated in areas such as extradition, family law, asylum law, and criminal justice. Prohibitions against sexual and nationality discrimination have a long standing in the treaties. In more recent years, these have been supplemented by powers to legislate against discrimination based on race, religion, disability, age, and sexual orientation. By virtue of these powers, the EU has enacted legislation on sexual discrimination in the work-place, age discrimination, and racial discrimination.

Since its origin, the EU has established a single economic market across the territory of all its members. Currently, a single currency is in use between the 16 members of the eurozone. Considered as a single economy, the EU generated an estimated nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of US$16.83 trillion in 2007, amounting to 31% of the world's total economic output, which makes it the largest economy in the world by nominal GDP and the second largest trade bloc economy in the world by PPP valuation of GDP. It is also the largest exporter of goods, the second largest importer, and the biggest trading partner to several large countries such as India, and China.

170 of the top 500 largest corporations measured by revenue (Fortune Global 500) have their headquarters in the EU. In May 2007 unemployment in the EU stood at 7% while investment was at 21.4% of GDP, inflation at 2.2% and public deficit at -0.9% of GDP. There is a great deal of variance for annual per capita income within individual EU states, these range from US$7,000 to US$69,000.

Two of the original core objectives of the European Economic Community were the development of a common market, subsequently renamed the single market, and a customs union between its member states. The single market involves the free circulation of goods, capital, people and services within the EU, and the customs union involves the application of a common external tariff on all goods entering the market. Once goods have been admitted into the market they can not be subjected to customs duties, discriminatory taxes or import quotas, as they travel internally. The non-EU member states of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland participate in the single market but not in the customs union. Half the trade in the EU is covered by legislation harmonised by the EU.

Free movement of capital is intended to permit movement of investments such as property purchases and buying of shares between countries. Until the drive towards Economic and Monetary Union the development of the capital provisions had been slow. Post-Maastricht there has been a rapidly developing corpus of ECJ judgements regarding this initially neglected freedom. The free movement of capital is unique insofar as that it is granted equally to non-member states.

The free movement of persons means citizens can move freely between member states to live, work, study or retire in another country. This required the lowering of administrative formalities and recognition of professional qualifications of other states.

The free movement of services and of establishment allows self-employed persons to move between member states in order to provide services on a temporary or permanent basis. While services account for between sixty and seventy percent of GDP, legislation in the area is not as developed as in other areas. This lacuna has been addressed by the recently passed Directive on services in the internal market which aims to liberalise the cross border provision of services. According to the Treaty the provision of services is a residual freedom that only applies if no other freedom is being exercised.

The creation of a European single currency became an official objective of the EU in 1969. However, it was only with the advent of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 that member states were legally bound to start the monetary union no later than 1 January 1999. On this date the euro was duly launched by eleven of the then fifteen member states of the EU. It remained an accounting currency until 1 January 2002, when euro notes and coins were issued and national currencies began to phase out in the Eurozone, which by then consisted of twelve member states. The Eurozone has since grown to sixteen countries, the most recent being Slovakia which joined on 1 January 2009.

All other EU member states, except Denmark and the United Kingdom, are legally bound to join the euro when the economic conditions are met, however only a few countries have set target dates for accession. Sweden has circumvented the requirement to join the euro area by not meeting the membership criteria.

The euro is designed to help build a single market by, for example: easing travel of citizens and goods, eliminating exchange rate problems, providing price transparency, creating a single financial market, price stability and low interest rates, and providing a currency used internationally and protected against shocks by the large amount of internal trade within the eurozone. It is also intended as a political symbol of integration and stimulus for more.

The euro, and the monetary policies of those who have adopted it in agreement with the EU, are under the control of the European Central Bank (ECB). There are eleven other currencies used in the EU. A number of other countries outside the EU, such as Montenegro, use the euro without formal agreement with the ECB.

The EU operates a competition policy intended to ensure undistorted competition within the single market. The Commission as the competition regulator for the single market is responsible for antitrust issues, approving mergers, breaking up cartels, working for economic liberalisation and preventing state aid.

The Competition Commissioner, currently Neelie Kroes, is one of the most powerful positions in the Commission, notable for the ability to affect the commercial interests of trans-national corporations. For example, in 2001 the Commission for the first time prevented a merger between two companies based in the United States which had already been approved by their national authority. Another high profile case against Microsoft, resulted in the Commission fining Microsoft over €777 million following nine years of legal action.

In negotiations on the Treaty of Lisbon, French President Nicolas Sarkozy succeeded in removing the words "free and undistorted competition" from the treaties. However, the requirement is maintained in an annex and it is unclear whether this will have any practical effect on EU policy.

The twenty-seven member state EU had an agreed budget of €120.7 billion for the year 2007 and €864.3 billion for the period 2007-2013, representing 1.10% and 1.05% of the EU-27's GNI forecast for the respective periods. By comparison, the United Kingdom's expenditure for 2004 was estimated to be €759 billion, and France was estimated to have spent €801 billion. In 1960, the budget of the then European Economic Community was 0.03% of GDP.

In the 2006 budget, the largest single expenditure item was agriculture with around 46.7% of the total budget. Next came structural and cohesion funds with approximately 30.4% of the total.

Internal policies took up around 8.5%. Administration accounted for around 6.3%. External actions, the pre-accession strategy, compensations and reserves brought up the rear with approximately 4.9%, 2.1%, 1% and 0.1% respectively.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is one of the oldest policies of the European Community and was one of its core aims. The policy has the objectives of increasing agricultural production, providing certainty in food supplies, ensuring a high quality of life for farmers, stabilising markets and ensuring reasonable prices for consumers (article 33 of the Treaty of Rome). It was, until recently, operated by a system of subsidies and market intervention. Until the 1990s the policy accounted for over 60% of the then European Community's annual budget, and still accounts for around 35%.

The policy's price controls and market interventions led to considerable overproduction, resulting in so-called butter mountains and wine lakes. These were intervention stores of produce bought up by the Community to maintain minimum price levels. In order to dispose of surplus stores, they were often sold on the world market at prices considerably below Community guaranteed prices, or farmers were offered subsidies (amounting to the difference between the Community and world prices) to export their produce outside the Community. This system has been criticised for under-cutting farmers in the developing world. The overproduction has also been criticised on environmental grounds in that it encourages environmentally unfriendly intensive farming methods. Supporters of CAP say that the economic support which it gives to farmers provides them with a reasonable standard of living, in what would otherwise be an economically unviable way of life. However, the EU's small farmers only receive 8% of CAP's available subsidies.

Since the beginning of the 1990s the CAP has been subject to a series of reforms. Initially these reforms included the introduction of set-aside in 1988, where a proportion of farm land was deliberately withdrawn from production, milk quotas (by the McSharry reforms in 1992) and more recently, the 'de-coupling' (or disassociation) of the money farmers receive from the EU and the amount they produce (by the Fischler reforms in 2004). Agriculture expenditure will move away from subsidy payments linked to specific produce, toward direct payments based on farm size. This is intended to have the effect of allowing the market to dictate production levels while maintaining agricultural income levels. One these reforms entailed the abolition of the EU's sugar regime which previously involved the carving up of the sugar market between member states and certain African-Caribbean nations with a privileged relationship with the EU.

In 2006, the 27 member states of the EU had a gross inland energy consumption of 1,825 million tonnes of oil equivalent (toe). Around 46% of the energy consumed was produced within the member states while 54% was imported. In these statistics, nuclear energy is treated as primary energy produced in the EU, regardless of the source of the uranium, of which less than 3 percent is produced in the EU.

The EU has been a legislative power in the area of energy policy for most of its existence; this has its roots in the original European Coal and Steel Community. The introduction of a mandatory and comprehensive European energy policy was approved at the meeting of the European Council in October 2005, and the first draft policy was published in January 2007.

The Commission has five key points in its energy policy: increase competition in the internal market, encourage investment and boost interconnections between electricity grids; diversify energy resources with better systems to respond to a crisis; establish a new treaty framework for energy co-operation with Russia while improving relations with energy-rich states in Central Asia and North Africa; use existing energy supplies more efficiently while increasing use of renewable energy; and finally increase funding for new energy technologies.

The EU currently imports 82% of its oil, 57% of its gas and 97,48% of its uranium demands. There are concerns that the EU is largely dependent on other countries, primarily Russia, for its energy. This concern has grown following a series of clashes between Russia and its neighbours, threatening the flow of gas. As a result the EU is attempting to diversify its energy supply.

The EU is working to improve cross-border infrastructure within the EU, for example through the Trans-European Networks (TEN). Projects under TEN include the Channel Tunnel, LGV Est, the Fréjus Rail Tunnel, the Oresund Bridge and the Brenner Base Tunnel. In 2001 it was estimated that by 2010 the network would cover: 75,200 kilometres (46,700 mi) of roads; 78,000 kilometres (48,000 mi) of railways; 330 airports; 270 maritime harbours; and 210 internal harbours.

The developing European transport policies will increase the pressure on the environment in many regions by the increased transport network. In the pre-2004 EU members, the major problem in transport deals with congestion and pollution. After the recent enlargement, the new states that joined since 2004 added the problem of solving accessibility to the transport agenda. The Polish road network in particular was in poor condition: at Poland's accession to the EU, 4,600 roads needed to be upgraded to EU standards, demanding approximately €17 billion.

Another infrastructure project is the Galileo positioning system. Galileo is a proposed Global Navigation Satellite System, to be built by the EU and launched by the European Space Agency (ESA), and is to be operational by 2010. The Galileo project was launched partly to reduce the EU's dependency on the US-operated Global Positioning System, but also to give more complete global coverage, allow for far greater accuracy and to provide redunancy, given the aged nature of the GPS system. It has been criticised by some due to costs, delays, and their perception of redundancy given the existence of the GPS system.

There are substantial economical disparities across the EU. Even corrected for purchasing power, the difference between the richest and poorest regions (NUTS-2 and NUTS-3 of the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics) is about a factor of ten. On the high end Frankfurt has €71,476 PPP per capita, Paris €68,989, and Inner London €67,798, while the three poorest NUTS, all in Romania, are Vaslui County with €3,690 PPP per capita, Botoşani County with €4,115, and Giurgiu County with €4,277. Compared to the EU average, the United States GDP per capita is 35% higher and the Japanese GDP per capita is approximately 15% higher.

There are a number of Structural Funds and Cohesion Funds to support development of underdeveloped regions of the EU. Such regions are primarily located in the new member states of East-Central Europe. Several funds provide emergency aid, support for candidate members to transform their country to conform to the EU's standard (Phare, ISPA, and SAPARD), and support to the former USSR Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS). TACIS has now become part of the worldwide EuropeAid programme. The EU Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) sponsors research conducted by consortia from all EU members to work towards a single European Research Area.

The first environmental policy of the European Community was launched in 1972. Since then it has addressed issues such as acid rain, the thinning of the ozone layer, air quality, noise pollution, waste and water pollution. The Water Framework Directive is an example of a water policy, aiming for rivers, lakes, ground and coastal waters to be of "good quality" by 2015. Wildlife is protected through the Natura 2000 programme and covers 30,000 sites throughout Europe. In 2007, the Polish government sought to build a motorway through the Rospuda valley, but the Commission has been blocking construction as the valley is a wildlife area covered by the programme.

The REACH regulation was a piece of EU legislation designed to ensure that 30,000 chemicals in daily use are tested for their safety. In 2006, toxic waste spill off the coast of Côte d'Ivoire, from a European ship, prompted the Commission to look into legislation regarding toxic waste. With members such as Spain now having criminal laws against shipping toxic waste, the Commission proposed to create criminal sentences for "ecological crimes". Although the Commission's right to propose criminal law was contested, it was confirmed in this case by the Court of Justice.

In 2007, member states agreed that the EU is to use 20% renewable energy in the future and that is has to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 by at least 20% compared to 1990 levels. This includes measures that in 2020, one-tenth of all cars and trucks in EU 27 should be running on biofuels. This is considered to be one of the most ambitious moves of an important industrialised region to fight global warming.

At the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference, dealing with the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the EU has proposed at 50% cut in greenhouse gases by 2050. The EU's attempts to cut its carbon footprint appear to have also been aided by an expansion of Europe's forests which, between 1990 and 2005, grew 10% in western Europe and 15% in Eastern Europe. During this period they soaked up 126 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 11% of EU emissions from human activities. The ambitious EU goals for the Kyoto Protocols have not been met and there is serious doubt that they can ever be.

Education and science are areas where the EU's role is limited to supporting national governments. In education, the policy was mainly developed in the 1980s in programmes supporting exchanges and mobility. The most visible of these has been the ERASMUS programme, a university exchange programme which began in 1987. In its first 20 years it has supported international exchange opportunities for well over 1.5 million university and college students and has become a symbol of European student life. There are now similar programmes for school pupils and teachers, for trainees in vocational education and training, and for adult learners in the Lifelong Learning Programme 2007–2013. These programmes are designed to encourage a wider knowledge of other countries and to spread good practices in the education and training fields across the EU. Through its support of the Bologna process the EU is supporting comparable standards and compatible degrees across Europe.

Scientific development is facilitated through the EU's Framework Programmes, the first of which started in 1984. The aims of EU policy in this area are to co-ordinate and stimulate research. The independent European Research Council allocates EU funds to European or national research projects. The Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) deals in a number of areas, for example energy where it aims to develop a diverse mix of renewable energy for the environment and to reduce dependence on imported fuels.

Since January 2000 the European Commission has set its sights on a more ambitious objective, known as the European Research Area, and has extensively funded research in a few key areas. This has the support of all member states, and extends the existing financing structure of the frameworks. It aims to focus on co-ordination, sharing knowledge, ensuring mobility of researchers around Europe, improving conditions for researchers and encouraging links with business and industry as well as removing any legal and administrative barriers. The EU is involved with six other countries to develop ITER, a fusion reactor which will be built in the EU at Cadarache. ITER builds on the previous project, Joint European Torus, which is currently the largest nuclear fusion reactor in the world. The Commission foresees this technology to be generating energy in the EU by 2050. It has observer status within CERN, there are various agreements with ESA and there is collaboration with ESO. These organizations are not under the framework of the EU, but membership heavily overlaps between them.

The combined population of all 27 member states has been estimated at 495,128,529 in January 2007, this in comparison to approximately 710 million Europeans on the continent as a whole. There is some increase in population expected, primarily due to net immigration, present in most European countries.

The EU's population is 7.3% of the world total, yet the EU covers just 3% of the earth's land, amounting to a population density of 114 /km2 (300 /sq mi) (2006) making the EU one of the most densely populated regions of the world. One third of EU citizens live in cities of over a million people, rising to 80% living in urban areas generally. The EU is home to more global cities than any other region in the world. It contains 16 cities with populations of over one million.

Besides many large cities, the EU also includes several densely populated regions that have no single core but have emerged from the connection of several cites and are now encompassing large metropolitan areas. The largest are Rhine-Ruhr having approximately 10.5 million inhabitants (Cologne, Dortmund, Düsseldorf et al.), Randstad approx. 7 million (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht et al.), Frankfurt Rhein-Main Region approx. 5.8 million (Frankfurt, Wiesbaden et al.), the Flemish diamond approx. 5.5 million (urban area in between Antwerp, Brussels, Leuven and Ghent), the Upper Silesian Industrial Region approx. 3.5 million (Katowice, Sosnowiec et al.), and the Oresund Region approx. 2.5 million (Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmö, Sweden).

Among the many languages and dialects used in the EU, it has 23 official and working languages: Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Irish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, and Swedish. Important documents, such as legislation, are translated into every official language. The European Parliament provides translation into all languages for documents and its plenary sessions. Some institutions use only a handful of languages as internal working languages. Language policy is the responsibility of member states, but EU institutions promote the learning of other languages.

German is the most widely spoken mother tongue (about 88.7 million people as of 2006), followed by English, French, and Italian. English is by far the most spoken foreign language at over half (51%) of the population, with German and French following. 56% of European citizens are able to engage in a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue. Most official languages of the EU belong to the Indo-European language family, except Estonian, Finnish, and Hungarian, which belong to the Uralic language family, and Maltese, which is a Semitic language. Most EU official languages are written in the Latin alphabet except Bulgarian, written in Cyrillic, and Greek, written in the Greek alphabet.

Besides the 23 official languages, there are about 150 regional and minority languages, spoken by up to 50 million people. Of these, only the Spanish regional languages (Catalan/Valencian, Basque and Galician), Scottish Gaelic and Welsh can be used by citizens in communication with the main European institutions. Although EU programmes can support regional and minority languages, the protection of linguistic rights is a matter for the individual member states.

Besides the many regional languages, a broad variety of languages from other parts of the world are spoken by immigrant communities in the member states: Turkish, Maghrebi Arabic, Russian, Urdu, Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, Ukrainian, Punjabi and Balkan languages are spoken in many parts of the EU. Many older immigrant communities are bilingual, being fluent in both the local (EU) language and in that of their ancestral community. Migrant languages have no formal status or recognition in the EU or in the EU countries, although from 2007 they are eligible for support from the language teaching section of the EU's Lifelong Learning Programme 2007–2013.

The EU is a secular body with no formal connections to any religion and no mention of religion in any current or proposed treaty. Discussion over the draft texts of the European Constitution and later the Treaty of Lisbon included proposals to mention Christianity and/or God in the preamble of the text, but the idea faced opposition and was dropped.

Emphasis on Christianity stems from this being the dominant religion in Europe, and thus of the EU. It divides between Roman Catholicism, a wide range of Protestant churches (especially in northern Europe) and Eastern Orthodox (in south eastern Europe). Other religions such as Islam and Judaism are also represented in the EU population. The EU had an estimated Muslim population of 16 million in 2006, and an estimated Jewish population of over a million.

Eurobarometer opinion polls organised by Eurostat show that the majority of EU citizens have some form of belief system but that only 21% see it as important. There is increasing atheism or agnosticism among the general population in Europe, with falling church attendance and membership in many countries. The 2005 Eurobarometer showed that of the European citizens (of the 25 members at that time), 52% believed in a god, 27% in some sort of spirit or life force and 18% had no form of belief. The countries where the fewest people reported a religious belief were the Czech Republic (19%) and Estonia (16%), The most religious countries are Malta (95%; predominantly Roman Catholic), and Cyprus and Romania both with about 90% of citizens believing in God. Across the EU, belief was higher among women, increased with age, those with religious upbringing, those with the lowest levels of formal education, and those leaning towards right-wing politics.

Other significant religions present in the EU territories are Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism with the latter two having a strong presence in the United Kingdom.

Policies affecting cultural matters are mainly set by individual member states. Cultural co-operation between member states has been a concern of the EU since its inclusion as a community competency in the Maastricht Treaty. Actions taken in the cultural area by the EU include the Culture 2000 7-year programme, the European Cultural Month event, the Media Plus programme, orchestras such as the European Union Youth Orchestra and the European Capital of Culture programme – where one or more cities in the EU are selected for one year to assist the cultural development of that city. In addition, the EU gives grants to cultural projects (totalling 233 in 2004) and has launched a Web portal dedicated to Europe and culture, responding to the European Council's expressed desire to see the Commission and the member states "promote the networking of cultural information to enable all citizens to access European cultural content by the most advanced technological means".

Within the EU, politicians, such as the President of the European Parliament, appeal to a shared European historical/cultural heritage, including Greek philosophy, Roman law, the Judeo-Christian heritage, and a tradition of freedom and democracy, but also negative elements such as the World wars.

Sport is mainly the responsibility of individual member states or other international organisations rather than that of the EU. However, some EU policies have had an impact on sport, such as the free movement of workers which was at the core of the Bosman ruling, which prohibited national football leagues from imposing quotas on foreign players with European citizenship.

Under the proposed Treaty of Lisbon sports would be given a special status which would exempt this sector from much of the EU's economic rules. This followed lobbying by governing organisations such as the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, due to objections over the applications of free market principles to sport which led to an increasing gap between rich and poor clubs.

Several European sports associations are consulted in the formulation of the EU's sports policy, including FIBA, UEFA, EHF, IIHF, FIRA and CEV. All EU member states and their respective national sport associations participate in European sport organisations such as UEFA.

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History of the European Union

After two devastating world wars, the political climate favoured an international unity that ensured peace. (bombed Hamburg in 1943)

The European Union is a geo-political entity covering a large portion of the European continent. It is founded upon numerous treaties and has undergone expansions that has taken it from 6 member states to 27, a majority of states in Europe.

Its origins date back to the post-World War II era, in particular the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community in Paris 1951, following the "Schuman declaration", or the Treaties of Rome establishing the European Economic Community. Both these bodies are now part of the European Union, which was formed under that name in 1993.

Large areas of Europe had previously been unified by empires built on force, such as the Roman Empire, Frankish Empire, Holy Roman Empire, the First French Empire or Nazi Germany. A peaceful means of some consolidation of European territories used to be provided by dynastic unions; less common were country-level unions, such as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire.

Largely due to the devastating effects of war many people turned to the idea of some form of unified Europe, notably William Penn, Abbot Charles de Saint-Pierre, Victor Hugo, Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi and Giuseppe Mazzini. Such ideas became greater in Western Europe following World War I, with the massive loss of life it entailed, but it was not until after World War II that real steps were taken in Western Europe. The devastating impact of the World Wars did not create such an ideological effect in Russia, perhaps because it adhered to an ideology of its own, that of Communism.

An example of an organization formed between the wars to promote the idea of European Union is the Pan-Europa movement.

World War II from 1939 to 1945 saw a human and economic cost which hit Europe hardest. It demonstrated the horrors of war and also of extremism, through the holocaust, for example. Once again, there was a desire to ensure it could never happen again, particularly with the war giving the world nuclear weapons. The countries of Western Europe failed to maintain their Great power status leaving two rival ideologically opposed superpowers..

With statements such as Winston Churchill's 1946 call for a "United States of Europe" becoming louder, in 1949 the Council of Europe was established as the first pan-European organisation. In the year following, on 9 May 1950, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed a community to integrate the coal and steel industries of Europe - these being the two elements necessary to make weapons of war. (See: Schuman declaration).

On the basis of that speech, France, Italy, the Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) together with West Germany signed the Treaty of Paris (1951) creating the European Coal and Steel Community the following year; this took over the role of the International Authority for the Ruhr and lifted some restrictions on German industrial productivity. It gave birth to the first institutions, such as the High Authority (now the European Commission) and the Common Assembly (now the European Parliament). The first presidents of those institutions were Jean Monnet and Paul-Henri Spaak respectively.

After failed attempts at creating defence (European Defence Community) and political communities (European Political Community), leaders met at the Messina Conference and established the Spaak Committee which produced the Spaak report. The report was accepted at the Venice Conference (29 and 30 May 1956) where the decision was taken to organize a Intergovernmental Conference. The Intergovernmental Conference on the Common Market and Euratom focused on economic unity, leading to the Treaties of Rome being signed in 1957 which established the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) among the members.

The two new communities were created separately from ECSC, although they shared the same courts and the Common Assembly. The executives of the new communities were called Commissions, as opposed to the "High Authority". The EEC was headed by Walter Hallstein (Hallstein Commission) and Euratom was headed by Louis Armand (Armand Commission). Euratom would integrate sectors in nuclear energy while the EEC would develop a customs union between members.

Throughout the 1960s tensions began to show with France seeking to limit supranational power and rejecting the membership of the United Kingdom. However, in 1965 an agreement was reached to merge the three communities under a single set of institutions, and hence the Merger Treaty was signed in Brussels and came into force on 1 July 1967 creating the European Communities. Jean Rey presided over the first merged Commission (Rey Commission).

After much negotiation, and following a change in the French Presidency, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom (with Gibraltar) eventually joined the European Communities on 1 January 1973. This was the first of several enlargements which become a major policy area of the Union (see: Enlargement of the European Union).

In 1979, the European Parliament held its first direct elections by universal suffrage (See: History of the European Parliament). 410 members were elected, who then elected the first female President of the European Parliament, Simone Veil.

A further enlargement took place in 1981 with Greece joining on 1 January, six years after applying. In 1985, Greenland voted to leave the Community after gaining home rule from Denmark (See also: EU territories). Spain and Portugal joined (having applied in 1977) on 1 January 1986 in the third enlargement.

Recently appointed Commission President Jacques Delors (Delors Commission) presided over the adoption of the European flag by the Communities in 1986. In the first major revision of the treaties since the Merger Treaty, leaders signed the Single European Act in February 1986. The text dealt with institutional reform, including extension of community powers - in particular in regarding foreign policy. It was a major component in completing the single market and came into force on 1 July 1987.

In 1987 Turkey formally applied to join the Community and began the longest application process for any country. In 1989, following upheavals in Eastern Europe, the Berlin Wall fell, along with the Iron curtain. Germany reunified and the door to enlargement to the former eastern bloc was opened (See also: Copenhagen Criteria).

With a wave of new enlargements on the way, the Maastricht Treaty was signed on 7 February 1992 which established the European Union when it came into force the following year.

On 1 November 1993, under the third Delors Commission, the Maastricht Treaty (Treaty on the European Union) became effective, creating the European Union with its pillar system including foreign and home affairs alongside the European Community. The 1994 European elections were held resulting in the Socialist group maintaining their position as the largest party in Parliament. The Council proposed Jacques Santer as Commission President but was seen as a second choice candidate, undermining his position. Parliament narrowly approved Santer but his commission gained greater support being approved by 416 votes to 103, Santer had use his new powers under Maastricht to flex greater control over his choice of Commissioners. They took office on 23 January 1995.

On 30 March 1994, accession negotiations concluded with Austria, Sweden, Finland and Norway. Each country held a referendum on membership which resulted in a majority in all but Norway, which hence stayed out of the EU. However, Norway did participate with Iceland and Liechtenstein in the European Economic Association (entered into force on 1 January 1994), which allowed European Free Trade Association states to enter the Single European Market, created in 1993. Switzerland had planned to join but membership was rejected in a national referendum. The following year, the Schengen Agreement would come into force between seven members, expanding to include nearly all others by the end of 1996. The 1990s also saw the further development of the euro. The 1 January 1994 saw the second stage of EMU begin with the establishment of the European Monetary Institute and at the break of 1999 the euro as a currency was launched and the European Central Bank was established. On 1 January 2002 notes and coins were put into circulation, replacing the old currencies entirely.

During the 90s, the development EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) was given a strong impetus by the conflicts in the Balkans. The EU failed to react during the beginning of the conflict, and UN peacekeepers from the Netherlands failed to prevent the Srebrenica massacre (July 1995) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the largest mass murder in Europe since the second world war. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) finally had to intervene in the war, forcing the combatants to the negotiation table. On 24 March 1999, the situation on Kosovo led to an EU CFSP declaration on Kosovo and prompted a NATO intervention in Kosovo and Serbia. While there was greater EU involvement in the Kosovo conflict than in the Bosnian conflict, the failure of the EU to prevent the conflicts in former Yugoslavia, or to bring them to a quick close, heightened the desire for greater EU effectiveness in foreign affairs. The early foreign policy experience of the EU led to it being emphasised in the Treaty of Amsterdam (which created the High Representative), which entered into force on 1 May 1999, and the 1997 declaration by Western European Union leaders on that organisation's role with the EU and NATO. In response, the Nice Treaty strengthened the High Representative and foreign policy cooperation.

However, any success was overshadowed by the budget crisis in March 1999. The Parliament refused to approve the Commission's 1996 community's budget on grounds of financial mismanagement, fraud and nepotism. Parliament established a committee to examine the situation, the results of which were published on 15 March 1999 and were highly critical of the Commission. The Socialists, the only major party supporting the executive, withdrew its support from Santer and, with Parliament ready to throw them out, the entire Santer Commission resigned the same evening of the report's publication.. The crisis severely damaged the Commission's position in the face of global crises such as Kosovo and the other institutions, with the Council increasingly distrustful of the Commission. The post-Delors mood of euroscepticism became entrenched with the Council and Parliament constantly challenging the Commission's position in coming years. In response, the anti-fraud watchdog OLAF was rapidly established by the following Commission.

In the following elections, the Socialists lost their decades old majority to the new People's Party and the incoming Prodi Commission was quick to establish the new anti-fraud body OLAF. Under the new powers of the Amsterdam Treaty, Prodi was described by some as the 'First Prime Minister of Europe'. On 4 June, Javier Solana was appointed Secretary General of the Council and the strengthened High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy admitted the intervention in Kosovo - Solana was also seen by some as Europe's first Foreign Minister. The Nice Treaty was signed on 26 February 2001 and came into force on 1 February 2003 while the European Convention began drafting the European Constitution. The Nice Treaty made the final preparations before the 2004 enlargement to 10 new members.

On the 10-13 June 2004, the 25 member states participated in the largest trans-national election in history (with the second largest democratic electorate in the world). The result of the sixth Parliamentary election was a second victory for the European People's Party-European Democrats group. It also saw the lowest voter turnout of 45.5%, the second time it had fallen below 50%.

On 22 July 2004, José Manuel Barroso is approved by the new Parliament as the next Commission President. However his new team of 25 Commissioners faced a tougher road. With Parliament raising objections to a number of his candidates he was forced to withdraw his selection and try once more. The Prodi Commission had to extend their mandate to the 22 November after the new line up of Commissioners was finally approved.

The European Constitution was signed on 28 October 2004, only a few days into Barroso's administration. Ratification of the treaty was primarily by parliamentary approval but some states held referenda during 2005. The first to be held was in Spain, where the document was approved with 77% support. However, ratification hit a major hurdle when voters in France rejected it by 58%. Shortly after, the Netherlands voted, which compounded the French 'non' by rejecting it by 61%. This largely halted ratification completely, with only a few states trying to approve it; still, Luxembourg went ahead with their vote and approved the constitution by 57%. That did not change matters, however, and the leaders announced they would enter a "period of reflection" regarding the rejection.

In 2007 the leaders formally ended this period and signed the Berlin Declaration on 25 March 2007 (which was the 50th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome). The declaration was intended to give a new impetus to finding a new institutional settlement by the elections in 2009. Later in the year the European Council agreed that the constitution would be dropped, but most of its changes would be retained in an amending treaty (as opposed to one which would replace all previous treaties and have "state-like" elements to it). On 13 December 2007 the treaty was signed, christened the Treaty of Lisbon, and is intended to be ratified before the end of 2008 so it can come into force on 1 January 2009. Unlike the constitution, the Treaty of Lisbon will only face a referendum in one state: Ireland (see Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland). However, on Thursday 12 June 2008 the Irish people by a 53% majority voted not to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. At the present time the future of the Treaty remains unclear.

In 2007, the fifth enlargement completed with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria on 1 January. 53 MEPs joined the Parliament along with two Commissioners, for which two new posts were created in the Commission. The post created for the Romanian Commissioner was Multilingualism, which was criticised by some for its narrow scope.

On the same day, Slovenia adopted the euro, after other candidates such as Lithuania were turned down due to inflation. Malta and Cyprus adopted the euro on 1 January 2008. Slovakia became the Eurozone's sixteenth member the 1 January 2009.

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Source : Wikipedia