The EU is a unique organisation of 15 Member States. These states have given specific powers to the E. institutions so that they make E. decisions and laws in specific areas.
You can often see that the EU is pictured as a temple – a structure with common foundations, three pilars and a common roof.
Building of the EU temple started after the Second World War. The ideas of creating a United States of Europe or a Pan – European union were not new, but only after WWII. Did the conditions for a European organization exist. Politicians realized that Europe could develop and become an economic power again only if there was peace. To keep peace it was necessary to co – operate and have friendly relations. This idea forms the foundations of the temple.
The first pillar was built in 1951 when France, Germany, Belgium, Netherland, Luxemburg and Italy agreed to co-operate in the production and trade of coal and steel. In 1957 these countries extended the co-operation to the areas of trade, economy and nuclear energy. The goal was to create a common market with four freedoms – free movement of goods, free movement of workers, free movement of services and free movement of capital. That technically means that there are open borders and there are no problems for goods and services, people and money to move freely among these countries.
The number of areas of co-operation grew and the countries also started to work together in areas that are not strictly economic, such as the environment, culture, or social affairs.
In 1992 the second and the third pillars of co-operation were built. The co-operation in these pillars is political, not economic. It means that it is in the areas that are more sensitive and countries normally manage these areas themselves. The second pillar is built on co-operation in security and foreign policy, and the third pillar is built on co-operation in justice and home affairs.
The roof of the temple is made by institutions whose roles are described in the treaties. (When the countries start to co-operate, they sign a treaty describing how they are going to do it, and who will be responsible for what.)
There are five important institutions of the EU: The European Parliamen, the Council of the EU, the European Commission, te European Court of Justice and the European Court of Auditors.
It is important to note that there is the Concil of Europe and the Council of the EU and they are quite different.
The Council of Europe is a separate intergovernmental organization, based in Strasbourg and we are its members. It is interested especially in the protection of human rights and freedoms. The Council of the EU is one of the institutions of the EU.
Just as the numbers of areas of co-operation grew, also the number of Member States grew. From the original number of six, it became nine when the UK, Ireland and Denmark joined in 1973, then ten when Greece joined in 1981, twelve with Spain and Portugal (1986) and finally fifteen with Austria, Finland and Sweden (1995).
The European Parliament represents the peoples of the EU. With 626 Members of Parliament from 15 Member States it is the largest multinational parliament in the world. Its basic role is to legislate and control.
The Council of the EU, or the Council of Ministers, as it is also called, represents the interests of the individual Member States.The 15 representatives of EU Member States meet to legislate, co-ordinate the plicies and make political decisions.
There is one more council – the European Council which consists of the Heads of States and Governments, i.e. the highest representatives of member States.
The European Commission is the driving force of the EU, it makes legislative proposals and manages the EU´s money. It has 20 members.
The role of the European Court of Justice is to make sure that EU law is applied and interpreted in the same way in all Member States.
The Court of Auditors is there to check if the money was spent according to the rules.