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The Heart of Europe

Politics, economics and international affairs

The coming age of Europe

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At the end of the 80s, beginning of the 90s, the political shape of Europe dramatically changed when the Berlin wall fell. You may remember in 1989, images coming from Berlin portraying these people. This led to a unified Germany and the coming of democracy to the countries of central and eastern Europe. Amid this new political landscape, the members of the original European communities were negotiating a new treaty, the so called Maastricht Treaty, which would lay down the foundations for the launch of the European Union.

What is the most important axis of integration that the EU has historically focused on? Europe integration has always been driven by the desire to bring peace to a part of the world once ravaged by war and violence. Against this backdrop, and according to Peace Theory, the best guarantor of peace is an international market economy driven by free trade. Hence, portraying economic integration. The corollary would be that restrictions in trades such as customs duties like tariffs and quotas may cause tension that might lead to war. In other words, people or countries that trade with one another by creating corporate and economic bonds would have a vested interest in each other’s wealth and welfare.

What happens in one, has to come to matter a great deal to the others. And this is the idea which was already present in the Schuman Declaration. The countries would be more inclined to work peacefully with each other, to solve problems, resolve disputes, in open market. In this context the economist Joseph Schumpeter once argued when free trade prevails, raw materials become more easily available, and all can share the benefits they provide.

As I said at the time of the Maastricht Treaty, back in 1992, the European states decided to make a further effort in their integration. The states decided to extend their cooperation well beyond what came to be called the first pillar of European integration with the so-called European communities and to add further forms of cooperation in areas belonging to areas that did not necessarily belong and were covered by the European community. This is the case for the common foreign and security policies and also for another form of cooperation which gave rise, back in 1992 in the Maastricht Treaty, to a third pillar of integration. What came to be called justice and home affairs cooperation in criminal, civil matters all over Europe as well as immigration. And what happened in 1992 was to create an umbrella organization which came to be called the European Union.

To put together the original economic communities with the new second and third pillar. That’s extending the scope of the EU. At the time, as you might know, we only had 12 countries as members of the EU. So in all those years, the European Union gained more and more appeal to other countries, and eventually led them to join this venture. The rules and functioning of a system originally designed for six members, then 12, would therefore not be suitable anymore for 28 countries, today’s actual number. This is why the enlarged European Union needed a simpler, and more efficient method for taking its joint decisions. This new worker order materialized in the so-called Treaty of Lisbon, which was signed on December 13, 2007.

One of the main advantages of the Lisbon Treaty has been to further simplify the function of the European Union by changing the institutional structure of the EU. Today, the pillar structure has been eliminated, it has been abolished, since 2009.

And now we only talk about the European Union and no longer about the European communities. You will now understand why so many treaties have been signed over time. The foundational treaties (the Treaty of Paris and the Treaty of Rome) have been amended over time by the single European Act in 1986-1987, by the Maastricht Treaty 1992, by the Amsterdam Treaty 97, but also by the Treaty of Nice in 2001, and finally the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009. So this was a brief history of the European Union and its major developments. Making such an audacious and ambitious partnership of foreign states work  required founding fathers and the current decision makers to come up with a complex architectural structure  dividing the workload between policy and decision-making on the one hand, and implementing it  on the other one.

The EU, as an institutional creature, is composed of three main institutions, the famous institutional triangle: the European Commission, which is often depicted by media as the Executive, the European Parliament which represents the Legislative body, is made of (is the only institution which is made of) directly elected representatives, and the Council, which shares legislative competence together with the European Parliament. And finally, the Court of Justice, the Court of Justice whose mandate is to ensure the application and interpretation of European law. The result of the institutional cooperation is a complex decision making process leading to European legislation.

In order to effectively implement European policies, the Union relies on its own decentralized bodies and agencies. There are more than 30 of them, such as the European Food Safety Authority, the European Medicines Agency, which are based in different capitals of the EU. Mainly in charge of technical, scientific, operational and regulatory issues, the agencies basically allow the institutions to fully concentrate on policy making by receiving expertise from those bodies.

But in practice, what does policy making mean? Policy making describes the actions that the EU European Union institutions take in order to shape and somehow control and make sure citizen’s life. So it is now time to turn on why Europe matters.

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