What is the European Union? – Training Guide on EU Advocacy

What is the European Union? – Training Guide on EU Advocacy


The European Union was born from
the grouping of several European states with the desire to define
common policies. Over time, those states cooperated
on an increasing number of issues, gradually making the European Union
competent in most areas. However, Member States decided
to retain some of their prerogatives, including “foreign affairs”,
namely the policy relating to everything outside the Union. Even today, these decisions are
taken by consensus, meaning Member States strive towards reaching
an agreement about a text until there is no opposition. Two institutions represent the
interests of the Member States: the European Council – which brings
together the Heads of State and Government to define the Union’s
general orientations and policies – and the Council of the European
Union, which brings together the ministers of the Member States. The latter meets in ten thematic
configurations to take decisions based on the areas for which they
are responsible. The Foreign Affairs Council,
for instance, is chaired by the High Representative of the Union
for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Their work is prepared in advance
by the Committee of Ambassadors and working groups chaired by the
EU’s diplomatic service, the European External Action Service. The European External Action Service
is under the authority of the High Representative and helps to carry
out her duties. The European Union is represented
by its Delegations in most of the world’s countries. The European Union Delegation’s
political section implements foreign policy and maintains bilateral
relations with the country in which the Delegation is based. The cooperation section is responsible
for the Union’s funding programmes. The European Commission is composed
of a College of Commissioners. It proposes and ensures the
implementation of the Union’s decisions. It is also responsible for budgets,
meaning it is in charge of cooperation programmes involving the other
countries. Upon Council request,
the Commission negotiates bilateral agreements in the areas that fall
within its mandate. These agreements generally relate
to the external dimension of domestic policies – for example,
trade agreements and agreements relating to migration issues. The European Parliament is composed
of members elected by direct universal suffrage by the citizens of each
of the EU’s member countries. Even so, it does not have the same
weight as a national parliament, because foreign affairs remain
a prerogative of the Member States. However, the European Parliament
remains the most visible institution promoting human rights and in providing
major support to civil society. In short, Members States remain
the key stakeholders in policies related to everything outside the
Union; they have the power to make decisions from the Council in Brussels,
from their own capitals, or from their embassies. The European External Action Service
and the EU Delegations are crucial as they implement that foreign policy.

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