The European Union started with six Western European countries after World War II as the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952 (Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands). By 1973, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Ireland joined what had become known as the European Community. Greece became a member in 1981; Spain and Portugal in 1986; Austria, Finland, and Sweden in 1995; eight former communist countries in 2004 (the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia), plus Malta and Cypru; Bulgaria and Romania in 2007; and Croatia in 2013, the 28th member.

A recent primer on the EU attempts to clarify the dysfunctional union of 28 countries, which has not been very successful in promoting "peace, stability, and economic prosperity," by harmonizing laws and common policies on economic, social, and political issues as envisioned by a handful of European socialist elitists.

To join the European Union, a country must first have a functioning democracy and a market economy. This is interesting, since a lot of the former communist countries were in social and economic chaos, following the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. They were not exactly functioning democracies or supply and demand-based economies; they were former dictatorships with centrally-planned economies, some of which are still struggling with their understanding of what a democracy is.

The EU members share a customs union, a single market in which goods, people, and capital move unimpeded by borders, a common trade policy, and a common agricultural policy as dictated by Brussels. A common currency, the euro, is shared by 19 countries; these nations had to give up their monetary policies, no longer controlling interest rates, the money supply, or their ability to mint and print their own currencies.

The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) with its Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) cooperates with the area of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) "to forge common internal security measures."

To govern this multi-national behemoth, the EU has established numerous bureaucracies:

  • The European Council (composed of EU heads of state or government and the President of the European Commission; this president is appointed by the member states to facilitate a consensus) – The Council meets several times a year at "EU Summits" in order to set EU policy
  • The European Commission – is the EU's executive branch, composed of 28 commissioners appointed by agreement to five-year terms approved by European Parliament; one commissioner is president and the other 27 have specific duties such as trade, agriculture, energy, etc.
  • The Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers) – represents national governments and enacts legislation put forth by the commission; the presidency of the council rotates every six months among its members; the country holding the presidency sets the agenda
  • The European Parliament – elected directly by EU citizens to represent them for five-year terms; it has 751 members who were elected on May 2014; each nation has a number of seats proportional to their country's population; the Parliament cannot initiate legislation, but it can share legislative power with the Council of Ministers in specific areas, accepting, amending, or rejecting proposed EU legislation via "ordinary legislative procedure;" the Parliament allocates the EU budget with the Council Members of the European Parliament caucus (MEPs), not based on nationality, but political affiliation via the eight political groups. Some MEPs are non-affiliated; the pay for these functionaries is quite generous
  • The Court of Justice – ruling and binding laws
  • The Court of Auditors – looks at management of finances
  • The European Central Bank – manages the euro and monetary policy
  • Advisory committees – in charge of regional economic and social issues

(Kristin Archik, The European Union: Questions and Answers, September 4, 2015)

On economic and social issues, EU member states have given up their national sovereignty because the EU decision-making has been transferred into the hands of a supranational authority. Decisions in foreign policy require "unanimous consensus of all 28 member states."

Are you still a state if your borders no longer matter? It became quite painful to watch the smaller countries in Europe, with their open borders, being invaded and trampled by the hordes of so-called "refugees" from Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and Turkey, demanding passage to Germany and Sweden where the welfare systems are more generous.

The Lisbon Treaty, signed and effective since December 2009, attempted to give EU more influence in the foreign policy of each country and to increase "democratic transparency."

The U.S. has supported the European Union for political reasons of "democracy building" and for trading partnerships. EU and U.S. are pursuing a comprehensive free trade agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), not unlike the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Disputes remain on issues of data protection and climate change.

Some U.S. Congressmen are beginning to pay attention, since the European Union has been plagued by the Greek debt crisis, the massive migration from the Middle East and Africa, and "the rise of anti-EU populist political parties."

The movers and shakers in key bureaucratic EU positions are:

  • Donald Tusk, the former Prime Minister of Poland, is the President of the European Council, appointed for a two and a half year term
  • Jean-Claude Juncker, former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, is President of the European Commission
  • German MEP Martin Schulz is the President of the European Parliament
  • Federica Mogherini of Italy is the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

EU member countries handle their own fiscal policy, but the monetary policy is directed from Brussels for those members that have adopted the euro as their national currency. Denmark and the U.K. have opted out of the euro. Nineteen of the 28 EU countries use the euro, which is beneficial in trading and in tourism.

After a country becomes an official candidate to the accession to EU, the applicants must adopt EU laws and regulations. Becoming a member of the EU has transformed some European countries into "functioning democracies and more affluent societies," but it did so at the expense of large and successful western economies that have paid for this transformation. Driving across Eastern Europe, it is easy to see the massive construction, modernization, and remodeling projects paid with EU funds and loans. There are six countries currently under consideration to EU membership: Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, and Iceland.

Further read:

CRS Report IN10065, The 2014 European Parliament Elections: Outcomes and Implications, by Kristin Archick.

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