The Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union 2005URL (Internet address) : http://www.eu2005.lu/en/savoir_ue/glossaire/glossaire_c/
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The CARDS programme (Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stabilisation) aims to provide financial support to enable beneficiary companies to participate in the process of stabilisation and association. Under this programme, the countries of South-Eastern Europe may participate in contracts and calls for tenders in the Union. Its aim is to encourage their reconstruction, to provide consultancy and training and implement cooperation networks and mechanisms in the fields of justice and home affairs. The CARDS programme will be continued until 2006.
Following the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December 1998, the Cologne European Council (3 and 4 June 1999) decided to start work on drafting a charter of fundamental rights. The aim was to consolidate the fundamental rights applicable at Union level in a single document in order to raise awareness. The charter is based on the Community treaties, international conventions such as the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights and the 1989 European Social Charter, the constitutional traditions common to the Member States and various European Parliament declarations.
The task was entrusted to a special body, which decided to call itself the Convention, consisting of 62 members, including representatives of the governments of the Member States, of the President of the European Commission, the European Parliament and national parliaments. Four observers from the Court of Justice of the European Communities, the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights also participated. The composition, working methods and practical arrangements of the Convention were adopted at the Tampere European Council (15 and 16 October 1999).
Work began on 17 December 1999. The Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, the Ombudsman, the applicant countries and other bodies, social groups and experts were invited to put forward their views. The objective was to reach a consensus. The result of the work was submitted to the Biarritz European Council (13 and 14 October 2000). In its seven chapters divided into 54 articles, the charter defines fundamental rights relating to dignity, freedom, equality, solidarity, citizenship and justice. The Nice European Council (7 and 10 December 2000) solemnly proclaimed the charter.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights forms an integral part of the Constitution Treaty adopted at the Brussels European Council in June 2004.
Citizenship of the Union is dependent on holding the nationality of one of the Member States. Therefore, anyone who is a national of a Member State is considered a citizen of the Union. In addition to the rights and duties laid down in the treaty establishing the European Community, Union citizenship confers four special rights:
- freedom to move and take up residence anywhere within the Union;
- the right to vote and stand in local government and European Parliament elections in the country of residence;
- diplomatic and consular protection from the authorities of any Member State where the country of which a person is a national is not represented in a non-Union country;
- the right of petition and appeal to the European Ombudsman.
The introduction of the notion of Union citizenship does not, of course, replace but supplements national citizenship. This gives the ordinary citizen a deeper and more tangible sense of belonging to the Union.
Member States with a large number of nationals from other Member States may reserve voting rights for Community electors residing in their territory for a minimum period which must not exceed five years (and the right to stand for election may be reserved for Community electors who reside in their territory for a minimum period which must not exceed ten years). This derogation applies when the proportion of European citizens residing in a Member State without holding its nationality exceeds 20% of the total number of Union citizens residing there. In the three most recent European elections, Luxembourg was the only Member State to invoke this derogation.
In the case of municipal elections, the minimum period of residence required must not exceed the term for which the municipal authority is elected in the case of voting rights, nor double that period in the case of the right to stand for election. Two Member States (Luxembourg and Belgium) benefit from a derogation of this kind. However, Belgium can impose a minimum residence period only in a limited number of local authority areas and must notify its intention to do so one year before elections are held.
Closer cooperation was introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, and is a mechanism for closer cooperation between the countries of the Union that wish to go beyond the integration provided for by the treaties. The objective of this type of cooperation is to enable a limited number of Member States, which are willing and able to move ahead, to continue taking European construction further, while respecting the single institutional structure of the Union.
From the beginning, closer cooperation had to respect a number of conditions in order to be established. They must:
- concern an area that is not covered by the exclusive powers of the Community;
- tend to encourage the achievement of the Union’s objectives;
- respect the principles of the treaties and the acquis communautaire;
- be used only as a last resort;
- include a minimum number of Member States;
- allow other Member States to be included as the project progresses.
The Nice Treaty of December 2000 simplified the use of closer cooperation by making important changes:
- the minimum number of Member States required for closer cooperation was reduced by half (Treaty of Amsterdam) to eight, irrespective of the total number of Member States;
- a Member State can no longer prevent closer cooperation; the matter may be referred to the European Council for review, but it is the Council of Ministers that decides by the majority provided for by the treaties;
- within the context of the EC treaty, the assent of the European Parliament is required if closer cooperation affects a field subject to co-decision;
- an additional condition for implementing closer cooperation has been added: this must not harm the internal market or economic and social cohesion.
The Nice Treaty also introduced the possibility of closer cooperation in the field of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), with the exception of military matters and defence policy. At procedural level, the decision is taken by the Council after the Commission has issued its opinion, voting by a qualified majority based on a common strategy.
So far, the Member States of the Union have never used the principle of closer cooperation as such. However, the idea of differentiation among the Member States as to the degree of integration of their policies is not new. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 stipulated that only states which complied with the convergence criteria could adopt the single currency, without formally using closer cooperation.
Under the Treaty establishing the European Community, it is the Commission’s responsibility to implement legislation at Community level (Article 202 of the EC Treaty, former Article 145). In practice, each legislative document specifies the scope of the executive powers granted to the Commission, as well as the way in which it should exercise them. Frequently, the legislation provides that the Commission may be assisted by a committee in accordance with a procedure known as “comitology".
The committees, which are discussion forums, comprise representatives of Member States and are chaired by the Commission. They enable the Commission to establish dialogue with national administrations before adopting implementing measures. The Commission thus ensures that they reflect as accurately as possible the situation in each country concerned.
The Committee of the Regions is a political assembly that gives a voice to the regions at the very heart of the European Union.
It was established by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, and now consists of 317 members and an equal number of alternates. They are all appointed for four years by the Council based on a proposal from the Member States. Each country chooses its members according to its own procedure, but the delegations reflect the overall political, geographical and regional/local balance of their Member State. The members of the Committee of the Regions are elected representatives, or key players from local or regional authorities in their region of origin.
The Committee of the Regions was set up in order to deal with two major issues. Firstly, approximately three-quarters of Community legislation is implemented at local or regional level, therefore, it is logical that the representatives of local and regional authorities should have their say in the drafting of new Community laws. Secondly, there was concern at the time that citizens might be left out of the construction of the Union. Involving the level of elected government that was closest to the people was one of the ways of bridging this divide.
The treaties oblige the Commission and the Council to consult the Committee of the Regions on any proposal made in a field which has repercussions at local or regional level. The Maastricht Treaty defines five fields: economic and social cohesion, trans-European infrastructure networks, health, education and culture. The Treaty of Amsterdam added five further fields to this list: employment policy, social policy, environment, vocational training and transport, which now cover a substantial proportion of the Community’s field of action.
Apart from the fields mentioned, the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament have the option to consult the Committee of the Regions on proposals that they consider have an important impact at local and regional level. The Committee of the Regions may also draw up opinions on its own initiative, which enables it to put certain issues on the EU agenda.
Committees charged with assisting the Community institutions are involved at every stage of the legislative process. The Commission consults committees of experts on a regular basis before drafting a new legislative proposal. These committees consist of representatives of the milieux involved, experts from the private sector or from national administrations, and enable the Commission to remain open to the concerns of those who will be affected by possible regulation. There are approximately 60 consultative committees covering all sectors, and half of them deal with agricultural matters.
At the European Parliament, various standing committees organise the work of the MEPs.
The Council is also assisted by committees and working groups which prepare its decisions. The existence of certain committees is provided for in the treaties (e.g. Article 36 Committee for Justice and Home Affairs), while others are “ad hoc" committees such as the Cultural Affairs Committee which evaluates proposals on cultural cooperation, prepares the work of the Council and follows up action taken. These committees comprise representatives of Member States’ administrations as well as a member of the Commission. In parallel, various working groups carry out preparatory work for the Coreper. While some are set up on a temporary basis to deal with a particular issue, approximately a hundred groups cover a particular sector and meet on a regular basis.
When a legislative text has been adopted, it lays down the general principles to be respected. More precise implementing measures may be necessary to apply these principles. In this case, the text provides that a committee will be set up within the Commission in order to take the appropriate decisions. These committees comprise experts designated by Member States and chaired by the Commission, and most of them are governed by rules established by the 1987 Council decision know as the “Comitology Decision". There are approximately 300 of these committees in the fields of industry, social affairs, agriculture, the environment, the internal market, research and development, consumer protection and food safety.
The objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are to enable farmers to have a reasonable standard of living and to provide consumers with high-quality food at reasonable prices. The way of achieving these objectives has changed over the years. Now, the key concepts are food safety, conservation of the rural environment and better value for money.
The CAP is one of the most important European Union policies (agricultural expenditure accounts for some 45% of the Community budget). When the policy is being drawn up, it is subject to the decision-making procedure with qualified majority voting in the Council and consultation with the European Parliament. Initially, the CAP enabled the Community to become self-sufficient within a very short time. However, the policy became increasingly expensive to operate due to excessively high European prices compared with world markets, as well as overproduction. The 1992 reform corrected the situation by reducing guaranteed farm prices, with compensatory premiums for inputs and the introduction of “accompanying measures".
With a view to enlargement, a new reform was carried out in 1999 for the period 2000-2006. Based on policy guidelines put forward in the communication by the Commission in Agenda 2000 of July 1997, it reinforces the changes introduced in 1992 and places the emphasis on food safety, environmental objectives and sustainable agriculture. Objectives which were not part of the market policy were grouped together under the heading of rural development which became the second pillar of the CAP. Moreover, this reform also seeks to increase the competitiveness of Community agricultural products, simplify agricultural legislation and its application, strengthen the Union’s position at WTO negotiations and stabilise spending. A reduction in intervention prices was introduced, compensated by an increase in aid to farmers.
The idea that the Union should speak with a single voice on the world stage is as old as the process of European integration itself. Over the years, however, the Union has made more progress in creating a single market and a single currency than in devising a Common Foreign and Security Policy. Each Member State has retained complete sovereignty over the running of its foreign policy.
Nevertheless, in 1992 the Maastricht Treaty institutionalised a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), governed by an intergovernmental decision-making process. The CFSP succeeds informal cooperation on foreign policy started in the 1970s. It is clearly distinguishable from the other Community fields, where states have delegated part or all of their powers to the Union. Therefore, the CFSP is a separate pillar of the Union, subject to decision-making by a unanimous vote with a limited role for the Commission and the European Parliament.
The Treaty of Amsterdam supplemented the existing arrangements by creating the post of High Representative for the CFSP, who is also the Secretary General of the Council for a period of five years. The same treaty also introduced a new foreign policy instrument: the Common Strategy. By these means, the European Council defines the common strategy by consensus, in areas where Member States have important common interests. Implementing common strategies is a matter for the Council of Ministers, which decides by a qualified majority vote. It is also empowered to recommend common strategies to the European Council.
The Treaty of Amsterdam also enables each state to use constructive abstention, which does not prevent a decision from being adopted. If the Member State in question issues a formal declaration with its abstention, it is not bound to apply the decision but accepts that the decision is binding on the Union as a whole. Therefore, it will avoid taking any action liable to enter into conflict with the Union’s decisions. The draft Constitution provides for the creation of a post of European Union Foreign Minister, which will replace both the High Representative for the CFSP and the European Commissioner in charge of External Relations. This new function should lend greater visibility and increased consistency to the CFSP. However, the principles of intergovernmental decision-making and unanimous voting still prevail in this area.
Common Market Organisations are the arrangements adopted at Community level governing the production and trade in agricultural produce of all the Member States of the European Union. The Common Market Organisations seek mainly to attain the objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and in particular to stabilise markets, ensure a fair standard of living for farmers and increase agricultural activity.
The Common Position is one of the instruments of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). This is a legal position by the Council which is binding on the Member States, and which must be defended by them at international organisations and international conferences. A common position may relate to a geographical region (the Balkans, the Middle East, etc.) or be of a thematic nature (a group of diplomatic missions, prevention and resolution of conflicts, human rights, etc.).
The Common Position was established within the framework of cooperation on justice and home affairs by the Maastricht Treaty. The Treaty of Amsterdam retains this instrument in the new Title VI of the Treaty on European Union (police and criminal justice cooperation).
The Common Position is a legal instrument enabling the Council to define the Union’s approach on a given issue. The Member States undertake to comply in their internal affairs and foreign policy with their unanimous decision taken in the Council meetings.
The Common Strategy is an instrument of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam. The European Council defines the Union’s common strategies in areas where the Member States have important interests in common, on a recommendation from the Council of Ministers.
The adoption of a common strategy is an important political act, which establishes the political priorities of the European Union vis-à-vis third countries. In practice, a common strategy sets out the objective, duration and the resources to be provided by the Member States. It is implemented by the Council of Ministers, particularly by means of common action and common positions. Three common strategies have been adopted in the past: on Russia in June 1999, on Ukraine in December 1999 and on the Mediterranean in June 2000. Despite the limited use of common strategies, the draft Constitution includes them in the form of general policy direction adopted by the European Council.
The European Union’s Common Trade Policy aims to develop free trade and world trade by promoting the elimination of barriers to international trade. It comes under the exclusive competence of the Community (first pillar).
The Treaty of Amsterdam enabled the Council, by a unanimous vote, to extend the application of the provisions of the Common Trade Policy to the international negotiations of agreement on services and intellectual property rights. Thereafter, the Nice Treaty was also amended with an article to enable the conclusion of such agreements by a qualified majority. However, there are still exceptions for agreements concluded in fields where powers are shared between the Member States and the Community, for which unanimity applies. Trade in cultural and audiovisual services and trade in education services are among the exceptions.
The main instruments of the Common Trade Policy are:
- the common customs tariff applied to all products imported into the internal market;
- trade protection measures aimed at protecting the economy of the Member States from unfair practices by other trading partners;
- preference agreement concluded with several groups of countries that have preferential access to the Union’s internal market.
Trade decisions are taken within the Council of Ministers. The European Commission represents the Union in multilateral trade negotiations within the context of the World Trade Organisation. It also uses the Disputes Settlement Organisation to arbitrate in disputes between one or more Member States and their trading partners on a regular basis.
The Common Transport Policy seeks to establish joint rules applicable to international transport to or from the territory of a Member State, or crossing the territory of one or more Member States (Articles 70-80 of the EC Treaty). The policy is also concerned with laying down the conditions under which non-resident carriers may operate services within a Member State. Furthermore, it encompasses measures to improve transport safety.
Since the Treaty of Amsterdam came into force, decisions have been adopted according to the co-decision procedure (Article 251 of the EC Treaty), after consultation with the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. However, some special cases still remain. Provisions that are likely to have a serious effect on the standard of living and level of employment, as well as the operation of transport equipment, are adopted by the Council by unanimous vote, after consultation with the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee. In the case of specific measures relating to sea and air transport, the Council decides on the procedure to be applied in each case, acting by a qualified majority.
Communitisation means the transfer to the Community method (first pillar) of an area which, within the institutional framework of the Union, is dealt with using the intergovernmental method (second and third pillars).
The Community method is based on the idea that the general interest of Union citizens is more effectively guaranteed when the Community institutions play their full role in the decision-making process, while duly respecting the subsidiarity principle.
Following the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam, questions relating to the free movement of persons, which was previously a matter for justice and home affairs (third pillar), have been “communitised�? and are now dealt with under the Community method after a five-year transitional phase.
The Treaty founding the European Community, amended by the Treaty of Amsterdam, guarantees four fundamental freedoms:
- free movement of goods: goods can move freely without taxes, quotas or restrictions, between Member States;
- free movement of services: persons and businesses from one Member State are free to provide services to other Member States;
- free movement of capital: persons from one Member State can invest freely in other Member States and are free to transfer funds between those countries;
- free movement of persons: citizens of one Member State are free to reside and work in another Member State.
These four freedoms mean that the Union can be considered a single market for goods, services and labour. They are so important to the organisation of the Community that the Union asks applicant countries to adopt them as soon as possible.
In the narrowest sense of the term, Community law consists of the founding treaties and the decisions taken to implement those treaties. In the broad sense, Community law encompasses all the legal rules applicable in the European Union. Therefore, it also concerns general principles of law, case law of the Court of Justice and the international conventions and treaties entered into by the EU.
Moreover, these legal rules constitute part of what is referred to as the acquis communautaire, meaning the existing system of Community rights and obligations.
The Community method designates the institutional operating method of the first pillar of the Union. While respecting the subsidiarity principle, it relies on a logic of integration and is characterized particularly by the following main elements:
- the Commission’s monopoly of the right of initiative;
- the general use of qualified majority voting in the Council;
- the active role of the European Parliament (opinions, proposals for amendments, etc.);
uniformity of interpretation of Community law assured by the Court of Justice.
Community powers arise from the explicit granting of powers in specific areas, particularly in the treaties governing the European Union. According to this system, there are three types of powers:
- explicit powers: these are clearly defined in specific articles in the treaties;
- implicit powers: where the European Community has explicit powers in a policy (e.g. transport), it also has powers in terms of external relations in this area (e.g. negotiation of international agreements);
- subsidiary powers: where there are no explicit or implicit powers to achieve one of the treaty’s objectives relating to the single market, Article 308 of the treaty establishing the European Community allows the Council to adopt the measures it deems necessary by a unanimous vote.
The draft Constitutional Treaty includes the basic principle of granting powers which stipulates that the Union acts only within the limits of the powers granted to it with a view to attaining the objectives laid down by the constitution. It adds explicitly in the same article that “powers that are not conferred upon the Union in the constitution remain with the Member States". The main new feature introduced by the Convention involves incorporating into the founding text of the Union the various types of powers that exist, which has never been done in successive treaties.
Under the co-decision procedure between Council and Parliament, a conciliation committee may be set up. It comprises members of the Council or their representatives and an equal number of representatives of Parliament. Any disagreement between the two institutions is referred to the committee in order to reach agreement on a text acceptable to both parties.
The draft of any joint text must then be adopted within six weeks by the Council and the Parliament. The proposal is deemed not to have been adopted if it is rejected by one of the two institutions.
On 18 June 2004, the 25 heads of state and government of the European Union adopted a treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. This was signed officially in Rome on 29 October 2004, but must be ratified by each of the signatory states in order to enter into force. However, until it does enter into force, the European architecture will continue to be based on the treaties adopted successively by the Member States of the Union (Rome in 1957, Single European Act in 1986, Maastricht in 1992, Amsterdam in 1997 and Nice in 2001).
The treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe envisages the:
- rationalisation of the EU’s basic architecture: a single treaty which combines and supplements the various texts (agreements and conventions);
- disappearance of the three-pillar structure, even if the decision-making procedures are not unified in all fields (e.g. CFSP);
- acquisition of a legal personality by the EU, which would enable it to enter into treaties or sign up to conventions;
- possibility of engaging in more intensive cooperation is extended to all European action, provided at least one-third of Member States participate;
- incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the treaty.
The treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe is the product of an innovative procedure. The text was prepared by the Convention for the Future of the European Union, which closely involved the representatives of the Member States, the national and European parliaments as well as civil society.
A broad debate enabled a consensus to be reached on an ambitious text. The draft served as the basis for the work of the intergovernmental conference which brought together representatives of governments as well as the European Commission and European Parliament. The text adopted at the European Council in June 2004 preserves the essence of the proposals by the Convention.
To enter into force, the treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe must be ratified by the national parliaments of all the Member States within two years of its signature. Some member countries have decided to hold a referendum for this purpose. If, at the end of the ratification period, four-fifths of the Member States have approved the treaty and one or more Member States have encountered difficulties in obtaining ratification, the matter will be referred to the European Council.
Constructive abstention is the idea of allowing a Member State, under the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), to abstain on a vote in Council, without blocking a unanimous decision.
This option was introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam in the new Article 23 of the EU Treaty. If constructive abstention is accompanied by a formal declaration, the Member State in question is not obliged to apply the decision, but must accept that the decision is binding on the Union. Thereafter, the Member State must refrain from any conduct liable to come into conflict with Union action based on that decision.
The Maastricht Treaty lays down four main convergence criteria that any country must meet to accede to Economic and Monetary Union. These criteria are as follows:
- a rate of inflation not exceeding the average of the three best rates among Member States by more than 1.5%;
- long-term interest rates not exceeding the average rates of the three countries with the lowest inflation rates by more than 2%;
- an exchange rate that must respect the normal margins of fluctuation provided for by the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system (15% up or down) for at least two years, without devaluation of the currency against that of another Member State;
- sound public finances without an excessive public deficit (no more than 3% of GDP) nor a debt higher than 60% of GDP;
compliance with fluctuation limits (+/-2.25%) by the national currency against the euro (previously the European monetary system) for two years.
The Coreper (Committee of Permanent Representatives) comprises the permanent representatives of the Member States. It assists the Council of Ministers of the European Union in preparing its deliberations, for which it draws up the agenda. Together with the European Council, it is the only body with horizontal powers for all Community policy (except for agricultural policy).
In its role midway between the technical level of experts and the political level of ministers, the Coreper holds a central place in the Community decision-making process. It is both a forum for dialogue and for political supervision.
The Coreper is divided into two parts to enable it to deal with all the tasks entrusted to it:
- Coreper I comprises the deputy permanent representatives;
- Coreper II comprises permanent representatives and usually meets to discuss more political issues.
The quality of the Coreper’s work determines how smoothly the Council functions.
The Council is the main decision-making body of the EU. Like the European Parliament, it was created by the founding treaties during the 1950s. It represents the Member States of the EU, and a minister from each national government attends its meetings.
Ministers take part in the meetings depending on the subjects on the agenda. If the Council is due to discuss environmental issues, the environment minister of each Member State attends the meeting, which is then referred to as the “Environment Council".
Relations between the EU and the rest of the world are managed by the "General Affairs and Foreign Relations Council". Since this Council’s responsibilities extend to general policy issues, a minister or secretary of state, freely chosen by each government, attends these meetings.
In total, there are nine configurations of the Council:
- General affairs and external relations;
- Economic and financial affairs;
- Justice and home affairs;
- Employment, social policy, health and consumer protection;
- Competitiveness (internal market, industry and research);
- Transport, telecommunications and energy;
- Agriculture and fisheries;
- Education, youth and culture.
However, it should be pointed out that the existence of various ministerial compositions depending on the issues dealt with does not open the principle of unique representativeness of this institution to question. The Council remains the same, single institution.
Since the Treaty of Amsterdam came into effect in May 1999, the Secretary-General has been acting as High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. He is assisted by a Deputy Secretary-General, appointed by a unanimous vote of the Council, and charged with managing the Council’s General Secretariat.
The draft Constitution provides that the composition of the General Affairs and External Relations Council should be divided into a Foreign Affairs Council, chaired by a Foreign Minister of the European Union, and a General Affairs Council. The General Affairs Council will ensure that there is coherence between the work carried out by the various compositions of the Council. The Foreign Affairs Council will have to decide on external action by the Union according to strategy guidelines laid down by the European Council and ensure coherence in the Union’s action.
Each Council session will consist of two parts: the deliberations on the legislative documents of the Union and non-legislative activities. The Council will meet in public session when it deliberates and votes on a draft legislative document.
The Court of First Instance is an autonomous jurisdiction attached to the European Court of Justice. It was created in 1989 to ease the workload of the Court of Justice, and is charged in first instance with hearing all actions taken by natural or legal persons.
Since 1 May 2004, it has comprised 25 judges, (one per Member State of the European Union). All are appointed by mutual agreement by the governments of the Member States for a renewable six-year mandate. There are no advocates-general at the Court of First Instance.
The Court of Justice of the European Communities is the judicial body of the European Union. Its seat is in Luxembourg.
The role of the court is to guarantee the observation and application of the treaties and the legislation enacted by the competent institutions of the Community. To enable it to carry out this task properly, the Court has been given wide-ranging judicial powers. Another important task of the court is to pronounce on the interpretation of Community law in the event of a request for an interim ruling, i.e. where the national courts refer to the court to ask questions about the interpretation or the validity of European legislation.
The court sanctions states which do not meet their obligations with regard to Community law. The 15 Member States of the Union, the European institutions, individuals or any legal person concerned (associations and companies) may all refer cases to the court. Since 1998, it has acted as the appeal court for the Court of First Instance of the European Communities.
Since the enlargement in 2004, the court has comprised 25 judges, one for each Member State. At present, it has eight advocates-general appointed by mutual agreement by the governments of the Member States for a renewable six-year mandate. The judges in turn select a president for a three-year mandate. The president runs the activities and services of the court and presides over the hearings and deliberations. The advocates-general assist the court: their task is to make public proposals for solutions to problems referred to the court, in complete impartiality and independence.
The Customs Union is the essential element of the Common Market. Its introduction was the paramount objective following the signature of the Treaty of Rome and continued until 1968. The most important measures are the:
- elimination of all custom duties and restrictions among Member States;
- creation of a common customs tariff, applicable throughout the European Community to third-country goods (the revenue raised forms part of the Community’s own resources);
- Common Trade Policy as an external component of the Customs Union (the Community speaks with one voice at international level).
With the entry into force of the single market in 1993, all routine checks at internal borders and customs formalities were abolished. As a result, the customs services of the Member States were no longer required to collect excise duties, VAT and statistical data.
The Community has concluded special agreements to facilitate trade, such as the European Economic Area (EEA), and to encourage development by providing preferential access to European markets, such as the Lomé Convention, signed with the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP).
Future challenges include fostering closer cooperation between the national administrations and combating fraud through the successive Customs 2002 and Customs 2007 programmes.