About the EU
The EU is now made up of over 500 million people and 28 Member States. EU citizens are today free to study, work and live in any one of them. This has not always been the case. Such freedoms have been introduced by laws made at European level.
Through a process of cooperation, debate and law-making, the biggest single market in the world is being created. This gives consumers wider choice, lower prices and rights which can be enforced anywhere in the EU.
Some people feel that the EU interferes with British affairs that should be none of its business. Others argue however that it makes sense to respond to cross-border political and economic problems - such as environmental threats - through formal co-operation.
The EU is built around a number of institutions.
The European Parliament
This is the only directly elected EU institution and is currently made up of 751 Members, who are voted in across the EU every five years under a system of proportional representation.
Your MEPs have the power to make European laws in nearly all areas of EU activity, together with Council of Ministers. Parliament also approves the budget of the European Union, elects the Commission President and has the power to sack the whole body of Commissioners.
The EP meets in Brussels and Strasbourg. A lot of its administration is done in Luxembourg.
The Council of Ministers
The Council is the other half of the law-making machinery. One Minister from each Member State - which Minister it is depends on the subject being discussed – meets to debate, amend and pass laws. It meets in Brussels and Luxembourg.
The European Council
Made up of the Heads of State or Government and the President of the European Commission. It sets the overall agenda for EU policies and is responsible for revising and creating the Treaties on which the whole of the EU's body politic is based. It meets in Brussels four times a year.
Not to be confused with:
The Council of Europe, which is not part of the EU, was founded in 1949 to promote cultural diversity, democratisation and human rights. It is based in Strasbourg.
The European Commission
The largest EU institution is responsible for proposing EU laws, spending the lion's share of the budget and overseeing approved legislation, programmes and expenditure.
The 28 Commissioners (one from each country) are appointed for a five-year term. They are duty-bound to act on behalf of the whole EU and not for any national government or interest group. Its activities are closely monitored by Parliament. It is based in Brussels.
The Court of Justice of the European Communities
The Court makes sure countries comply with EU law and settles disputes over how EU treaties and legislation are interpreted. It is based in Luxembourg.
Not to be confused with:
The European Court of Human Rights , which is not part of the EU and is based in Strasbourg.
The International Court of Justice in The Hague, which is the main judicial organ of the United Nations.