With a website at http://europa.eu.int/ the European Union is one of the few organisations to have a .int top-level domain.

As of October 2004, there are 25 member states of the EU:

The following nations are currently in various stages of applications to join the EU:

EU, European Union

Describing the structure of the EU can be done in many different ways, and some people devote a thesis and even whole books to it. I'd like to give it a try in this write-up. It will by no means complete, and probably stay vague after you've read this. However, when it still isn't clear: that's one of the main aspects of the EU and sometimes I suspect that it is its intention to be not fully clear to the european citizens, partly because the EU as an institution isn't quite democratic (understatement). And for whatever reason, once when people do have power, they're not willingly to give that away easily.

Official regulative bodies
There are five official bodies who do have some, or more, legal rights in the decision-making process:
(I do have a hard copy of a decision-making process flowchart with the official and unofficial (= sherry circuit/lobby circuit) relations between the committees etc. involved, but contains too much arrows and dashed lines to reproduce. The EU-website (at http://europa.eu.int/) didn't have a similar figure, and didn't respond to my email if they had an online flowchart somewhere. Feel free to use your imagination.)
  1. European Commission (EC): is responsible for the correct implementation of the treaties and related regulations. They have the sole right of initiative (aka, only the EC can officially introduce a certain topic).The EC consists of 2 delegates from each large country and one from each small country. This will probably change because of the expansion of the EU. These members are appointed by the government of their country and is for a duration of 5 years. These commisioners are supported by 23 Directorats-General and 9 administrative services. Sometimes they are obliged to ask advice from one of the Direction Committees (group of experts from the civil service (...)), which in turn may affect the voting system.
  2. Council of the European Union (ECo): determines the head lines of the policy (upon initiative + proposal of the EC). There are two types of decisions: Decrete/Rule ("all member countries must do it that way") and Guideline ("we want this result, but don't care how you get there"). Members of this body are representatives, Ministers or Secretaries of State, of the governments of each country. The General Council (also called European Council) and Council of Agriculture meet about every month, the others less frequent. This situation is not quite democratic oriented, therefore the European Council (members: President or Prime Ministers) was introduced, and are allowed to indicate directions with new topics, but in practice are more occupied with problem solving of "critical situations" the other Councils couldn't agree on.
  3. European Parliament (EP): (situation after the Maastricht Treaty) has the right to advice the ECo, but if the ECo doesn't like the outcome, they may skip it without further dramatic consequences: on a small amount of topics the ECo has to discuss the decision again and vote with unanimity, on the rest of the topics they have to vote with "qualified majority". At last, the EP has an option for the vote of censure to dismiss the EC. The EP members are elected by the legal european citizens, the ratio is based on a percentage of the population of the country, there are 518 EP members in total, and it is for a duration of 5 years.
  4. Justice Department: maintaining and interpretation Decretes and Guidelines. Interpretation may sound a bit silly, but there are many different languages and cultures in Europe, each one of them may read and interpret it maybe a tiny fraction differently.
  5. European Audit Office: control and verification of the budget.
There are more EU commissions etc. involved, but there ones are most important. Besides the official bodies, there are a few hundred (estimation is around 300 in 1997) NGOs, umbrella organizations, industry groups etc. with a (semi-) permanent representative in Brussels who try to influence the decision-making process. The organizations with more money do have more representatives. (Yes, I've had interesting (at least partially funded) trips european-wide as a delegate of my home country in the FYEG, and learned a lot. The easiest way is just complaining about the EU, another option is trying to allocate and/or use the available resources: e.g. education to achieve reintegration of disabled people or proper public transport in Ireland, to name just two projects.)

Decision proces in practice
(again, this is an extremely brief description). 1. Preparation proposal for the EC; 2. Agreement within the EC about the proposal; 3. The relevant ECo receives the proposal and sends it out for advice to the EP, civil service experts, workgroups and the Economic & Social Committee; 4. After all those advices (and voting in the EP) they try to get to an Agreement. There are officually 6 - 9 EU governmental bodies involved in the decision-making process, depending on the topic. When there are no major differences in points of view, the whole process takes about 3 to 6 months, if not then considerably longer. During the whole process "interest groups" are allowed to filter their opinions, but that isn't institutionalized.
This for a situation where everything goes perferctly well. If this is not the case, things go back and forward between the involved groups, amendmends etc., revoting (majority, qualified majority or unanimity), visiting strategic people in other governments, and whatever other option you prefer (like marathon meetings, to show and convince your grass roots support of your political party/people of your country that you "really did your very best").
At the end of the day, it is only the EP who is really democratically elected, and they don't have much to say in the whole process. The rest of the crowd (except for the French President) is appointed...

Anyway, I don't have any intention to discuss questionable decisions like the Maastricht Treaty, the Schengen Agreement, Fortress Europe, the EMU, GATT, etc. There are positive, negative as well as laughable things going on there in Brussels and Strassbourgh. Feel free to node them :).

BTW, the banana conflict mentioned in the related EU node has to do with protectionism of the european market and agricultural politics in particular. (FYI: agricutural politics together with the German-French conflict was the reason to start with european-wide cooperation resulting in the EU, but it's history is a nice topic for another node). The Greek bananas are more curved than the ones imported from other continents and are more expensive. However the consumer as well as the traders want straight bananas because they're easier to handle. Despite this, the Greek bananas are funded in some way to maintain/stimulate the regional agri-business; the politicians just needed a way to institutionalize this... yes, by measuring the curves.

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