Shopping, economy and education
You can travel across most of the EU without a passport and without border checks.
You can shop in another country where goods are cheaper without restrictions or additional taxes, as long as what you buy is for your own use. The single currency, the euro, allows you to compare prices directly in all the countries that use it. Travel between euro countries is easier because the costs and inconvenience of changing money have disappeared.
Competition introduced by the frontier-free single market has driven quality up and prices down. Phone calls, Internet access and air travel are cheaper. As consumers, EU rules protect you from faulty or substandard products whether you buy locally or in another country. The EU also sets the highest standards for food safety.
EU citizens can live, work, study and retire in another EU country. Temporary restrictions for workers from the 12 newest member states are gradually being removed.
This helped limit the consequences of the 2008 global financial crisis on Europe. EU leaders worked together to stabilise banks and other financial institutions in Europe, as well as to develop a strategy for renewed economic growth.
In today’s competitive world, Europe needs new jobs and a skilled workforce. New jobs can come from research and development. EU leaders plan to increase research spending substantially, the goal being 3 % of gross national product by 2010. New skills are needed too, and we must all spend more time learning throughout our lives.
More than two million young people have already used EU programmes to study or train in another European country. As a result, the EU schemes for educational exchanges and trans-border partnerships like Erasmus and Leonardo are bywords among students and other learners.
The EU does not decide what you learn in school, but it does work to ensure that your educational and professional qualifications are properly recognised in other EU countries.
One third of the EU’s €130-billion-a-year budget is spent on attracting investment and creating jobs in disadvantaged regions, and training unemployed or under-qualified workers.
Thanks to EU support, people in countries like Ireland and Spain are much better off than they were 25 years ago. Now growth is highest in the new member countries in the eastern part of the EU.
Environment and Social Justice
A healthy environment is a big issue for Europeans and their governments. This is why the EU is spearheading world efforts to protect the environment and fight climate change.
As pollution knows no borders, EU member states have taken joint action in many areas. It is not surprising then that Europe’s rivers and beaches are cleaner, vehicles pollute less, and there are strict rules for waste disposal. Dangerous waste from Europe can no longer be dumped in poor countries. There are also tough EU rules to ensure that chemicals used by companies are safe for people and the environment.
The EU wants key activities like transport, industry, agriculture and tourism to be organised in such a way that they can be developed without destroying our natural resources – in short “sustainable development“.
In an effort to put an end to climate change, EU leaders have agreed on tough measures to reduce greenhouse gas emission by 20 % by 2020.
Energy represents the cornerstone of the EU’s long-term climate change policy and the EU has set binding targets to increase the use of clean, renewable energy sources such as wind, hydropower or solar energy. This will not only help fight climate change, but will also boost the economy and ensure a more stable supply of energy, making Europe less reliant on foreign oil and gas imports.
The EU has already put into place an innovative “emission trading scheme“, whereby energy-intensive companies which cut their emissions are rewarded and those who exceed the given limits are penalised.
Since 2000, in addition to laws covering the equal treatment of men and women, EU anti-discrimination legislation has been in place to ensure minimum levels of equal treatment and protection for everyone living and working in Europe. These laws are designed to ensure equal treatment irrespective of:
- Racial or ethnic origin
- Religion and belief
- Sexual Orientation
In 2000, EU leaders established the Social Inclusion Process to make a decisive impact on eradicating poverty by 2010. Since then, the European Union has provided a framework for national strategy development as well as for policy coordination between the Member States on issues relating to poverty and social exclusion. Participation by actors such as NGOs, social partners and local and regional authorities has become an important part of this process.
To tackle cross-border crime and terrorism, EU countries have taken steps to ensure full cooperation between their police and customs officers, immigration services and law courts.
One practical step has been to introduce a European arrest warrant, to make it easier to transfer suspected criminals from the country where they have been arrested to the country where they are wanted for questioning or to stand trial. EU countries are also coordinating asylum policies and tightening controls at the EU’s external frontiers.
Since EU citizens are free to live in any member country, they must have equal access to justice everywhere in the EU. Member governments have to ensure that they all apply EU laws in the same way, and that court rulings in one country can be enforced in another. The EU has done a lot to make it easier to solve cross-border legal problems involving marriage, separation, divorce and the custody of children, as well as other kinds of civil disputes.
War between EU countries is now unthinkable, thanks to the unity that has been built up between them over the last 50 years. Given this success, the EU is now working to spread peace and stability beyond its borders.
The best way to prevent conflicts from arising in the first place is to create greater prosperity worldwide. As the world’s largest trading power, the EU is using its influence to establish fair rules for world trade. It wants to make sure that globalisation also benefits the poorest countries. The EU already provides more humanitarian assistance and development aid than anyone else.
The EU sends military and police missions as peacekeepers to trouble-spots such as the Balkans, for example. This is part of the defence aspect of the EU’s common foreign and security policy.
The European Union shows how democratic countries can successfully pool economic and political resources in the common interest, serving as a possible model to be followed in other parts of the world.
Since its creation by six founding members over 50 years ago, the European Union has attracted a constant stream of newcomers, culminating in its historic expansion from 15 to 27 in 2004 and 2007, which united a continent split by the Cold War for 45 years.
Any European country can join, provided it has a stable democracy that guarantees the rule of law, human rights and the protection of minorities. It must also have a functioning market economy and a civil service capable of applying EU laws in practice.
Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey are candidates to join. The EU gives substantial economic and practical assistance to candidate countries to help prepare for membership.
Up to 10 years or more can pass from the time a country submits an application to its actual date of entry. Once a membership treaty is agreed, it must be ratified by the European Parliament and by the national parliaments of the candidate country and of all EU member states.