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EU Basics FAQ: Related organisations
The European Community?
The European Community, formerly known as European Economic Community, is by
far the most important of the three Communities, who together form the first
pillar of the European Union. This is the only pillar in which there is a
significant role for central institutions like the Commission and the
European Parliament, and in which majority voting is used for a number of
The Common Market?
The Common Market was one of the most important objectives of the original
EEC Treaty. Within 12 years from the date of commencement (1 January 1958)
of the Treaty, the Member States were required to have formed a common
market for products, services, persons and capital within a fully fledged
customs union. No tariffs or quantitative barriers were to remain.
The Common Market objective was effectively attained two years early, from
1968 onward. After this initial success, economic crises during the 1970s
and 1980s induced Member State governments to keep or even reinforce
numerous other, +qualitative; trade barriers (known as NTBs, Non Tarriff
Barriers), such as health and safety regulations.
Since this was a serious impediment to the development of a real internal
market, business leaders of all member states (united in the so-called Round
Table of Industrialists) as well as some EU political leaders started to
lobby to continue on to a real Single European Market, in which
+qualitative; trade barriers would be attacked as well. Member states
finally embraced this goal in the Single European Act of 1987. The project
was supposed to be completed by January 1st, 1993, but some of the new rules
haven't yet been implemented, notably in the domain of free traffic for
persons without border controls.
Personal note: in another respect, the term +Common Market; used to be a
common term in English/the UK (& USA) to refer to the EEC. It was abandoned
only in the early 1990s, thereby reinforcing the impression, predominant
among English-speakers, that the extension of the European Union to other
areas than just economic activity is a very recent phenomenon and a radical
change from the Europe they agreed to join in 1973.
This impression is disputable in my view, as the federalist tendency has
existed from the very beginning of European integration and was even much
stronger in the 1950s (eg the EDC Treaty) than it is today.
Many observers agree that the UK government in particular has consistently
failed to explain to the British people that the European project
encompasses more than just a free trade area (at least for many continental
Europeans), out of fear of losing support for the project.
The Council of Europe?
The Council of Europe is quite a different organisation from the EU. It is a
purely intergovernmental organisation much more like the United Nations;
unlike EU legislation, its treaties are not directly applicable in national
law, unless ratified by the normal parliamentary procedures of the member
state concerned. The Council of Europe (Conseil de l'Europe, Europarat)
should not be confused with the European Council (Conseil europien,
Europdische Rat), which is an EU institution.
Even through these limited powers, the CoE has achieved some remarkable
results since its founding in 1949. Apart from stimulating grassroots
European integration through cultural and educational projects, the CoE is
probably best known for the European Convention for the Protection of Human
Rights and Personal Freedoms and its associated European Court for Human
Rights in Strasbourg (not to be confused with the EU Court of Justice in
Luxembourg). CoE members actually allow their nationals to challenge
national legislation and jurisdiction before this court, which has thus
become a sort of guarantee for human rights, even for countries which do not
have a written constitution (such as Britain) or a supreme court.
Current CoE members include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia,
Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland,
Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway,
the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia,
Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
The Western European Union?
The Western European Union was founded in 1954 as a defence alliance between
the UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Italy,
after the rejection of the 1952 European Defence Community Treaty in 1954.
It was more or less dormant until the beginning of the 1990s, when it was
revived as a sort of common intermediary solution between an organisation of
the European NATO members and Defence aspirations of the European Union. It
was specifically mentioned as such in the Maastricht Treaty. Spain, Portugal
and Greece have joined the WEU since.
There are three categories of countries linked to the WEU without being full
members (with thanks to Richard Corbett for explaining the difference:
Observer status EU Member states that are either not a member of NATO
(Austria, Finland, the Republic of Ireland and Sweden)
or that voluntarily refrain from full WEU membership
Associate member status
Associate members are states that are European member
states of NATO but not of the EU (Norway and Turkey
[Is Iceland also in this category? RS])
Associate partner status Associate partners are European states that are
members of the NATO Partnership for Peace Initiative without being
full-blown members of either NATO or the EU: Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary,
Czechia, Slovakia, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovenia
The European Free Trade Association/European Economic Area?
The European Free Trade Association or EFTA was founded in 1960 as an
intergovernmental alternative to the supranational aspirations of the EEC.
The EFTA was not intended as a customs union: member countries did not have
common custom tariffs but just abolished custom tariffs between them. There
was no common external tarriff, a number of commodities and products were
excluded from free trade.
Austria, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Portugal, Sweden
and the UK were all members of EFTA once, but many of these countries joined
or applied for the EC/EU afterwards. After the last EU enlargement of 1995,
EFTA just consists of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
To complicate matters even more, EFTA members have signed a far-reaching
agreement with the EU in 1992, to create a common European Economic Area.
This confers upon EFTA members that ratify it the four freedoms of traffic
of the EU (of products, services, persons and capital); without
decision-making power but with guaranteed consulting.
Unfortunately for the designers of this Treaty, the Swiss rejected the EEA
in a referendum. This may have been a boost for the attempts to join the EU
for other EFTA member countries. Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein did
approve of the EEA, but the remaining EFTA members seem to have chosen full
EU membership instead (as did the Norwegian government, apparently against
the will of a majority of Norwegians). For both EFTA and the EEA, it remains
to be seen what they will actually account to, in practice, over the next
couple of years.
Note: as Jozef van Brabant notes, Liechtenstein got into a particularly
messy situation when the Swiss rejected the EEA Treaty that Liechtenstein
itself had already approved, since Liechtenstein was in a customs union with
Switzerland. Because of this, Liechtenstein will the EEA only on May 1st.,
The North American Free Trade Agreement?
The North American Free Trade Agreement obviously affects different
countries than the EU does, but it may be interesting to compare the two on
other points as well. NAFTA has much more in common with EFTA than with the
EU: it is a free trade agreement, not a customs union, and most certainly no
attempt to create anything more substantial in political integration than
just a free trade area. There are no common political institutions and
member states' sovereignty is left intact.
Personal note: it remains to be seen if NAFTA will not run into the same
problems that the EEC has had in the 1970s: a replacement of now forbidden
quantitative trade barriers and tariffs with non-quantitative ones. To
counter this, member states will either have to accept each other's
standards in health, safety, environmental and consumer protection, or
institute a common body which accounts for common standards. That may mean a
loss of sovereignty for the individual states however.
Edited by Roland Siebelink & Bart Schelfhout
corrections and suggestions welcome.
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