It may not be widely recognised, but the EU is acting in an ever‑growing number of areas that directly affect all Europeans.
In 2006, for example, it took steps to ban misleading claims on food packaging, helping consumers choose healthy foods and avoid obesity. Claims such as "low fat" have now become standardised to mean the same thing in all EU countries.
Another of the EU's targets has been roaming charges on mobile phone use within the EU. Extortionate prices – averaging four times the price of a domestic call – are now being curbed. A new draft law is set to cut prices across the board from summer 2007, with the highest rates to be reduced by up to 70%.
A new law regulating chemicals will protect workers and consumers, requiring industry to replace hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives wherever possible. For over 30 000 chemicals, manufacturers will also have to pass on information concerning possible dangers and how these can be reduced.
In the technology field, the EU has been developing its own satellite navigation system, Galileo. In January 2006, the system received its first test signals from an experimental satellite sent into orbit at the end of 2005. Consisting of a constellation of 30 satellites, Galileo is set to become fully operational in 2008, providing navigation assistance to land, sea and air traffic as well as to travellers around the world.
Internationally, the EU has sent troops to the Congo and south Lebanon – two highly volatile areas. In the Congo, these forces helped maintain stability during the first democratic presidential and parliamentary elections in over 40 years, while in Lebanon, 7 500 troops were deployed to bolster the interim UN force.
Other major achievements in 2006 include Bulgaria and Romania's EU entry, Slovenia's adoption of the euro, cuts in sugar prices and an end to overproduction, the opening of the European market to trade in services, and measures to tackle illegal immigration.
Find out more at Europe and you in 2006