The European Union (EU) was established by the Maastricht Treaty, signed in 1992. The project of creating a Union has a long history, and was first mooted at the European summit of 1972.
The Union is both a political project and a form of legal organisation.
It is a political project in that its mission is to create an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen (Article 1 of the Treaty on European Union).
To achieve this, the Union is set a number of objectives:
- To promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples;
- To offer European citizens an area of freedom, security and justice without borders;
- To establish an internal market which ensures the right conditions for balanced economic growth and price stability;
- To ensure the development of a highly competitive social market economy ensuring full employment and the pursuit of progress through combating social exclusion, discrimination and inequality;
- To protect the environment and promote sustainable development;
- To ensure economic, social and territorial cohesion between Member States;
- To respect the cultural and linguistic diversity of EU countries and to protect European cultural heritage;
- To establish an economic and monetary union whose currency is the euro;
- To act in accordance with its values in its relations with the wider world to ensure peace, security, sustainable development, development of people, and the protection of human rights.
The Union is founded on values: respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights. It has its own symbols: a flag (twelve stars on a blue background), an anthem (Ludwig van Beethoven's "Ode to Joy"), a motto ("United in diversity"), a currency (the euro) and a Europe day (9 May).
The Union is a form of legal organisation. The Treaty of Lisbon removes the three pillars organisation established by the Maastricht Treaty. Henceforth, the "Community method" is to be applied to all policies coming under the responsibility of the Union, with the exception of:
- police and judicial cooperation on criminal matters where the Member State has a right of initiative and a right of appeal to the European Council on legislative matters";
- the common foreign and security policy where the intergovernmental method applies.
It has a single institutional framework (essentially consisting of the European Council, the European Parliament, the Council of the Union and the European Commission). Furthermore, the Treaty of Lisbon confers legal personality on the EU.