What is the European Union?
A unique economic and political partnership between 27 democratic European countries.
What are its aims?
Peace, prosperity and freedom for its 498 million citizens — in a fairer, safer world.
What results so far?
Frontier-free travel and trade, the euro (the single European currency), safer food and a greener environment, better living standards in poorer regions, joint action on crime and terror, cheaper phone calls, millions of opportunities to study abroad … and much more besides.
How does it work?
To make these things happen, EU countries set up bodies to run the EU and adopt its legislation. The main ones are:
* the European Parliament (representing the people of Europe);
* the Council of the European Union (representing national governments);
* the European Commission (representing the common EU interest).
The flag of the EU
This is the European flag. It is the symbol not only of the European Union but also of Europe's unity and identity in a wider sense. The circle of gold stars represents solidarity and harmony between the peoples of Europe.
The number of stars has nothing to do with the number of Member States. There are twelve stars because the number twelve is traditionally the symbol of perfection, completeness and unity. The flag therefore remains unchanged regardless of EU enlargements.
History of the flag
The history of the flag goes back to 1955. At that time, the European Union existed only in the form of the European Coal and Steel Community, with just six Member States. But a separate body with a larger membership - the Council of Europe - had been set up several years earlier and was busy defending human rights and promoting European culture.
The Council of Europe was considering what symbol to adopt for its own use. After much discussion, the present design was adopted - a circle of twelve gold stars on a blue background. In various traditions, twelve is a symbolic number representing perfection. It is also, of course, the number of months in a year and the number of hours shown on a clock face. The circle is, among other things, a symbol of unity. So the European flag was born, representing the ideal of unity among the peoples of Europe.
The Council of Europe then encouraged other European institutions to adopt the same flag and, in 1983, the European Parliament took up the call. Finally, in 1985, the flag was adopted by all EU heads of State and government as the official emblem of the European Union - which, in those days, was called the European Communities.
All European institutions have been using it since the beginning of 1986. The European flag is the only emblem of the European Commission - the EU's executive arm. Other EU institutions and bodies use an emblem of their own in addition to the European flag.
The Anthem of the EU
This is the anthem not only of the European Union but also of Europe in a wider sense. The melody comes from the Ninth Symphony composed in 1823 by Ludwig Van Beethoven.
For the final movement of this symphony, Beethoven set to music the "Ode to Joy" written in 1785 by Friedrich von Schiller. This poem expresses Schiller's idealistic vision of the human race becoming brothers - a vision Beethoven shared.
In 1972, the Council of Europe (the same body that designed the European flag) adopted Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" theme as its own anthem. The well-known conductor Herbert Von Karajan was asked to write three instrumental arrangements - for solo piano, for wind instruments and for symphony orchestra. Without words, in the universal language of music, this anthem expresses the ideals of freedom, peace and solidarity for which Europe stands.
In 1985, it was adopted by EU heads of State and government as the official anthem of the European Union. It is not intended to replace the national anthems of the Member States but rather to celebrate the values they all share and their unity in diversity.
On the 9th of May 1950, Robert Schuman presented his proposal on the creation of an organised Europe, indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations.
This proposal, known as the "Schuman declaration", is considered to be the beginning of the creation of what is now the European Union.
Today, the 9th of May has become a European symbol (Europe Day) which, along with the flag, the anthem, the motto and the single currency (the euro), identifies the political entity of the European Union. Europe Day is the occasion for activities and festivities that bring Europe closer to its citizens and peoples of the Union closer to one another.
Thursday, 7 May 2009
What is the European Union?