Among other things, the EU is the biggest tariff-free trade area in the world.
Some decisions are made at European level
By joining the EU, states give up some of their power to make decisions. The decisions made at EU level have direct legal effects in every member country.
That makes the EU different from other international organisations, such as the United Nations. It’s why the EU is sometimes referred to as a ‘supranational’ organisation.
Laws that apply in all member countries are made at European level by the EU’s permanent institutions.
The main institutions are:
- the European Council, which provides the political direction of the EU
- the European Commission which proposes the legislation and oversees the functioning of the EU
- the Council and the European Parliament which together make the rules
- the Court of Justice
The laws made by the institutions override national rules. Otherwise EU rules might be applied differently in the 28 member countries, which would make them ineffective.
EU rules are interpreted by the Court of Justice of the EU (which is different from the European Court of Human Rights) so that the same understanding of what they mean applies in every country.
Funding and budget
This pays for the institutions. Around 6% of EU spending goes on administration. The majority, though, goes on farming, including direct payments to farmers, and on projects in less well-off parts of the EU (including west Wales and Cornwall).
How did the EU come about?
The original aim of the EU was to create a common market where goods, workers, self-employed people, companies, services and later capital could move freely; and where competition was not distorted.
However, the original aim of the EU was not purely economic. The integration of the national markets was seen as a means to an end: promoting peace and improving the well-being of the people.
Going beyond the common market
The EU is now much more than a common market. For instance, the EU negotiates trade agreements which are binding on all member countries.
It has a wide range of 'competences', or powers. Some are linked to the internal market: for instance, the setting of a single European standard for a product. Others are linked to, for example, the protection of the environment and the consumer.
The EU can make rules about discrimination and rules in the field of social policy. And it can co-ordinate member countries’ legal processes. An example is the European Arrest Warrant, which allows countries to transfer suspects and offenders from one EU country to another with few formalities.
Despite its wide range of competences, the powers of the EU are limited to those that member countries have unanimously agreed it should have. They are set out in the treaties that every country has signed up to.
The integrity of our elections is in danger, and we need your help
You’re probably here looking for facts. Thank you for that trust. But with the EU parliament elections on the way and more elections a possibility, we need to act now to make sure our elections are protected, before it’s too late.
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Misinformation isn’t new, but advancements in technology mean it can spread at an unprecedented scale. Our dangerously outdated election laws have not kept up with the digital age, putting our next elections at risk of abuse.
Currently, it’s possible for a candidate to run a thousand different political ads to win the same seat, promising something different to each group it targets. At the same time, there’s no law requiring those who publish online campaigns to disclose who they are or how they are funded. The opportunity for bad actors to manipulate election results is left wide open.
You may already know about our work to make public debate online more honest and transparent. Every day, we call out the most harmful misinformation on social media platforms when and where we see it. But right now, we’re urging the government to overhaul our election laws to make sure political campaigning is held to the same level of scrutiny online as it is offline.
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