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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April 2004, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
Glossary: EU jargon

What is the difference between the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice? And how does the Paris Treaty differ from the Treaty of Rome?

BBC News Online untangles the jargon that sometimes make the European Union hard to understand.

Click on the headlings below to find out more about your chosen topic.

A - D
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The entire body of European laws is known as the acquis communautaire.

This includes all the treaties, regulations and directives passed by the European institutions as well as the rulings of the Court of Justice.

Applicant countries must adopt, implement and enforce all the acquis before they can join.

As well as changing national laws, this often means they must set up or change the necessary administrative or judicial bodies which oversee the legislation.

For enlargement negotiations, the acquis has been divided into 31 chapters, each of which must be "closed" by the candidates.

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The 1997 Amsterdam summit focused on drafting a treaty to update and clarify the Maastricht Treaty and to start preparing the European Union for enlargement.

UK objections at Maastricht had meant that the social chapter had never passed into law.

But at Amsterdam, the newly-elected UK government dropped its opt-out making the social chapter part of the Treaty.

The sections of the Maastricht treaty on public health and consumer protection were toughened up, in reaction to public concerns over mad cow disease and other health scares.

Amsterdam also aimed to make the EU more democratic in preparation for its eastwards enlargement.

The European Parliament was given powers to legislate in co-decision with the Council of Ministers on a range of new issues including employment, social policy, health, transport and the environment.

In the Council of Ministers, qualified majority voting was introduced for employment, social exclusion, customs and data protection among other issues.

The union members also agreed to co-ordinate their approach to asylum and immigration as well as increasing co-operation on police and law enforcement.

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The charter upholds basic Western values such as the right to freedom of speech and thought, and equality before the law.

It also recognises the right to strike, subject to national law, and fair working conditions. It bans reproductive cloning.

The charter is a political declaration - but there are moves to incorporate it in a European constitution.

In its foreword, the charter reads: "The Heads of State or Government of the European Union decided...that a 'European Charter of Fundamental Rights' should be drawn up, setting out all the civil, political, economic and social rights of EU citizens.

"The European Council also stated that the Charter might subsequently be incorporated into the Treaties so that it could become legally binding on the EU authorities and serve as a basis for court action by any citizen."

The rights are set out in 54 articles and six chapters, entitled dignity, freedoms, equality, solidarity, citizens' rights and justice.

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Also known as "flexibility" or "enhanced co-operation", it allows countries to use European institutions to press ahead on certain issues.

It was first allowed in the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997, but under strict rules.

Any attempt at closer co-operation could be vetoed by another member country - even one which did not want to take part - and had to involve at least half the member states.

The 2000 Nice summit decided that it would have to change the rules, if closer co-operation was ever going to get up and running.

Nice gave the go-ahead for closer co-operation in all areas except military and defence and abolished the veto option.

However a minimum of eight member states is still required and many areas will need European Parliament approval.

Closer co-operation gives rise to the idea of a two-speed Europe.

Some countries fear they will be left behind as others forge ahead with deeper European integration.

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The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was the biggest policy concern of the European Community in its early days, and is still one of the major challenges facing the EU.

Although spending on CAP has been reduced in recent years, it still consumes almost half the EU budget.

The policy was set up against a backdrop of food shortages and rations following World War II, and had five founding aims:

  • Increased productivity
  • A fair standard of living for farmers
  • Stable markets
  • Regular food supplies
  • Reasonable prices for consumers
  • And it was based on three principles:
  • A single market in farm products with common prices and free movement of agricultural goods within the community
  • Preference for community members
  • Shared costs

The forthcoming accession of countries like Poland, with its expanse of poor rural areas, has raised concerns about how to adapt the CAP to the conditions of an enlarged Europe. The EU is under pressure to cut agricultural subsidies, which, it is argued, place developing countries at a competitive disadvantage.

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These are the tests that national economies had to pass in order to be eligible to join the final stage of economic and monetary union - the single currency.

They consist of five criteria, laid out in the Maastricht Treaty:

  • The amount of money owed by a government - known as the budget deficit, has to be below 3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - the total output of the economy.
  • The total amount of money owed by a government, known as the public debt, has to be less than 60% of GDP. The public debt is the cumulative total of each year's budget deficit.
  • Countries should have an inflation rate within 1.5% of the three EU countries with the lowest rate.This was supposed to push down inflation rates and lead to more stable prices.
  • Long-term interest rates must be within 2% of the three lowest interest rates in EU.
  • Exchange rates must be kept within "normal" fluctuation margins of Europe's exchange-rate mechanism.

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The Council of Europe is a body of more than 40 countries that aims to promote democracy and protect human rights.

It is a separate institution from the European Union, but the 15 current member states and all the candidate countries are members.

Based in Strasbourg, it was established in 1949 as a discussion forum for all European countries and concentrates mainly on cultural, environmental and ethical issues.

The Council makes recommendations and forms opinions but does not have any legislative power.

It did however found the European Convention on Human Rights and cases relating to the convention can be brought before the European Court of Human Rights.

The convention has had considerable influence over the formation of EU legislation.

The Council has also played an important role in advising the emerging democracies in Eastern Europe on their development.

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The Council of Ministers is the only EU institution which represents the member states' national governments.

It is made up of government ministers from member states, creating a kind of cabinet of cabinets. Which ministers attend the council depends on the subject under discussion, e.g.the agriculture ministers will make up the council for discussions on farming.

The presidency of the council rotates between each member state every six months.

Together with the European Parliament, the council has the power to make EU laws and decide the budget.

The council is responsible for the common foreign and security policy headed by its Secretary-General and High Representative, Javier Solana.

It also co-ordinates co-operation on police and judicial questions.

The way the council votes depends on the matter under discussion. For some sensitive issues, for example taxation, the council must vote unanimously but other decisions require a simple majority or a qualified majority.

E - I
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The Economic and Social Committee is a consultative body.

Its members are drawn from organisations such as trade unions, consumer groups, farmers' unions and employers' associations. Each member state is given a weighted quota of members.

When the European Commission drafts new EU legislation, it is obliged in many areas to ask Ecosoc's opinion before putting it forward to the Council of Ministers and European Parliament for decision.

According to Ecosoc, two-thirds of its proposals become part of final legislation.

Although Ecosoc has no formal powers, it carries considerable influence and also advises the Council of Ministers and European Parliament.

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The Ecu was the first quasi-currency for Europe.

Together with the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) it formed the European Monetary System which was established in 1979.

It was originally an accounting unit for the community's internal budget.

But later it became more like a real currency - for example it was used in travellers' cheques and bank deposits, though it was never issued as a note or coin.

As economic and monetary union developed, it formed the basis for the development of the Euro, the EU's single currency.

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Roy Jenkins launched the first step towards EMU (Economic and Monetary Union) when, as Commission President in 1979 he launched the European Monetary System.

This consisted of the Ecu - an artificial currency unit - and the Exchange Rate Mechanism, which tied European exchange rates together.

EMU proper was initiated by the Delors Report, which became the basis for the Maastricht Treaty. This laid out three stages towards building a single European currency.

In many countries, the Maastricht Treaty faced strong opposition and in the end Denmark and the UK won opt-outs from stage 3 of EMU - the introduction of the European single currency, the euro.

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The EU has gone through five expansions since it came into being in the 1950s, the fifth and largest taking place in 2004.

Before they can become members, candidates must fulfil a number of conditions - known as the Copenhagen criteria. These are:

  • Stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.
  • A functioning market economy, which can deal with the market forces of the EU.
  • The ability to meet the obligations of membership, including keeping to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.
  • The adoption and implementation of the acquis communautaire - the body of EU law.

Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey are officially recognised as candidates.

Romania and Macedonia have also formally applied to join.

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Along with the Ecu, the Exchange Rate Mechanism was one of the foundation stones of economic and monetary union.

It gave currencies a central exchange rate against the Ecu. That, in turn, gave them central cross-rates against one another.

It was hoped that the mechanism would help stabilise exchange rates, encourage trade within Europe and control inflation.

The ERM gave national currencies an upper and lower limit on either side of this central rate within which they could fluctuate.

In 1992 the ERM was wrenched apart when a number of currencies could no longer keep within these limits.

On what became known as Black Wednesday, the British pound was forced to leave the system. The Italian lira also left and the Spanish peseta was devaluated.

As EMU progressed, a currency's ability to stay within its margins became one of the convergence criteria deciding its suitability to join the single currency and complete monetary union.

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Europe's single currency the euro is the culmination of a long process of Economic and monetary union, first envisaged more than 20 years ago.

At the beginning of 1999, 11 of the EU member states decided to abandon their national currencies and adopt the euro. Greece joined them at the beginning of 2001.

The euro had a tough time when it was first launched as it fell sharply against the dollar.

But the euro's long decline was eventually reversed.

The euro was launched in its cash form on 1 January, 2002. National currencies were phased out over the following few months.

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The European Central Bank based in Frankfurt is responsible for implementing European monetary policy.

It works together with the national central banks of the EU states forming the European System of Central Banks.

Its goal, as defined by the Maastricht Treaty, is to maintain price stability in the eurozone countries.

It sets interest rates, issues banknotes and conducts foreign exchange operations. It is accountable to the European Parliament.

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European Council is the name given to the regular meetings - sometimes called summits - which bring together the EU countries' heads of state or government and their foreign ministers. The president of the European Commission also attends.

The decisions taken at the European Council meetings have a major impetus in defining the general political guidelines of the European Union.

Each meeting is usually preceded by an exchange of views with the president of the European Parliament. In principle the European Council is convened four times a year, with all meetings held in Brussels.

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The Court of Auditors is meant to keep track of EU money so that citizens know where their money goes. Its aim is to improve the efficency of EU financial management.

The court audits the EU accounts and the implementation of the budget, proividing the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers with a statement on the accounts' reliability.

It also delivers opinions, when requested to do so, on the financial implications of proposed legislation. In the 1990s the court regularly revealed cases of fraud, payments made in error and other cases of spending that failed to meet its objectives.

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The Court of Human Rights, based in Strasbourg, is the court of the Council of Europe.

It oversees the European Convention on Human Rights established in 1950.

This protects the fundamental rights of people living in Council of Europe member states.

The court is not an EU institution and has no powers of enforcement.

The convention is also separate from EU law, though it serves as a basis for it and provides precedents which are often followed.

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The Court of Justice rules on disputes over EU treaties and other EU legislation. Its decisions are binding on EU institutions and member states.

A member state may be taken to court for failing to meet its obligations under EU law; big fines can be imposed for non-compliance with the court's rulings.

It is made up of senior judges from each member state, who hold office for a renewable term of six years. Since 1989 the court has also heard actions brought by individuals seeking damages from European institutions, or the annulment of EU legislation which directly concerns them.

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The European Commission is more than simply a civil service for the European Union, it is the only body that can propose legislation.

It is sometimes seen as the driving force behind European integration but is ultimately under the control of the member states.

The commission is made up of 20 (soon to be 25) commissioners, each with responsibility for a policy area, such as agriculture or enlargement. Twenty-four directorates general cover similar policy areas.

Commissioners are appointed by the member states, and are usually senior politicians. However, their job is to act in the general European interest, not to advance the interests of their own country.

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The parliament is the only directly elected body in the European Union.

It holds regular plenary sessions in Strasbourg, and has a secretariat in Luxembourg, but members of the parliament do most of their work in Brussels.

This is where they examine draft legislation in committees and consult with the Commission and Council of Ministers.

The parliament has the power to sack the Commission, it holds hearings on new commissioners, and has the last word on about half the spending in the EU annual budget.

Its powers have been steadily increasing.Most EU legislation now needs the approval of both parliament and the Council of Ministers before it becomes law.

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The European Union is the framework for economic and political co-operation between 15 (soon to be 25) European countries.

It began as a post-war initiative between six countries pooling control over coal and steel to guarantee a more peaceful future for Europe.

But it now manages co-operation on issues as wide-ranging as the environment, transport and employment, and wields increasing influence in defence and foreign policy.

It has five declared objectives:

  • To promote economic and social progress
  • To assert the identity of the European Union on the international scene
  • To introduce European citizenship
  • To develop an area of freedom, security and justice
  • To maintain and build on established EU law

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An Intergovernmental Conference or IGC is a long-running conference between the governments of EU member states.

The aim of the IGC is to produce a treaty - for example the Maastricht Treaty or the Amsterdam Treaty.

These are in fact not new pieces of legislation but amendments to the Treaty - the founding Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957.

The most recent IGC, in 2003, failed to produce agreement on a draft EU constitution.

The one before that resulted in the Nice Treaty. It kicked off at the Lisbon summit in February 2000, and ended in Nice in December.

M - R
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Maastricht is perhaps the best known and most controversial of the European treaties.

It became renowned not only for the long and fractious negotiations and baffling terminology involved in drafting it, but also for the difficulties many member states had in ratifying it.

Maastricht is officially known as the Treaty of the European Union and with it the EU came into existence for the first time.

By adding two new areas - justice and home affairs and a common foreign and security policy - to the existing European Community, the so-called three pillars of the Union were established.

The people of the 12 member states were also given European citizenship.

They now have the right to move and live in any EU state and may vote in European and local elections in any country.

Maastricht was also the blueprint for what was to be Europe's biggest project for the next decade - economic and monetary union.

It defined the three stages of EMU which eventually led to the single currency, and set out the convergence criteria or economic tests that member states have to pass.

The treaty also introduced integration in employment and social issues - at least for some members.

The UK negotiated an opt-out of the so-called social chapter - a part of the treaty which was eventually adopted as a protocol and which covered issues such as workers' pay and health and safety.

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The 1951 Paris Treaty set up the European Coal and Steel Community - the first of the European communities which would ultimately result in the European Union.

It was the result of a post-war project to prevent the outbreak of further conflict.

Jean Monnet had been commissioned by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman with finding a solution to the reintegration of Western Germany into Europe after World War II.

Monnet's innovative proposal was to pool the French and German coal and steel industries to prevent the two countries going to war again.

"The pooling of coal and steel production... will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims...

"Any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible," said Robert Schuman in his 1950 declaration which formed the basis for the Paris Treaty.

The Treaty was signed a year later by France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, starting Europe on the road to integration.

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Every six months a new member state takes over the presidency of the Council of Ministers.

The country holding the presidency sets the agenda for council meetings during its six month stint.

However, during negotiations on the future EU constitution, a group of powerful larger states pressed for the creation of a full-time president, appointed by the member states, to replace the system of rotation.

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The Council of Ministers has two ways of taking decisions - unanimity, when everyone has to be in agreement - and qualified majority voting - a system of weighted votes.

QMV is the most common method of decision-making, used in all but the most sensitive issues.

Issues which are decided on by QMV are also voted on by the European Parliament.This means that the council and parliament act together in co-decision.

Under QMV, each member state is given a certain number of votes in the council, weighted according to its size and population. For example, Germany, the EU's largest state, has 10 votes, while Portugal has five and Finland three.

At present, there are 87 votes in the council, distributed between the 15 member states.

The qualified majority means that 62 votes are needed to pass a proposal, rather than the normal majority of 44.

At least half the population of the EU and half the member states must also be in favour of a motion for it to pass.

The draft EU constitution has put forward a new definition of QMV.It says a vote is passed if it has the support of 50% of countries, and 60% of the EU population.

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Steps are being taken to create a European force of 60,000 troops, with supporting air and naval assets.

Often called the Euro-army it is designed to allow Europe to mount its own military operations, after decades of reliance on Nato and the United States.

The force, which planners aim to have ready by 2003, will be capable of being deployed at 60 days' notice, and sustained for a year.

Its tasks, according to the Treaty of Nice, will include "humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking".

The force is designed to complement rather than compete with Nato, and will only act when Nato has decided not to get involved.

S - V
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The Schengen agreement allows countries to remove their internal borders and allow people to travel without checks from country to country.

The agreement emerged outside the framework of the European Union, and was initially signed by Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in 1985.

Ten other countries - not all EU member states - have since joined them.

As freedom of movement is one of the main objectives of the European Union, the Treaty of Amsterdam agreed to incorporate Schengen into EU law.

But the UK and Ireland remained outside the agreement due to fears of terrorism.

Iceland and Norway signed an agreement with the EU in 1999 to involve them with the development of Schengen.

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The single market came into force in January 1993, establishing the free movement of goods, people, services and capital.

The Treaty of Rome which established the EEC in 1957 had set its sights on creating a common market. That came into being in 1968 with the creation of a customs union.

But it took much longer to take the leap towards a single market.

The Single European Act, signed in 1986, finally set a deadline of 1992 for the single market to be up and running.

It also streamlined the decision-making process to take account of successive enlargements and to speed up legislation to implement the single market.

In the end, the single market was launched on 1 January 1993, though some of the legislation was still not in place.

The single market set up four freedoms:

  • Goods: companies can sell their products anywhere in the member states and consumers can buy where they want with no penalty.
  • People: citizens of the member states can live and work in any other country and their professional qualifications should be recognised.
  • Capital: currencies and capital can flow freely between the member states and European citizens can use financial services in any member state.
  • Services: professional services such as banking, insurance, architecture and advertising can be offered in any member state.

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At the 2000 Nice summit, EU governments adopted a social affairs agenda, laying out their future priorities.

The agenda covers issues such as job creation, employee protection, gender equality and combating poverty and discrimination.

It also deals with questions of social exclusion and Europe's ageing population.

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The 1957 Treaty of Rome - signed by France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg - established the European Economic Community.

Along with the Paris Treaty it is one of the foundation stones of the European Community.

Often referred to simply as the Treaty, it has been amended several times to take account of new member states joining the EEC.

Most recently it has been updated by the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice Treaties.

Once a treaty has been signed, it must be ratified by all the member states before it comes into force.

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Unanimity is the form of decision-making used by the Council of Ministers on sensitive issues such as tax or social security.

Unlike the council's other decision process - qualified majority voting - unanimity means the entire council must agree on a proposal to pass it. Any single member state can use its veto to reject a proposal.

In decisions taken by unanimity, the European Parliament has no deciding power and can only offer its opinion to the council.

As the EU enlarges to take in another 12 members, there is increasing pressure to increase the number of issues which are decided on by qualified majority voting.

Unanimity can make negotiations very long and complex and the disagreement of one country can scupper a whole agreement.

But national governments are keen to keep their right of veto on issues which are especially sensitive.

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The veto is a way of keeping national sovereignty over sensitive areas of decision-making.

The veto can be used when ministers from national governments vote in the Council of Ministers, under the unanimity system.

Member states have steadily given up their powers of veto over time, broadening the areas subject to qualified majority voting in each successive treaty change.

In negotiations over the EU constitution in 2003/4, the UK insisted on keeping vetoes over tax, criminal justice, social security, treaty changes and EU funding.

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The veto is a way of keeping national sovereignty over sensitive areas of decision-making.

The veto can be used when ministers from national governments vote in the Council of Ministers, under the unanimity system.

Member states have steadily given up their powers of veto over time, broadening the areas subject to qualified majority voting in each successive treaty change.

In negotiations over the EU constitution in 2003/4, the UK insisted on keeping vetoes over tax, criminal justice, social security, treaty changes and EU funding.

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