About the EU
The EU is made up of over 500 million people from 28 Member States including the UK. It is founded on a series of treaties which all 28 national governments have signed up to.
The EU is now made up of over 500 million people and 28 Member States. EU citizens are today free to study, work and live in any one of them. This has not always been the case. Such freedoms have been introduced by laws made at European level.
Through a process of cooperation, debate and law-making, the biggest single market in the world is being created. This gives consumers wider choice, lower prices and rights which can be enforced anywhere in the EU.
Some people feel that the EU interferes with British affairs that should be none of its business. Others argue that it makes sense to respond to cross-border political and economic problems - such as environmental threats - through formal co-operation.
The EU is built around a number of institutions.
The European Parliament
This is directly elected by the citizens of the EU member countries. It is currently made up of 751 Members, who are voted in across the EU every five years under a system of proportional representation. 73 of them are from the UK.
Your MEPs have the power to make European laws in nearly all areas of EU activity, together with Council of Ministers. The European Parliament also approves the budget of the European Union, elects the Commission President and has the power to sack the whole body of Commissioners.
The European Parliament meets in Brussels and Strasbourg. A lot of its administration is done in Luxembourg.
Council of the European Union
The Council of the European Union is the other half of the law-making machinery. One Minister from each Member State - which Minister it is depends on the subject being discussed – meets to debate, amend and pass laws. It meets in Brussels and Luxembourg.
The European Council
Made up of the Heads of State or Government and the President of the European Commission. It sets the overall agenda for EU policies and is responsible for revising and creating the Treaties on which the whole of the EU's body politic is based. It meets in Brussels four times a year.
Not to be confused with:
The Council of Europe, which is not part of the EU, was founded in 1949 to promote cultural diversity, democratisation and human rights. It is based in Strasbourg.
The European Commission
The Commission is responsible for proposing legislation, spending the lion's share of the budget and overseeing approved legislation, programmes and expenditure.
The 28 Commissioners (one from each country) are appointed for a five-year term. The UK's Commissioner is Julian King. Commissioners are duty-bound to act on behalf of the whole EU and not for any national government or interest group. Its activities are closely monitored by Parliament. It is based in Brussels.
The Court of Justice of the European Union
This Court makes sure countries comply with EU law and settles disputes over how EU treaties and legislation are interpreted. It is based in Luxembourg.
Not to be confused with:
The European Court of Human Rights, which is not part of the EU and is based in Strasbourg.
The International Court of Justice in The Hague, which is the main judicial organ of the United Nations.