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Did you know that 2013 is the European Year of Citizens? Read more ...

 
THE EU AT A GLANCE

The European Union (EU) is unique in the world: it is not an international organisation like the United Nations, nor does it replace national governments. So, what is it?

The EU at a glance

The EU was created by national governments as a mechanism to agree on common actions in areas where it makes more sense for countries to work together, rather than each on its own.

Cooperation over competition

After the devastation of the Second World War, Europeans were determined to prevent another conflict from ever again ravaging the continent. Instead of competing against one another, the governments of six countries decided to cooperate on trade and economic issues. They pooled their resources of coal and steel, the raw materials for weapons, and the threat of war receded as they became each other’s most valuable trading partners.

The EU has ushered in an era of peace and prosperity. Today, it embraces 500 million people, deals with issues of everyday importance and operates according to the following principles:

  • It can only act in areas where national governments have agreed that it can.
  • It should only act where it can be more effective than national governments acting on their own.
  • It must promote and defend shared values such as democracy, freedom and justice, as well as Europe’s common heritage, expressed in its many cultures, traditions and languages.

Your chance to make a difference

No matter how you feel about politics, the truth is that almost everything that affects you is governed by laws which are decided by the political process – that’s why it’s so important to take part in decision-making.

Exercise your right to vote once you can – in local, national and European elections. Even in large democracies such as the EU, each vote counts and can make a difference in the outcome of the elections.

But the responsibilities of citizenship don’t end with voting. A healthy democracy requires more from its citizens than simply casting a ballot once every four or five years. Politicians need to think not only about the next election, but also about the next generation. You don’t have to wait until you can vote to have an opinion and make it heard!

Technology has opened new communication channels, transforming the relationship between citizens and public officials by removing intermediaries. The internet gives direct access to institutions and politicians – you can even find the EU on popular social networks!