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The British Government: Britain & The European Union
The British Government: A Brief Overview
Information courtesy of The British Information Services

Britain is a member of the European Union, which comprises the European Community (EC) and intergovernmental co-operation on foreign and security policy, and on justice and home affairs. The Union is an association of 15 democratic nations: Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, the Irish Republic, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

Council of the European Union

Major policy decisions are taken by the Council of the European Union. Member states are represented by the ministers appropriate to the subject under discussion.

The Presidency of the Council changes at six-monthly intervals; Britain assumed it for the fourth time from July to December 1992. In some cases decisions must be made unanimously; in others they are decided by a majority or a qualified majority, with votes weighted according to each country's size. Community policies are implemented by Regulations, which are legally binding and directly applicable in all member countries, and Directives, which are binding on member states but allow national authorities to decide on means of implementation. Heads of Government of the member countries meet twice a year as the European Council. This takes important decisions and discusses EU policies and world affairs generally.

European Commission
The European Commission is composed of 20 commissioners (two from Britain) who are nominated by member governments and appointed by common agreement. It puts forward policy proposals, executes decisions taken by the Council of the European Union and ensures that Community rules are correctly observed. The Commission is pledged to act independently of national or sectional interests.

European Parliament
The European Parliament has 626 directly elected members; Britain has 87 seats. The last election to the Parliament was held inJune 1994. The Parliament is consulted on a wide range of issues before the Council takes final decisions. The Commission can be removed from office as a whole by a two-thirds majority of all members of the Parliament. The Parliament adopts the Community's annual budget in agreement with the Council. The European Parliament's legislative involvement was increased by the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty.

Court of Justice
The Court of Justice consists of 15 judges. It interprets and adjudicates on the meaning of the Treaties and on measures taken by the Council of the European Union and the Commission. It also hears complaints and appeals brought by or against Union institutions, member states or individuals and gives preliminary rulings on cases referred by courts in the member states. It represents the final authority on all aspects of Community law.

The Single European Act provided for a Court of First Instance to relieve the Court of Justice of a substantial part of its workload. The new court began working in 1989.

Court of Auditors
The Court of Auditors oversees the implementation of the Community's budget. It helps to counter waste and fraud. The Court consists of one member from each state.

Visit the European Union Studies Association web site to see what the UK's leading Research Institute on European Affairs is doing to widen and deepen the European Union. Their site includes publications, programs, conference information, press releases and hot links.

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