BRITAIN IN EUROPE AND THE WORLD
In addition to Britain's historical and cultural ties with countries
throughout Europe, two major developments have occurred
since the end of the Second World War in 1945 closely
to the remainder of Europe.
The Council of Europe
The Council of Europe was created in 1949, and Britain was one
of the founder members. It is an organisation
with 50 member states, working to protect human rights
and seek solutions to problems facing European society
today. The Council of Europe has no power to make
laws, but does draw up conventions and charters, which
states agree to follow. Examples of these are the
European Convention on Human Rights measures to trace
the assets associated with organised
crime, and a directive for education for democratic
citizenship in schools.
The European Union
The European Union originated in the period immediately
after the Second World War when Belgium,
Luxembourg, the Netherlands,
Germany signed an
agreement putting all their coal and steel production
under the control of a single authority. An important
reason for doing this was the belief that cooperation
between these states would reduce the likelihood of
another European war. Britain
refused to join this group at the beginning and only
became part of the European Union (or European Economic
Community, as it was then known) in 1973 after twice
being vetoed by France.
In 2004, ten new member countries joined the EU bringing
membership to a total of 25.
The main aim behind
the European Union today is for member states to become
a single market. To achieve this, measures have gradually
been Introduced to remove tariff barriers and to help
people, goods, and services move freely and easily
between member states. This has involved a great deal
of regulation being Imposed on businesses and consumers,
and has not always been popular.
Citizens of a EU member state have the right to travel to any EU country
as long as they have a valid passport or identity
card. This right may be restricted only for reasons
of public health, public order, or public security.
They also have the right to work in other EU countries,
and must be offered employment under the same conditions
as citizens of that state.
The Council of Ministers
The Council of Ministers is one of the most influential
bodies in the EU. It is made up of government ministers
meeting periodically from each member state with powers
to propose new laws and take important decisions about
how the EU is run.
The European Commission
Based in Brussels,
the European Commission is rather like the civil service
of the European Union, taking care of the day to day
running of the organisation.
One of the important jobs the European Commission
is to draft proposals for new EU policies and law.
The European Parliament
The European Parliament meets in Strasbourg
in north-eastern France.
Each country elects members roughly proportional to
its population. Elections for Members of the European
Parliament (MEP5) are held every five years.
The Parliament scrutinises
and debates the proposals, decisions, and expenditures
of the Commission, but does not decide policy. MEP5
have the ultimate power to refuse to agree EU expenditure,
but have never done so - although they have held it up. Yet the threat has proved
effective on several occasions.
European Union law
European Union law is an important source of law in Britain. EU legislation
consists mainly of Regulations and Directives. Regulations
are specific rules, such as those limiting the hours
that drivers of goods vehicles can work, which automatically
have the force of law in all EU member states. Regulations
override national legislation and must be followed
by the courts in each member state.
Directives are general requirements that must be introduced
within a set time, but the way in which they are implemented
is left to each member state. An example of this is
the procedures that must be followed by companies
when making staff redundant.
All proposals for new EU laws are examined by a committee
of the UK Parliament, which then recommends any changes
or amendments to ministers, who will decide whether
to try and change or renegotiate them.
The Commonwealth arose out of the former British Empire
that once included much of Africa and the West Indies,
Canada, the Indian sub-continent, Australia and New
Zealand. Since 1945, almost all these countries have
become independent and together form a loose association
called the Commonwealth, with the Crown at its symbolic
Only the United Nations is a larger international organisation than the British Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth has a membership of 54 states, which
together contain 1.7 billion people - 30 per cent of the world's population. Its aims include
the development of democracy, good government, and
the eradication of poverty, but it has no power over
its members other than that of persuasion and only
rarely acts together on international issues.
language, similarities in culture, and (with some
exceptions) mutual recognition of professional qualifications,
has greatly assisted the movement of people within
the Commonwealth, and had a major effect on migration
both to and from Britain.
The United Nations
Britain , like most countries in the world, is a member of the
United Nations (UN) - an international
organisation, working to
prevent war and to maintain international peace and
security. Britain is a permanent member of the
UN Security Council. The functions of this group include
recommending action by the UN in the event of international
crises and threats to peace.
Two very important documents produced by the United Nations
are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and
the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Britain
has signed and ratified both of these agreements.
Although neither have the force of law, they are important
measures by which the behaviour
of a state can be judged, and they are increasingly
used both in political debate and in legal cases,
to reinforce points of law.