Glossary of European Union jargon

The acquis communautaire, Coreper, QMV, Schengen... These are among the many well-used - but often misunderstood - terms in the EU. Use this guide to navigate through the jargon.

A

Acquis communautaire 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 accession negotiations with Turkey and Croatia, the acquis has been divided into 35 chapters, each of which must be "closed" by the candidates.

Amsterdam Treaty 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 (QMV) 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.

Anti-trust One of the European Commission's key tasks is to ensure fair and free competition in the EU single market.

EU rules prohibit agreements that restrict competition, such as company cartels that artificially set high prices. Rules of this kind are known as "anti-trust" legislation. The Commission can impose fines on firms for anti-competitive practices.

B

Barcelona Process The Barcelona Process, also known as the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, denotes the EU's policy towards non-EU Mediterranean countries.

Launched in 1995, the process aims to build peace in the region and strengthen links between the EU and the partner countries, through joint business ventures, for example.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy relaunched the process as a "Mediterranean Union" in July 2008, when France held the EU presidency. The 43-nation union will have its headquarters in Barcelona.

C

Charter of Fundamental Rights The charter is a political declaration, upholding basic 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 EU's Lisbon Treaty has a reference to it, making it legally binding (if the treaty comes into force). But the text of the charter does not appear in the treaty.

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

Co-decision The means by which the European Parliament shares decision-making with the European Council (the EU governments) is known as the "co-decision procedure". It was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993.

Later treaties expanded co-decision to new areas. In all these areas - now reckoned to be about 75% of European legislation - the parliament is on an equal footing with the ministers. Co-decision involves one, two or three readings.

The Lisbon Treaty has extended the parliament's co-decision powers to some new areas, including the budget and agriculture. It has also removed national vetoes in a number of areas, including fighting climate change, energy security and emergency aid.

Cohesion The EU adopted a cohesion policy as part of the Single European Act in 1986. It is an attempt to reduce the development gap between different EU regions by redistributing funds from richer to poorer areas.

The EU has identified three areas it wants to invest in:

Convergence: support for growth and job creation in the least developed regions, whose per capita GDP is less than 75% of the EU average.

Competitiveness and employment: support for richer member states in dealing with economic and social change, globalisation and the transition to a knowledge society.

Territorial co-operation: support for cross-border co-operation to tackle urban, rural and coastal development problems.

At present, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are the main beneficiaries of cohesion funds.

College "The college" is another way of referring to the European Commission, or a weekly meeting of the full Commission.

Comitology A process in which the European Commission, when drafting EU law, consults advisory committees of experts from member states.

The aim is to discuss proposed laws with national administrations before they come into force.

The Commission tries to ensure that new laws take into account the situation in each of the member states concerned.

Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) The 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. Increasingly CAP funds take the form of direct payments to farmers and rural development, rather than subsidies for farm produce.

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.

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.

Q&A: Common Agricultural Policy

Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) The European Union's foreign policy. Foreign policy is run by the Council of Ministers, acting unanimously. However, a High Representative for the CFSP contributes to the formulation, preparation and implementation of policy decisions. The EU also has a number of special representatives in areas of crisis or conflict.

Competencies Competencies are divided between the EU and member states.

The EU has competency - or legislative power - over external trade and customs policy, the internal market, the monetary policy of countries in the eurozone, agriculture and fisheries and some areas of member states' laws like health and safety regulations.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, the European Commission, European Parliament and European Court of Justice have gained new powers to legislate in the field of justice and home affairs.

Conciliation committee This is a body set up under the co-decision procedure if the European Council and Parliament fail to agree on legislation after the second reading of a proposal. The Council and Parliament have equal representation on the committee. Its job is to come up with a new text that can then be put to the vote and become law.

Convergence criteria 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 the EU.

Exchange rates must be kept within "normal" fluctuation margins of Europe's exchange-rate mechanism.

Copenhagen criteria The Copenhagen criteria are a set of conditions, laid down in 1993, which have to be met before countries can join the EU:

Stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;

A functioning market economy, able to cope with EU market forces;

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.

Coreper Coreper is an abbreviation used to refer to the committee of permanent representatives to the European Union, which prepares the work of the Council.

It is made up of the 27 ambassadors (permanent representatives) to the EU - or their deputies - and is chaired by the ambassador from the member state holding the rotating EU presidency at the time.

It vets the proposals and drafts for laws tabled by the European Commission, before they are put on the agenda for the European Council, the EU's main decision-making body.

If agreement on a proposal is reached within the committee, Coreper will put it forward to the Council to be approved without discussion.

If no agreement is reached, Coreper will suggest options or amendments to the Council.

Council of Europe The Council of Europe is a body of 47 countries that aims to promote democracy and protect human rights.

It is a separate institution from the European Union, but the 27 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.

It set up the European Convention on Human Rights, and cases relating to the convention can be brought before the European Court of Human Rights.

Council of Ministers The Council of Ministers - or Council of the European Union to give it its formal title - 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, eg 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 pass 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, eg taxation, the council must vote unanimously, but other decisions require a simple majority or a qualified majority (see QMV).

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