What does the European Union do?

  • 23 January 2013
EU flag

One major reason the European Union was set up is trade: to make it easier for countries to buy and sell things to each other.

Certain border controls have been relaxed too - so people from EU countries can move around more freely inside the Union.

EU laws affect many areas of our lives - things like how many hours we're allowed to work in a week, health and safety rules, and even how many fish we're allowed to catch.

For the 40 years that the UK's been a member of the EU, there's been a constant debate about our role within it.

Some feel it makes us stronger economically - and in terms of our place in the world - to be part of this bigger club.

Others argue that the EU takes power away from Britain. They feel that people who aren't British citizens shouldn't be making laws for this country. They also feel it costs Britain too much money.

How is the EU run?

The European Union is based in the Belgian capital Brussels.

The European Council

This is where the EU's big decisions are normally made.

It's like a school council, but instead of people from each year there are people from each country.

Who turns up depends on what the council is talking about.

If they are talking about farming then the 27 ministers for farming would go along, one from the government of each country.

The European Parliament

This decides whether suggestions from the European Commission should be made into new laws.

It helps to decide how much money the EU should spend.

It also checks that all the other parts of the EU are working fairly.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are elected every five years from all the EU countries.

Anyone over 18 from a member country may vote.

The European Commission

The European Commission does the day-to-day work of running the EU.

It does things like proposing new laws for the European Parliament to vote on, and makes sure that that the laws the European Parliament has passed are used properly.

The presidency

Every six months a different country gets the presidency of the EU.

With 27 members, the UK's turn only comes round every 13 and a half years. The next time will be in 2017.