Much of the EU's work is about making it easier for member states to trade with each other. One objective of the EU is to make it easy to travel, move to another member state or study in another member state. For example, citizens of the EU can now work in another member state without any special work or residence permit. The euro is the currency in more than half of the EU's member states.
Sweden has been a member of the European Union (the EU) since 1995. The EU member states cooperate in different areas and many of these affect our everyday lives. Here you will find a brief description of what the EU does, how the EU makes decisions, how Sweden is affected and Sweden's role in the EU. It also deals with how you can influence the EU.
The EU in brief
The member states joined the EU at different times:
1952 Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands
1973 Denmark, Ireland, the United Kingdom
1986 Portugal, Spain
1995 Austria, Finland, Sweden
2004 Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia 2007 Bulgaria, Romania
What does the EU do?
What does the EU actually deal with?
The EU deals with many areas. Here are some examples:
Environmental issues. The EU has set goals for how member states should reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, for example.
Fishing. The EU decides how much fish may be fished in EU waters, which includes, for example, cod in the Baltic.
Police cooperation. The police forces and prosecutors in the EU member states have the right to cooperate with each other to combat serious cross-border crime, such as drug smuggling, for example.
Regional support. EU member states want to reduce economic and social differences between countries and regions in the EU. For this reason, a large amount of EU money is devoted to regional support.
Refugee policy. The EU has a number of common rules concerning asylum for refugees including, for example, which country should deal with a particular asylum application.
The EU member states also cooperate for example on development assistance policy, trade with countries outside the EU, support to agriculture and food-related issues.
This is what the EU doesn't do
The member states themselves are responsible for a large number of issues. Examples of such issues are income taxes, medical care, schools, pensions and child support.
How much does the EU cost?
All member states pay a contribution to the EU every year. The size of the contribution is based on a number of factors including developments in the economy of the member state in question. This means that the contribution often varies. Since 2010, Sweden has paid approx. SEK 30-40 billion in contributions every year, and has got back SEK 10-13 billion in various kinds of support.
In total, the EU member states pay approx. SEK 1,300 billion per year into the EU budget. Around 85 per cent of this goes back to the member states in the form of support. Most of this is used to develop regions in EU member states, for example to support research and education and to improve roads, and to support agriculture, rural areas and fishing. But money also goes for example to development assistance, culture, and police cooperation. Sweden benefits from most of these forms of support.
- Sweden's central government budget is approx. SEK 900 billion.
- Sweden's contribution to the EU is approx. SEK 30-40 billion of the central government budget.
- Sweden gets back approx. SEK 10-13 billion in the form of various kinds of support from the EU.
The European Council – summit between EU leaders
The European Council draws up guidelines for EU activities in the long term, but does not make any decisions regarding EU rules. The summit meetings take place four times a year. If necessary, extra summit meetings can be arranged.
The European Council consists of a President, the heads of state and government of the member states, and the President of the European Commission. The European Council elects its President for a two-and-a-half-year term.
How does EU decision-making work?
Sweden and the other member states decide on new EU rules together. This means that Sweden can influence EU decisions, but in certain cases Sweden also has to observe EU decisions that it opposes.
This is how it works when Sweden and the other member states agree on new EU rules:
1. The European Commission proposes a new law
The European Commission is charged with the task of proposing new laws. All the member states each have one Commissioner. The Commissioners' role is to promote the best interests of the EU as a whole, rather than representing their own particular countries.
2. The Government and the Swedish Parliament - the Riksdag - adopt a position
The European Commission sends its proposals to all the member states. In Sweden, they are submitted to the Government and the Riksdag. The Government informs the Riksdag of its view of the proposals and collects comments from the Riksdag. It is the Government that presents Sweden's views.
3. The European Parliament decides
The European Parliament participates in deciding on the EU's new laws. The MEPs are elected in general elections, and 20 of them are elected in Sweden.
In the case of most issues, the European Parliament decides together with the Council of Ministers. For certain issues, the European Parliament does not make the decisions. These include EU foreign and security policy.
4. The Council of Ministers decides
The Swedish Government and all the other governments of the EU member states each participate in the EU Council of Ministers with one minister. The Council of Ministers decides on new EU legislation.
The Swedish Government will have discussed the proposals with the Riksdag in advance.
5. Sweden implements the legislation
Once the Council of Ministers has decided on a new law, Sweden and the other member states will introduce the law. Sometimes the Riksdag may need to make amendments to Swedish laws to make them agree with the EU's new laws. In other cases, the EU's laws take immediate effect.
Scrutiny by the Riksdag
In addition to scrutinising and giving its views to the Government, the Swedish Parliament – the Riksdag – also has another task in common with the other national parliaments in the EU. When the EU proposes new laws in certain areas, the parliaments in the member states must first examine whether the rules are needed at EU level or whether it is better that each member state decides on the rules individually. This examination may result in the Commission having to reconsider its proposal.
What happens if Sweden does not follow EU rules?
The European Commission checks that member states follow the laws that the EU has decided upon. If the Commission considers that Sweden is not doing this, it may sue Sweden in the EU Court of Justice.
The task of the EU Court is then to decide on whether Sweden has violated EU rules. Swedish courts may also turn to the EU Court of Justice with questions on how EU rules should be interpreted.
If you consider that Sweden or any other member state is not following EU rules, you can report this yourself to the European Commission.
The European Commission
- The Commissioners' role is to promote the best interests of the EU as a whole, rather than representing their own particular countries.
- The European Commission is appointed for a period of five years by the governments of the member states.
- The European Parliament has to approve the European Commission.
The European Parliament
- Elections to the European Parliament take place every five years.
- The citizens in each country vote their members into the Parliament.
- Countries with large populations have more representatives than countries with small populations.
Council of Ministers
- The government minister responsible for the particular issue for discussion participates in the Council. For example, if environmental issues are on the agenda, the Minister for the Environment will participate.
- In most cases, the Council can decide when a majority is in favour of the proposal. In the case of certain issues, all ministers in the Council must be in agreement for a decision to be taken.
EU Court of Justice
- The EU Court of Justice has one judge from each member state.
- The judges are appointed by the governments of the member states for a period of six years.
How can you influence the EU?
If you want to influence EU decisions, you can contact one of the following people or bodies who work with or decide on EU matters.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). There are a number of Swedish MEPs who participate in and influence EU decision-making. Contact information to MEPs is available on www.europaparlamentet.se.
You can also contact the Information Office of the European Parliament in Sweden, tel. +46 8 562 444 55, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members of the Riksdag (MPs). The members of the Swedish Parliament make the laws in Sweden and submit points of view to the Government before decisions are taken in the Council of Ministers. Addresses to all of the 349 members of the Riksdag and to the political parties represented in the Riksdag are available at www.riksdagen.se.
Government ministers. Swedish ministers participate in the meetings of the Council of Ministers where they decide on new EU rules. Contact information to all Government ministers is available at http://www.government.se/.
The European Commission. The European Commission often invites points of view on draft laws. A million EU citizens may also urge the Commission to submit a proposed piece of legislation in a citizens' initiative. Contact the Office of the European Commission in Sweden, tel. +46 8 562 444 11, e-mail email@example.com. Their web address is http://ec.europa.eu/sweden/home_sv.
Organisations. Many organisations cooperate at the European level to influence the EU.
EU history in brief
It all started with six countries...
The EU today consists of 28 countries with an approximate total population of 508 million. More countries would like to join, for example Serbia and Turkey.
Why did countries in Europe start working together in the first place? Straight after the Second World War, several countries wanted to prevent new wars. For this reason, six of these countries formed the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952. They decided to share responsibility for the production of coal and steel, which were important raw materials in the war industry. In this way, they would avoid a situation in which any individual country could begin to re-arm. This was the first step in the creation of the EU.
In 1958, this form of cooperation was extended to include other products, services and capital. A few years later, the whole project came to be known as the EC, the European Communities. Over time such areas as the environment, agriculture and transport also became responsibilities for the EC. In 1993, the EC became the EU – the European Union. This meant that it was now possible for member states to act together in matters such as foreign policy. Since then, another 16 countries have become members of the EU, which also affects the forms of cooperation between member states.