What is the European Community?

C. K. Lanz

The European community was one of a trio of pillars that were the foundation of the European Union from November 1993 to December 2009. The other two pillars were the Common Foreign and Security Policy and Police and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters. The European community encompassed all environmental, social, and economic policy for the member states and facilitated the legal integration of member states. The concept of supranationalism was a crucial element of this pillar. The European Union’s pillar system was abolished when the Treaty of Lisbon took effect in 2009.

The European Union was originally a pillar system that was formed with the European community as one pillar.
The European Union was originally a pillar system that was formed with the European community as one pillar.

The Maastricht Treaty established the European Union and its currency, the euro, when it became effective in November 1993. The treaty also created the pillar structure of the Union, dividing it into three sections. The Commission, Court of Justice, and the European Parliament were the supranational institutions established as part of the European community pillar.

A person making a purchase with a 20 euro bill.
A person making a purchase with a 20 euro bill.

In multinational communities like the European Union, supranationalism can be an effective way to make decisions. The member nations transfer certain powers to a central institution that has the authority to make policy that binds everyone. The European community pillar was founded on and followed this concept of supranationalism.

One of the key purposes of the European community was to help legally integrate the Union's member nations. It could approve legislation that affected all citizens of the Union. In keeping with community procedure, the Commission submitted legislative proposals to the European Council and Parliament, and acts were adopted when a qualified majority was reached.

Border control, citizenship, and consumer protection all fell under the European community pillar, as did health care, employment, and immigration. The European community also set environmental law and dictated social and asylum policy. Regulation of the coal and steel industry was an additional responsibility of this pillar. Both the European Atomic Energy Community and the European Coal and Steel Community were once part of the European community pillar.

The other two pillars of the European Union followed a different procedure for decision making. The Commission and the member states shared the right to introduce legislation. Acts introduced via the second and third pillars required a unanimous Council vote to be enacted.

The Treaty of Lisbon went into effect in December of 2009, and the pillar system ended. The European communities were replaced by a European Union that can, as of 2010, make policy, sign treaties, and participate in the World Trade Organization as a unified legal entity. With the dissolution of the pillars, responsibilities were reallocated between member states and the European Union.

The euro was established in 1999.
The euro was established in 1999.

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