The European Union provides assistance to countries and populations, both within Europe and abroad, when major disasters or humanitarian emergencies occur.
Together, the EU countries are the world’s leading donor of humanitarian aid, helping millions of people worldwide each year. This aid accounts for 1% of the EU’s total annual budget – around €4 per EU citizen.
EU action is guided by the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. Aid is channelled through 200+ international and local partner organisations and agencies, and supported by thousands of European volunteers.
Any European citizen or long-term resident in an EU Member State can take part to an EU aid volunteer programme.
Through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, the EU, together with a number of other European countries, plays a key role in coordinating responses to crises in Europe and worldwide. Existing and potential crises are monitored around the clock and the participating countries also cooperate on risk assessment, disaster prevention preparedness and planning.
Emergency relief can take the form of items such as food, shelter or equipment, deployment of specially-equipped teams, or assessment and coordination by experts sent to the field. Relief teams, experts and equipment from participating countries are kept on standby to provide rapid EU responses all over the world.
The EU complements national health policies by supporting local EU governments to achieve common objectives, pool resources and overcome shared challenges. In addition to formulating EU-wide laws and standards for health products and services, it also provides funding for health projects across the EU.
EU health policy focuses on protecting and improving health, giving equal access to modern and efficient healthcare for all Europeans, and coordinating any serious health threats involving more than one EU country. Disease prevention and response play a big part in the EU’s public health focus. Prevention touches many areas such as vaccination, fighting antimicrobial resistance, actions against cancer and responsible food labelling.
Two dedicated agencies support national governments on health issues. The European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control assesses and monitors emerging disease threats to coordinate responses. Meanwhile, the European Medicines Agency manages the scientific assessment of all EU medicines’ quality, safety and efficiency.
The EU’s joint foreign and security policy, designed to resolve conflicts and foster international understanding, is based on diplomacy and respect for international rules. Trade, humanitarian aid, and development cooperation also play an important role in the EU’s international role.
EU foreign and security policy seeks to:
* preserve peace
* strengthen international security
* promote international cooperation
* develop and consolidate democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights & fundamental freedoms
The EU maintains partnerships with the world’s key players, including emerging powers and regional groups. It seeks to ensure that these relationships are based on mutual interests and benefits.
The EU has no standing army, so relies on ad hoc forces contributed by EU countries. The EU can send missions to the world’s trouble spots; to monitor and preserve law and order, participate in peacekeeping efforts or provide humanitarian aid to affected populations.
The External action service (EEAS) acts as the EU’s diplomatic service. A network of over 140 delegations and offices around the world promotes and protects the EU’s values and interests.
In foreign policy, the EU’s ultimate decision-making body is the European Council, which comprises EU country heads of state and governments. Most foreign and security policy decisions require the agreement of all EU countries.
EU citizens benefit from some of the highest environmental standards in the world. The EU and national governments have set clear objectives to guide European environment policy until 2020 and a vision beyond that, of where to be by 2050, with the support of dedicated research programmes, legislation and funding:
* protect, conserve and enhance the EU’s natural capital
* turn the EU into a resource-efficient, green, and competitive low-carbon economy
* safeguard EU citizens from environment-related pressures and risks to health and wellbeing
Work is ongoing on many fronts to protect the EU’s endangered species and natural areas, ensure safe drinking and bathing water improve air quality and waste management, and reduce the effects of harmful chemicals.
Environmental protection and innovation help to create new business and employment opportunities, which stimulate further investment. Green growth is at the heart of EU policy to ensure that Europe’s economic growth is environmentally sustainable. The EU also plays a key role in promoting sustainable development at a global level.
Investing in a sustainable energy future for Europe
The EU is actively promoting Europe’s transition to a low-carbon society, and is updating its rules in order to facilitate the necessary private and public investment in the clean energy transition. This should not only be good for the planet, but also good for the economy and good for consumers.
The low carbon transition aims to create a sustainable energy sector which stimulates growth, innovation, and jobs whilst improving quality of life, increasing choice, reinforcing consumer rights, and ultimately providing savings in household bills.
A streamlined and coordinated EU approach ensures a genuinely continental impact in the fight against climate change. Moves to encourage renewables and improve energy efficiency are central to reducing Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions and meeting Paris Agreement commitments.
Through the European energy union, the EU is ensuring there is a greater coherence in all policy areas to meet the broad objectives of creating a reliable, affordable and sustainable energy system.
The EU also provides various funding opportunities and lending schemes to help companies and regions successfully implement energy projects.
On the international stage, the EU plays an important role, working together with other countries, regions and international organisations to tackle energy problems and ensure a reliable, competitive energy market within Europe.
Technological advances, globalisation and changing demographics continue to impact the ways Europeans live and work. The EU is actively developing policies and legislative proposals to meet these challenges.
Through the European pillar of social rights, the EU works to safeguard the rights of citizens by ensuring:
* Equal opportunities and access to the labour market
* Fair working conditions
* Social protection and inclusion
EU funding helps public and private organisations implement and improve employment and social policy, and finance projects to support their citizens of today and tomorrow.
EU employment legislation guarantees minimum levels of protection that apply to everyone living and working in the EU. Specific EU rules also aim to make it easy for EU citizens to live and work in other EU countries, while protecting their social security rights, such as health insurance and benefits.
Eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development
Together, the EU institutions and countries are the world’s leading donor of development assistance and cooperation. The EU proposes legislation and policies to promote good governance and human and economic development, such as fighting hunger and preserving natural resources.
Responding to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, EU institutions work together and provide funding to address the following five aspects of sustainable development:
* People: End poverty and hunger in all forms and ensure dignity and equality
* Planet: Protect future generations from environmental destruction and resource depletion
* Prosperity: Ensure prosperous and fulfilling lives in harmony with nature
* Peace: Create peaceful, just and inclusive societies
* Partnership: Implement development work through global partnership
The EU cooperates with 150 partner countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, as well as civil society and international organisations. In addition to providing financial aid and engaging in dialogues with partner countries, the EU also conducts research and evaluation to ensure that aid is used effectively.
The EU Customs Union, established in 1968, makes it easier for EU companies to trade, harmonises customs duties on goods from outside the EU and helps to protect Europe’s citizens, animals and the environment.
In practice, the Customs Union means that the customs authorities of all 28 EU countries work together as if they were one. They apply the same tariffs to goods imported into their territory from the rest of the world, and apply no tariffs internally.
In the case of the EU, this means that there are no customs duties to be paid when goods are transported from one EU country to another. The customs duty from goods imported into the EU makes up around 14% of the total EU budget as part of its ‘traditional own resources.’
Customs controls at the EU’s external borders protect consumers from goods and products which could be dangerous or bad for their health. They protect animals and the environment by fighting illicit trade in endangered species and by preventing plant and animal diseases.
Customs authorities work together with policy and immigration services in the fight against organised crime and terrorism. They combat trafficking of people, drugs, weapons and counterfeited goods, and verify that travellers with large amounts of cash are not laundering money, evading tax or even financing criminal organisations.
EU customs also tackle tax and duties fraud by businesses and individuals, which deprive national governments of vital revenues for public spending.
Celebrating Europe’s cultural heritage and diversity
The EU works to preserve Europe’s shared cultural heritage and to support and promote the arts and creative industries in Europe. Specific initiatives, like the European Year of Cultural Heritage, are dedicated to make this vibrant and diverse culture accessible to everyone.
There are cultural components in many EU policies, including education, research, social policy, regional development and external relations. The creation and promotion of culture in today’s interactive and globalised world also goes hand-in-hand with media and digital technologies. The EU promotes policy collaboration on culture among national governments and with international organisations.
Through Creative Europe, the EU supports European cinema, arts and creative industries to create European jobs and growth, as well as to open up new international opportunities, markets and audiences.
Every year, 2 European cities are chosen as Europe’s cultural capitals: this gives an extra boost to local economies, and puts the spotlight on local artists and each city’s unique cultural wealth.
The EU also partners with film festivals, cultural exhibitions, concerts, conferences, artistic prizes and awards across Europe all-year round.
Creative Europe is the European Commission’s framework programme for support to the culture and audiovisual sectors.
Preserving and promoting fair competition practice
The EU’s rules on competition are designed to ensure fair and equal conditions for businesses, while leaving space for innovation, unified standards, and the development of small businesses.
The European Commission monitors and investigates anti-competition practices, mergers and state aid to ensure a level playing field for EU businesses, while guaranteeing choice and fair pricing for consumers.
Large firms are barred from using their bargaining power to impose conditions that would make it difficult for their suppliers or customers to do business with their competitors. The Commission can fine companies for this practice, because it leads to higher prices and/or less choice for consumers.
The Commission’s powers to investigate and halt violations of EU competition rules are subject to a number of internal checks and balances, as well as full judicial review by the European Courts.
The EU is also at the forefront of international cooperation in the competition field to promote and propose best practice. It was a founding member of the International competition network (ICN), and partners with global and national bodies to assess possible competition breaches.
Competition rules in the EU
The EU has strict rules protecting free competition. Under these rules, certain practices are prohibited.
If you infringe the EU’s competition rules, you could end up being fined as much as 10% of your annual worldwide turnover. In some EU countries individual managers of offending firms may face serious penalties, including prison.
EU competition rules apply directly in all EU countries – the courts in your country will uphold them. These rules apply not only to businesses but to all organisations engaged in economic activity (such as trade associations, industry groupings, etc).
You can read about some examples of EU competition cases on the DG Competition’s portal.
Illegal contacts and agreements
These agreements are known as cartels. They are forbidden because they restrict competition. They can take many forms, and need not be officially approved by the companies involved. The most common examples of these practices are:
Agreement on customer allocation
Agreement on production limitation
Distribution agreements between suppliers and re-sellers where, for example, the price charged to customers is imposed by the supplier
All agreements and exchanges of information between you and your competitors that reduce your strategic uncertainty in the market (around your production costs, turnover, capacity, marketing plans, etc.) can be seen as anti-competitive.
To be on the safe side:
* Do not fix prices or other trading conditions
* Do not limit production
*Do not share markets
* Do not exchange strategic information about your company
Some agreements are not prohibited – if they can be justified as benefiting consumers and the economy as a whole. One example is agreements on research & development and technology transfer. These cases are covered by the Block Exemption Regulations .