What has the EU done for us ?

Most laws passed in the 27 member states stem from EU legislation. All EU states must bring their laws into line with the body of European law built up during more than 50 years since the original Treaty of Rome, known as the acquis communautaire.

These are some examples of agreed laws which bring greater freedom to the ordinary European citizen.


It is much easier now for Europeans to move around among the member countries. 

In the past there were
X different currencies to be exchanged at each border
X regular border crossings with passport and customs checks
X trains of different gauges
there is a single currency in most European countries, the euro (using the symbol)
border posts have been abandoned between the 15 countries that have joined in the Schengen treaty
people on holiday are fully covered for any emergency hospital treatment they may need in another EU country
driving licences issued in one EU country are valid in any other, and any driver insured in one member state has at least third-party cover in the rest
if a tour operator goes bust, the company must have systems in place to get you home if you are away when it happens.


The EU swept away barriers to free competition in the air transport market in the 1980s and 1990s, paving the way for the emergence of budget airlines. Between 1992 and 2000 prices at the cheaper end of the market fell by 40%. At the same time, consumers benefited from a wider choice of both carriers and destinations, the number of routes linking EU member states increasing by nearly 50%.


During the 1990s, the EU broke the monopolies held by public telecoms operators. The result was a doubling of the number of fixed-line operators between 1998 and 2003, rapid introduction of new technology, and lower prices. According to the European Commission, the price of international telephone calls in the EU has fallen by 80% since 1984. The EU has now begun taking action to reduce the cost of roaming on mobile phones.


At a time of worldwide economic crisis, EU policies focus on long-term growth. Current priorities are

with people living longer, to promote active ageing, discouraging early retirement, stimulating lifelong learning, and adapting working conditions to the needs of older workers.
dealing with high rates of youth unemployment. Unemployment among those aged 15-24 has risen alarmingly: it stands at 22.1% on average in the EU, up from 15% in 2008.  The highest rates have been in Spain (48.7%) and Greece (47.2%) - that is, half of young people looking for a job have not been able to find one. The lowest rates have been in Germany (7.8%) and Austria (8.2%).
to ensure that economic growth and improved living conditions are spread more evenly throughout the regions of the EU. More than 40% of the EU budget goes directly into creating jobs and growth, and spreading the benefits fairly across the EU. Nearly €60 billion is spent annually aiming to narrow the gap between the less fortunate and the better-off.
creating conditions for free movement of workers within the EU. This aims to ease unemployment by correcting imbalances across labour markets. Experience showed that worker mobility brought benefits to both individuals and to the receiving countries.

A review of employment and social developments in Europe, published by the European Commission in December 2011, showed how the current bleak economic climate had aggravated income inequality and had resulted in the disappearance of medium-paid jobs, especially in manufacturing and construction. The review advocated a mix of employment and social policies to ensure long-term recovery rich in job opportunities.

The single European market has created an estimated €877 billion (about £720 billion) of extra wealth in the last 10 years and EU trade now accounts for 20% of all global imports and exports, making the EU the world's largest trader.


The EU has standardised and strengthened workers' rights. The principle of equal pay for men and women was laid down right at the start and since then has gradually been turned into reality. A 1975 directive ensured that women paid less than men for the same job got the right of redress through the courts, and protection against dismissal. More recently EU legislation has awarded part-time employees, who are often women, the same rights as people working full-time. Discrimination on the basis of race or sexual orientation is also outlawed. And age discrimination laws which came into force in 2006 in both the UK and other member states stemmed directly from legislation passed at EU level.


The EU Working Time Directive ensures that all Europeans get at least four weeks of paid holiday per year. In the US, there is no statutory minimum and many employees get only two weeks of paid annual leave. The same directive guarantees workers 11 hours rest in every 24 hours, one day of rest per week, and a rest break if the working day is longer than six hours. EU legislation also sets minimum standards for paid maternity and paternity leave throughout the EU.


Europeans are generally free to go where they want within the EU to live or work, and some 15 million Europeans have moved across borders to exercise this right. For example, more than 300 thousand people are drawing UK state pensions in other member states (mostly Spain and Ireland). Older member states have imposed temporary labour restrictions on workers from the countries in central Europe which joined in 2004 - but these will gradually be phased out. An EU citizen living in another EU country enjoys equal treatment with nationals of the host country in terms of welfare protection, and can stand for office in local and European Parliament elections.


Erasmus, the EU’s exchange programme, funded the studies of nearly 270,000 students in 2012/2013, 15,000 more than the previous year. (EC figures). 14,500 British students took advantage of Erasmus funding.

Since its launch in 1987, Erasmus has provided funds for three million European students to spend part of their studies in another country. The Erasmus programme has been expanded to pay for work-placements and for teacher training. One in five Erasmus students now choose a job-placement and more than 52,000 university staff received grants in the 2012/2013 academic year.


Consumers can send back a product bought anywhere in the EU if it breaks down within two years of purchase. People shopping on the internet, by telephone or mail order, can also change their mind within seven days, and cancel the contract without giving a reason. EU law prohibits misleading advertising and requires that all products put on the market are safe. Shoppers who buy goods for their own use in one EU country can take them to another EU country without paying excise duty, as long as they accompany them.

A major example – the European Commission has fined US computer monopoly Microsoft for defying sanctions imposed on it for anti-competitive behaviour.  It was a controversial decision – look at the detailed arguments and differing points of view (February 2008).


Under EU law, all ingredients used in food products must be listed. Any GM ingredients must be flagged up, as must colouring, preservatives, sweeteners and other chemical additives. Any ingredients that consumers may be allergic to, such as nuts, must be marked, even if the quantities used are very small. EU laws define the conditions food must meet to be described as organic, and ensure that a name associated with a high-quality product from a particular region, such as Parma ham, cannot be used to describe a product of lower quality, or one from a different region.


EU action on climate change reflects growing concern among the public and governments alike.

As the scientific evidence of climate change has hardened, an ambitious strategy was launched that will both sharply reduce European emissions of the "greenhouse" gases warming the planet and increase the security of its energy supplies. The EU has taken the lead in a strategy to fight global warming and its consequences – rising sea levels, acute drought in some regions of the world and extreme weather events in others.

The centrepiece of the climate and energy strategy, endorsed by EU leaders in March 2008, is a pledge to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020, provided other developed countries do likewise. Pending negotiations on a new UN climate change agreement, the EU has made a commitment to reduce its emissions by at least 20%.

To help achieve these cuts, the EU has set itself the goals – to be met by 2020 – of cutting energy consumption by 20% through improved energy efficiency, tripling the share of energy from renewable sources to 20% and increasing the share of biofuels in petrol and diesel to 10%. These initiatives will also make the EU economy more efficient and less dependent on energy imports.

See more from the International Energy Agency


The EU is widely credited with forcing the pace on improvements to the quality of air, rivers and beaches. Member states might have done the job independently in their own time, but peer pressure upped the tempo when European ministers got together to pass laws. Measures such as the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive have led to dramatic improvements in the rivers over the last 30 years, making possible, for example, the return of otters to the British countryside. Other legislation has greatly reduced the problem of acid rain; the UK, once the "dirty man of Europe" cut sulphur emissions by 73% between 1990 and 2002. And if 30 years ago most British beaches failed the test of the EU Bathing Water Directive, now 98% of them get the thumbs-up.