International Affairs Office
The European Union (EU) is a regional association of 25 European countries that have agreed to act collectively in a variety of areas, most importantly in economics and trade, cultural and social affairs, civil and criminal law, and certain specific aspects of foreign affairs and education. It is the culmination of a process of alignment and unity begun after World War II. The EU is unique among modern regional associations in that its member states have formally ceded many national powers to the EU's central institutions, so that the EUwhile remaining an association of sovereign nationsalso has some of the features of a single federation.
For a detailed overview of EU history, go to The History of the European Union on the EU's Web site.
Organization and Activities. The EU operates via five bodies: the EU Council, comprised of the heads of government of the member states; European Commission (EC), the executive branch; European Parliament; European Court of Justice (judiciary); and European Court of Auditors (fiscal), the European Central Bank (Euro currency), plus other important institutions. EUROPA provides detailed information on EU organization and structure.
European Union and Education. The EU has not been granted authority over educational affairs by its member states, but it has been authorized to develop and administer certain educational programs and to engage in, and coordinate, specific educational initiatives. This limited role resembles that of the U.S. Department of Education in the U.S. federal system.
EU educational activities and programs are focused on pan-European educational reform; creating what is being called the European Higher Education Area (EHEA); and promoting Europe as a major global provider of education services. Cooperation with non-European countries and regions is part of the broader work of education reform and system-building within Europe. Major issues within the scope of EU efforts in education include: quality assurance; educational assessments; mutual recognition of qualifications; language learning; equal access to education for migrants, minorities, and persons with disabilities; exchange and scholarship programs; and information sharing. The EU and the U.S. Department of Education co-administer the U.S.-EU cooperative program in higher education and vocational education and training.