Describe how the EU is governed, i.e., its institutions
The European Union (EU) is a unique cooperation of 27 states which is in the form of economic and political partnership. This came as a result of a series of treaties and commitment of member states in integration through the harmonization of laws and adoption of common policies on quite a number of issues. The sovereignty of the member states have been pooled in most economic and social issues and the quality of decision making is supranational. Decision making with regard to some areas such as foreign policy necessitate consensus of the member states. There are common institutions that are used in the setting and promotion of the collective interests of the EU, a total of seven institutions have been set up for this, including: European Commission, Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers), European Parliament, European Council, Court of Auditors, Court of Justice, and European Central Bank (Hoskyns and Michael, 2000).
The common interest of the Union is upheld by the European Commission and it acts as the EU's executive. This commission is responsible for the implementation and management of the decisions and common policies of the union, and ensuring that the provisions of EU treaties, regulations, and directives are adhered to by the member states. This commission comprises 27 commissioners from each member state who are appointed through an agreement for a term lasting five years. International representation and negotiations are handled by this commission on behalf of the EU. This commission is also viewed as the primary administrative unit of the EU. On the other hand, the Council of the European Union is a representation of the 27 national governments. Enactment of legislation is carried out by this council following the recommendations of the commission and in most cases must be agreed to by the European parliament. The participants of the meetings of this council comprise ministers from each country, the subject to be discussed dictates which ministers should attend. Whereas some decisions can be made through a complex qualified majority voting system, other sensitive areas such as amendment of EU treaties, or accepting new members must be unanimously agreed on (Hoskyns and Michael, 2000).
The citizens of the EU are represented by the European Parliament whose composition is 736 members who are directly elected to serve for a period of five years. The numbers of seats are proportionately divided among the member states with regard to the size of population. Even though initiation of legislations can not be done by the European Parliament, the legislative power is shared between the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament in a number of policy areas. This shared power gives the European Parliament right to accept, amend, or reject most of the proposed EU legislation in a process referred to as "co-decision." The European Council which is made up of Heads of State or Government of the member states, its President, and the President of the European Commission, have their meetings at least four times per year. The EU policy is guided and driven by this council. The EU laws are interpreted by the Court of Justice and it also makes rulings that are binding, while the Court of Auditors keeps an eye on the financial management of the EU. The last institution which is the European Central Bank has the responsibility of managing the euro and EU monetary policy (Hoskyns and Michael, 2000). These institutions are supported by various advisory committees.
2. What is working well in the EU? What isn't, and why?
The formation of the EU has had some successes including the introduction of the common currency and a central banking system. This has been helpful in bringing up and saving economies that are under certain constraints. This has also created a wider market for the member states and a better bargaining power in both economic and political issues. However, there have been certain challenges such as the opposition of the introduction of the common currency in some countries such as Germany. The weaker economies have also suffered from the introduction of the common currency with their debt burden increasing yearly.
3. Describe the transition to the Euro. Has the common currency been a success? In your answers to 2 and 3, also address the ongoing Euro zone debt crisis.
The introduction of the Euro as the common currency followed a three-stage plan. The first stage was the abolition of all restrictions on capital movement between member states on July 1, 1990. It is at this stage that the issues to be dealt with were identified and a working program to implement the impending changes developed. On January 1, 1994 the European Monetary Institute (EMI) was established marking the second stage in the transition. The responsibility of this institute was the coordination of the monetary policy and strengthening of the cooperation of the central banks. The institution was also to prepare for the establishment of the European System of Central Banks such as the single monetary policy and single currency. The name "euro" for the single currency was voted on in December 1995 at the European Council meeting. On January 1, 1999 the "irrevocably fixed exchange rates" was established marking the last stage. These were fixed exchange rates for the currencies of the 11 member states. Even though the Euro was used as an official currency within these member states, its use was only allowed in transactions that did not involve cash. The Euro coins and banknotes started circulating on January 1, 2002, at this time the member states were 12 Greece having joined in January 2001 (Sear, 2011).
The single currency system has been successful and the recent events have highlighted some of its advantages. The Euro has helped in limiting the effects of the Euro zone debt crisis in a number of ways. First, the Euro prevented the exchange rate and interest rate turbulences among the member states; this turbulence was common during past financial stress. The Euro area also had a stability-oriented macroeconomic framework and this has lowered the inflation and interest rates levels and volatility as well as the fluctuation of outputs. The consolidation of budgetary deficits has made it possible for fiscal policy to stabilize economies during the crisis. The accommodative monetary policy stance that has been adopted since the beginning of the turmoil has eased the conditions in the interbank market. Even though such successes have been recorded they have not been without challenges.
Germany's demographics, culture, and politics
1. Describe the political landscape in Germany. What are the most pressing political issues?
There are five major political parties in Germany including: the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which includes the Christian Social Union (CSU), the CDU's sister party; the Free Democratic Party (FDP); the Social Democratic Party (SDP); the Green Party; and the Left Party (die Linke). The Left Party is the latest entrant into Germany's political landscape. This party was formed from a merger of leftist parties in former East and West Germany in the year 2007. Its membership has a majority of former left SPD members (Nees, 2010). The CDU/CSU lost ground in four state elections that were held early in 2011 which included major setbacks in Hamburg and Baden-Wurttemberg states which have been considered to be key. It is the Green that won in Baden-Wurttemberg thereby giving them the chance of controlling four out of the six Bundesrat (upper house) state allocated seats. After losing its majority in the Bundesrat in 2010, the centre-right ruling coalition of Chancellor Merkle has suffered more by losing votes making it more difficult for the government to advance its legislative agenda in areas where the approval of the states is required.
One of the most pressing political issues is the idea of European integration which has created a gap in the party system of Germany. Whereas the integration is supported by all democratic parties, it is strongly opposed by the two right-wing extremist parties, the German People's Union and the Republicans. Even though the democratic parties have widely agreed one has shown some difference. The Left Party is for the European integration but opposes the Lisbon treaty and the neoliberal tendency of the European Union (which is how they view it).
2. Describe the educational system in Germany and contrast it with that in the U.S.
In the German educational system pupils start from pre-school level known as kindergarten between the age of 3 and 6 years. After this the pupils proceed for primary education in elementary schools which are either state schools or schools privately owned. The state schools do not charge tuition fees. The primary education is completed at the age of 10 years after which pupils proceed for secondary education. In secondary schooling there are four options: Hauptschule which is the least academic up to grade nine; Realschule until grade ten; Gymnasium until grade 12 or 13 and ends with an exam that qualifies…