The Flemish master Pieter Bruegel the elder has well illustrated the lack of interest of people for a historic event that takes place under their very eyes. In his 1564 painting "The Procession to Calvary", he depicted the Messiah as a small figure sinking down under the cross on his way up the Golgotha. No one of the crowd of Roman soldiers and ordinary people around Him pays any attention to His Martyrdom. They are all looking at a couple of peasants struggling with three soldiers in the forefront of the picture. This everyday brawl is the centre of attention of the crowd and not the event that has changed the course of history. One can hardly blame these people who, at the time of the Crucifixion, were going about their business and were attracted by a boisterous albeit banal happening. As demonstrated by Bruegel, they had not the hindsight that we now have about the importance of the event that they were witnessing.
Likewise, the majority of contemporary Europeans have no notion that they are witnessing an experience that will most probably change again the history of mankind. This history is marked by wars and all kinds of fights between ethnic, religious and other groups, fights for power, for land, for ideals (real or supposed) or just for the survival of a nation or a group attacked by other nations or groups. The extraordinary event that takes place under our eyes is the sixty-year old experience of peaceful and voluntary unification of different and formerly conflicting nations. The European experience is unique by virtue of its objective of establishing the basis for an increasingly closer union between formerly hostile nations. It is also unique because of its institutions, which have no equal in other international organisations. Lastly, it is unique on account of its achievements: never in human history have different nations cooperated so closely with one another, implemented so many common policies or, in such a short space of time, harmonised ways of life and economic situations which differed so greatly at the outset.
Yet this unique experiment is hardly exciting. It is hidden behind tedious negotiations by complicated institutions using a peculiar jargon incomprehensible to ordinary citizens. Curiously enough it is not the lack but the abundance of information that clouds the European horizon. Information about the work of European institutions is abundant and freely available to citizens for the asking, particularly in electronic form [see section 10.1.1]. The problem is that the great majority of citizens do not and never will go asking for information about an experiment that they consider as extremely complex and distant from their everyday problems and interests. On their part, many European mass media report on a daily basis new European policies, laws, programmes and internal and external disputes. Yet, these media accounts are for most citizens like the leaves of a tree, which hide the forest that is stretching out behind. Leaves, like the daily news are ephemeral and unexciting, not worthy of particular attention. On the other hand, the dense forest of European institutions, policies and laws, which produces the political and economic oxygen necessary for the blossoming of small and medium European nations, is obscure and terrifying, if there is no roadmap showing the way through it.
Europedia and the publication on which it is based, Access to European Union, attempt to provide the reader with an overall view and the perspective necessary for understanding the complex organisation, which is the European Community/Union (EC/EU). The emphasis of the book and of Europedia is placed on the common policies developed by the EC/EU. Indeed, an approach to multinational integration is advanced, based on the setting up and development of common policies by the participating states [see section 1.1.2]. This approach is based on the empirical evidence of the European Union, but may also be applied mutatis mutandis to other multinational integration schemes elsewhere in the world.
To help the user find easily the details of any policy or measure he or she is interested in and/or deduce in an unprejudiced way whether a certain policy is good or bad or whether it has achieved the objectives assigned to it, facts and references are presented in a precise, almost scholastic, manner. All statements about past, present and future developments of common policies as well as all references to European law are based on official EU texts, published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJ) or in European Commission publications, such as the monthly Europa EU News and the annual General Report on the Activities of the European Union. In addition to their documentary purpose, the references to the OJ are also meant to help researchers find the official texts of their particular interest, as published in the collections of the OJ or in the electronic database EUR-Lex in the Europa gateway to the EU.
While the book Access to European Union offers a global view of the policies of the EU and a comprehensive textbook for educational purposes, the electronic version is divided in many sections and subsections, that make its reading less straightforward, but has many facilities that the paper version cannot provide, in particular:
· by typing in the ''search'' box of Europedia the number or the name of an act or document or the acronym of an institution or programme, a researcher can instantly find in Europedia all mentions of the subject of his or her interest inside the maze of European legislation and policies;
· by clicking on the hyperlinks of Europedia, the user can immediately accede to the subjects of his or her interest in the websites of the European Commission or of other European and international organisations;
· the user can, moreover, through the hyperlinks to the EUR-Lex database, directly download a legislative act and its most recent amendment or often a version consolidating the original act and its many subsequent amendments.