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European Union

The European Union is a geo-political entity covering a large portion of the European continent. It is a political and economic union of 28 member states that are located primarily in Europe.

Its members have a combined area of 4,475,757 km2 (1,728,099 sq mi) and an estimated total population of about 513 million.

The EU has developed an internal single market through a standardised system of laws that apply in all member states in those matters, and only those matters, where members have agreed to act as one. EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within the internal market, enact legislation in justice and home affairs and maintain common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. For travel within the Schengen Area, passport controls have been abolished. A monetary union was established in 1999 and came into full force in 2002 and is composed of 19 EU member states which use the euro currency.

The EU and European citizenship were established when the Maastricht Treaty came into force in 1993. The EU traces its origins to the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC), established, respectively, by the 1951 Treaty of Paris and 1957 Treaty of Rome.

The original members of what came to be known as the European Communities were the Inner Six: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany. The Communities and their successors have grown in size by the accession of new member states and in power by the addition of policy areas to their remit. The latest major amendment to the constitutional basis of the EU, the Treaty of Lisbon, came into force in 2009. No member state has left the EU or its antecedent organisations (Greenland, an autonomous territory within Denmark, left the Communities in 1985). However, the United Kingdom signified its intention to leave after a membership referendum in June 2016 and is negotiating its withdrawal. The United Kingdom and its independent territories are scheduled to leave the European Union on 31 October 2019.

Containing 7.3% of the world population, the EU in 2017 generated a nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of 19.670 trillion US dollars, constituting approximately 24.6% of global nominal GDP. Additionally, all 28 EU countries have a very high Human Development Index, according to the United Nations Development Programme.

In 2012, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Through the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the EU has developed a role in external relations and defence. The union maintains permanent diplomatic missions throughout the world and represents itself at the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the G7 and the G20. Because of its global influence, the European Union was described in 2006 as an emerging superpower.

To join the EU a country must meet the Copenhagen criteria, defined at the 1993 Copenhagen European Council.

There are five official candidate countries, Croatia, Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro and Turkey. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia are officially recognised as potential candidates. Kosovo is also listed as a potential candidate but the European Commission does not list it as an independent country because not all member states recognise it as an independent country separate from Serbia.

Four Western European countries that are not EU members have partly committed to the EU's economy and regulations: Iceland (a candidate country for EU membership), Liechtenstein and Norway, which are a part of the single market through the European Economic Area, and Switzerland, which has similar ties through bilateral treaties. The relationships of the European microstates, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican include the use of the euro and other areas of cooperation.

The European Union Symbols

The European flag : The 12 stars in a circle symbolise the ideals of unity, solidarity and harmony among the peoples of Europe.

The European anthem: The melody used to symbolise the EU comes from the Ninth Symphony composed in 1823 by Ludwig Van Beethoven.

The Europe Day: The ideas behind the European Union were first put forward on 9 May 1950 by French foreign minister Robert Schuman. This is why 9 May is celebrated as a key date for the EU.

The EU motto: "United in diversity" is the motto of the European Union. It signifies how Europeans have come together, in the form of the EU, to work for peace and prosperity, while at the same time being enriched by the continent's many different cultures, traditions and languages.


3 intermediate objectives – milestones towards this goal:
  • Effective application of EU rules on worker protection and equality
    Promoting better standards of inspection, monitoring and enforcement by EU countries and reviewing how EU legislation has been applied
  • Shared understanding and ownership of EU objectives
    EU countries have agreed to common guidelines and goals to inform, coordinate and strengthen national-level reforms
  • Effective partnerships
    Involving stakeholders throughout the policy process: problem definition, information gathering, consultation, development of options, decision-making, implementation and evaluation
5 immediate objectives – met throughout the process:
  • Effective information sharing and learning
    EU and national policy- and decision-makers and stakeholders together identify best practice, and assessment tools to help improve policy-making, implementation processes and outcomes
  • Evidence-based EU policies and legislation
    Providing high-quality comparative policy research and analysis, collecting information that is relevant, credible and accurate in the interest of stakeholders
  • Integration of cross-cutting issues and consistency
    Incorporating gender equality into all policy sections and activities and collecting data on gender participation when relevant
  • Greater capacity of national and EU networks
    Investing in the capacity of national and EU networks to participate in and influence decision-making and policy implementation at EU and national level.
  • High-quality and participatory policy debate
    Ensuring there is productive debate at EU and national levels on law, policies and objectives, including all those affected
The European Union has seven institutions
  • The European Parliament
  • The Council of the European Union
  • The European Commission
  • The European Council
  • The European Central Bank
  • The Court of Justice of the European Union and
  • The European Court of Auditors

The monetary policy of the eurozone is governed by the European Central Bank.

The interpretation and the application of EU law and the treaties are ensured by the Court of Justice of the European Union.


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