The European Union, or “EU”, is certainly one of the most well-known multi-country organizations in the world. While there are often complaints from individual members with regard to specific policies and incidents, for the most part, the EU is held up as one of the most successful cross-border associations in the world. While it has no official capital, all major seats and offices are located in Brussels, Belgium. So, just what is the European Union exactly?
What Is the European Union?
The European Union is a broad scope body that unifies its 28 members economically and financially. With the exception of certain safety and criminal checks, it allows for the free movement of goods, services, and labor within its boundaries. A few of the sectors that have benefited most from the formation of the EU are research and development, technology, energy, and environmental protection. One of the key mandates is that any product manufactured by an EU member can be sold to another member with no duties or tariffs. Among the products and services that have seen dramatic price decreases as a result of free trade are airfares, internet, and phone plans.
Most members of the EU share a common currency, the “euro”, which is recognized internationally just like any other national currency, although several EU members have retained their own currency. This is just one of many complications the EU has faced in attempting to coordinate so many diverse, independent nations.
Think you can name all the EU members?
The European Union’s stated goals and mandates include the promotion of peace, freedom, development, technological progress, and solidarity. It aims to protect the values of democracy, equality, inclusion, and human rights.
History of the European Union
The idea of a unified European economy started way back in 1951 when the European Coal and Steel Community was established between France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. A common market was put in place in 1957, and standard policies were implemented, then customs duties were eliminated in 1968. The UK, Ireland, and Denmark joined in 1973. The first parliament took place in 1979, followed by the additions of Greece (1981) and Spain and Portugal (1986). The 1993 Maastricht Treaty established the common market European Union as we know it today. In 1995, Sweden, Finland, and Austria joined and then, in 2004, the floodgates opened and 12 more countries joined the fray.
The Treaty of Lisbon in 2009 significantly expanded the powers of the European Parliament, giving them the authority to negotiate international treaties as well as much broader control over immigration, judicial matters, and integration of law enforcement.
Structure of the EU
There are three main bodies that make up the European Union.
Responsible for setting policy and proposing new legislation, the Council is run by a President who changes every six months.
Members are elected to 5-year terms and they are tasked with debating and approving laws that are put forward by the Council.
This is where things actually begin to take place, as the Commission is charged with implementing the laws and legislation that have been proposed and passed by the Council and Parliament.
Want to learn more interesting facts about Europe?
List of EU Members
There are 27 full members of the European Union:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.
Following their Brexit referendum, the United Kingdom left the EU in 2020. Despite this, the EU as an organization continues to promote increased cooperation and the further removal of barriers to the movement of products and labor.
Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein are not in the EU but are part of the slightly larger EEA (European Economic Area) which includes the regular 27 members plus these three for purposes of trade. Switzerland is not part of either of these organizations but yet still enjoys access the to EU single-market system. Then there is the Schengen Area, which is another separate organization that includes 4 non-EU countries and 3 more territories, but does not include one EU member, Ireland, that has opted out. Simple, right?