European Union

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The European Union (EU) is an international organization comprising 27 European countries and governing common economic, social, and security policies.

Originally confined to western Europe, the EU has expanded to include several central and eastern European countries. The EU’s members are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The EU was created by the Maastricht Treaty, which entered into force on November 1, 1993.[1] At present there are three official candidate countries — Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey.[2]

The European Union covers more than 4 million km², less than half the size of the United States, but its population is over 50% larger. In fact, its population is the world’s third largest after China and India,[3] with over 500 million inhabitants.[4]

Currently, 16 of the members of EU are part of the eurozone and share the euro currency.[5]


A brief history of the European Union:[6]

  • The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was established with the Treaty of Paris of 18 April 1951. This put in place a common market in coal and steel between the six founding countries (Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands). The aim, in the aftermath of World War Two, was to secure peace between Europe’s victorious and vanquished nations and bring them together as equals, cooperating within shared institutions.
  • The members then decided, on 25 March 1957 with the Treaty of Rome, to build a European Economic Community (EEC) based on a wider common market covering a whole range of goods and services. Customs duties between the six countries were completely abolished on 1 July 1968 and common policies, notably on trade and agriculture, were also put in place during the 1960s.
  • The first enlargement (with Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom) took place in 1973. At the same time, new social and environmental policies were implemented, and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) was established in 1975.
  • In June 1979 were the first elections to the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage. These elections are held every five years. In 1981, Greece joined the Community, followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986.
  • The worldwide economic recession in the early 1980s brought with it a wave of 'euro-pessimism'. A timetable for completing the European single market by 1 January 1993 was designed. This goal was enshrined in the Single European Act, which was signed in February 1986 and came into force on 1 July 1987.
  • The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 led to the unification of Germany in October 1990 and breaking away from Soviet control by the countries of central and eastern Europe. The Soviet Union itself ceased to exist in December 1991.
  • At the same time, the member states were negotiating the new Treaty on European Union, which was adopted by the European Council, composed of presidents and/or prime ministers, at Maastricht in December 1991. The Treaty came into force on 1 November 1993. By adding areas of intergovernmental cooperation to existing integrated Community structures, the Treaty created the European Union (EU).
  • Three more countries — Austria, Finland and Sweden — joined the EU on 1 January 1995.
  • The euro was introduced for financial (non-cash) transactions in 1999, while notes and coins were issued three years later in the 12 countries of the euro area (also commonly referred to as the euro zone). The euro is now a major world currency for payments and reserves alongside the US dollar.
  • In March 2000, the EU adopted the 'Lisbon strategy' for modernising the European economy and enabling it to compete on the world market with other major players such as the United States and the newly industrialised countries.
  • In 2004, 10 of the candidate countries (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) joined the EU. Bulgaria and Romania followed on 1 January 2007.


  1. European Union (EU). (2010). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 02, 2010, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: [1].
  2. The European Commission. "EUROPA - Key facts and figures about Europe and the Europeans - The candidate countries ", referenced 2010-12-02.
  3. The European Commission. "EUROPA - Key facts and figures about Europe and the Europeans - Size and population", referenced 2010-12-02.
  4. "First demographic estimates for 2009". 11 December 2009. Retrieved 2 December 2010. 
  5. European Commission. "The euro", Economic and Financial Affairs, referenced 2010-09-29.
  6. "Ten historic steps" and "Key dates in the history of European integration", from the Communication department of the European Commission. Referenced 2010-12-13.

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