"United in Diversity"
|Anthem: "Anthem of Europe"|
|Capital||Brussels (de facto)|
|Government||Mixed intergovernmental parliamentary confederation|
|Ursula von der Leyen|
|Legislature||The European Parliament and the Council|
|Council of the European Union|
|17 March 1948|
|18 April 1951|
|1 January 1958|
|1 July 1987|
|1 November 1993|
|1 December 2009|
|Time zone||UTC to UTC+2 (WET, CET, EET)|
• Summer (DST)
|UTC+1 to UTC+3 (WEST, CEST, EEST)|
|(see also Summer time in Europe)[a]|
The European Union (EU) is a supranational political and economic union of 27 member states that are located primarily in Europe. The union has a total area of 4,233,255.3 km2 (1,634,469.0 sq mi) and an estimated total population of nearly 447 million. The EU has often been described as a sui generis political entity (without precedent or comparison) combining the characteristics of both a federation and a confederation.
Containing 5.8 per cent of the
The union was established along with
After the creation by six states, 22 other states joined the union in 1973–2013. The United Kingdom became the only member state to leave the EU in 2020; ten countries are aspiring or negotiating to join it.
Towards the end of World War II, the Three Allied Powers discussed during the Tehran Conference and the ensuing 1943 Moscow Conference the plans to establish joint institutions. This led to a decision at the Yalta Conference in 1944 to include Free France as the Fourth Allied Power and to form a European Advisory Commission, later replaced by the Council of Foreign Ministers and the Allied Control Council, following the German surrender and the Potsdam Agreement in 1945.
The growing rift among the Four Powers became evident as a result of the rigged
Initial years and the Paris Treaty (1948–1957)
The year 1948 marked the beginning of the institutionalised modern
Treaty of Rome (1958–1972)
In 1957, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany signed the
First enlargement, and European co-operation (1973–1993)
In 1973, the communities were enlarged to include Denmark (including Greenland), Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Norway had negotiated to join at the same time, but Norwegian voters rejected membership in a referendum. The Ostpolitik and the ensuing détente led to establishment of a first truly pan-European body, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), predecessor of the modern Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). In 1979, the first direct elections to the European Parliament were held. Greece joined in 1981. In 1985, Greenland left the Communities, following a dispute over fishing rights. During the same year, the Schengen Agreement paved the way for the creation of open borders without passport controls between most member states and some non-member states. In 1986, the European flag began to be used by the EEC and the Single European Act was signed. Portugal and Spain joined in 1986. In 1990, after the fall of the Eastern Bloc, the former East Germany became part of the communities as part of a reunified Germany.
Treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice (1993–2004)
The European Union was formally established when the
In 2002, euro banknotes and coins replaced national currencies in 12 of the member states. Since then, the eurozone has increased to encompass 19 countries. The euro currency became the second-largest reserve currency in the world. In 2004, the EU saw its biggest enlargement to date when Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia joined the union.
Treaty of Lisbon, and Brexit (2004–present)
In 2007, Bulgaria and Romania became EU members. Later that year, Slovenia adopted the euro, followed by Cyprus and Malta in 2008, Slovakia in 2009, Estonia in 2011, Latvia in 2014, and Lithuania in 2015.
On 1 December 2009, the
In 2012, the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize for having "contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe". In 2013, Croatia became the 28th EU member.
From the beginning of the 2010s, the cohesion of the European Union has been tested by several issues, including
Since the end of World War II, sovereign European countries have entered into treaties and thereby co-operated and harmonised policies (or pooled sovereignty) in an increasing number of areas, in the European integration project or the construction of Europe (French: la construction européenne). The following timeline outlines the legal inception of the European Union (EU)—the principal framework for this unification. The EU inherited many of its present responsibilities from the European Communities (EC), which were founded in the 1950s in the spirit of the Schuman Declaration.
F: entry into force
de facto supersession
Rel. w/ EC/EU framework:
de facto inside
|European Union (EU)||[Cont.]|
|European Communities (EC)||
European Atomic Energy Community(EAEC or Euratom)
|/ / / European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC)|
|European Economic Community (EEC)|
|Schengen Rules||European Community (EC)|
|[Defence arm handed to NATO]||European Political Co-operation (EPC)|
|Western Union (WU)||/ Western European Union (WEU)||[Tasks defined following the WEU's 1984 reactivation handed to the EU]|
|[Social, cultural tasks handed to CoE]||[Cont.]|
|Council of Europe (CoE)|
- Although not EU treaties per se, these treaties affected the development of the EU defence arm, a main part of the CFSP. The Franco-British alliance established by the Dunkirk Treaty was de facto superseded by WU. The CFSP pillar was bolstered by some of the security structures that had been established within the remit of the 1955 Modified Brussels Treaty (MBT). The Brussels Treaty was terminated in 2011, consequently dissolving the WEU, as the mutual defence clause that the Lisbon Treaty provided for EU was considered to render the WEU superfluous. The EU thus de facto superseded the WEU.
- The European Communities obtained common institutions and a shared legal personality (i.e. ability to e.g. sign treaties in their own right).
- The treaties of Maastricht and Rome form the EU's legal basis, and are also referred to as the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), respectively. They are amended by secondary treaties.
- Between the EU's founding in 1993 and consolidation in 2009, the union consisted of three pillars, the first of which were the European Communities. The other two pillars consisted of additional areas of cooperation that had been added to the EU's remit.
The European Union operates through a hybrid system of supranational and intergovernmental decision-making, and according to the principles of conferral (which says that it should act only within the limits of the competences conferred on it by the treaties) and of subsidiarity (which says that it should act only where an objective cannot be sufficiently achieved by the member states acting alone). Laws made by the EU institutions are passed in a variety of forms. Generally speaking, they can be classified into two groups: those which come into force without the necessity for national implementation measures (regulations) and those which specifically require national implementation measures (directives).[d]
EU policy is in general promulgated by EU directives, which are then implemented in the domestic legislation of its member states, and EU regulations, which are immediately enforceable in all member states. Lobbying at EU level by special interest groups is regulated to try to balance the aspirations of private initiatives with public interest decision-making process.
The European Union had an agreed budget of €120.7 billion for the year 2007 and €864.3 billion for the period 2007–2013, representing 1.10 per cent and 1.05 per cent of the EU-27's GNI forecast for the respective periods. In 1960, the budget of the European Community was 0.03 per cent of GDP.
In the 2010 budget of €141.5 billion, the largest single expenditure item was "cohesion & competitiveness" with around 45 per cent of the total budget. Next was "agriculture" with approximately 31 per cent of the total. "Rural development, environment and fisheries" takes up around 11 per cent. "Administration" accounts for around 6 per cent. The "EU as a global partner" and "citizenship, freedom, security and justice" had approximately 6 per cent and 1 per cent respectively.
In November 2020, two members of the union, Hungary and Poland, blocked approval to the EU's budget at a meeting in the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper), citing a proposal that linked funding with adherence to the rule of law. The budget included a COVID-19 recovery fund of €750 billion. The budget may still be approved if Hungary and Poland withdraw their vetoes after further negotiations in the council and the European Council.
Bodies combatting fraud have also been established, including the
Member states retain in principle all powers not conferred by them on the European Union, though the exact delimitation has on many occasions become a subject of scholarly or legal disputes. Inspired by the famous Commerce Clause and the huge impact that its interpretation and mode of application by the Supreme Court of the United States had on shaping the American federal government, the Court of Justice of the European Union has sometimes managed to expand through its case law the powers of the EU, including those related to areas other than only the ones explicitly conferred on it in the founding treaties.
In certain fields the EU has been awarded exclusive competence and
The European Union has seven principal decision-making bodies, its institutions: the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the European Court of Auditors. Competence in scrutinising and amending legislation is shared between the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament, while executive tasks are performed by the European Commission and in a limited capacity by the European Council (not to be confused with the aforementioned Council of the European Union). The monetary policy of the eurozone is determined 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. The EU budget is scrutinised by the European Court of Auditors. There are also a number of ancillary bodies which advise the EU or operate in a specific area.
Branches of power
The European Council sets the broad political direction to the EU. It convenes at least four times a year and comprises the president of the European Council (presently Charles Michel), the president of the European Commission and one representative per member state (either its head of state or head of government). The high representative of the union for foreign affairs and security policy (presently Josep Borrell) also takes part in its meetings. Described by some as the union's "supreme political leadership", it is actively involved in the negotiation of treaty changes and defines the EU's policy agenda and strategies. Its leadership role involves solving disputes between member states and the institutions, and to resolving any political crises or disagreements over controversial issues and policies. It acts as a "collective head of state" and ratifies important documents (for example, international agreements and treaties). Tasks for the president of the European Council are ensuring the external representation of the EU, driving consensus and resolving divergences among member states, both during meetings of the European Council and over the periods between them. The European Council should not be mistaken for the Council of Europe, an international organisation independent of the EU and based in Strasbourg.
The European Commission acts both as the EU's executive arm, responsible for the day-to-day running of the EU, and also the legislative initiator, with the sole power to propose laws for debate. The commission is 'guardian of the Treaties' and is responsible for their efficient operation and policing. It has 27 European commissioners for different areas of policy, one from each member state, though commissioners are bound to represent the interests of the EU as a whole rather than their home state. The leader of the 27 is the president of the European Commission (presently Ursula von der Leyen for 2019–2024), proposed by the European Council, following and taking into account the result of the European elections, and is then elected by the European Parliament. The President retains, as the leader responsible for the entire cabinet, the final say in accepting or rejecting a candidate submitted for a given portfolio by a member state, and oversees the commission's permanent civil service. After the President, the most prominent commissioner is the high representative of the union for foreign affairs and security policy, who is ex-officio a vice-president of the European Commission and is also chosen by the European Council. The other 26 commissioners are subsequently appointed by the Council of the European Union in agreement with the nominated president. The 27 commissioners as a single body are subject to approval (or otherwise) by vote of the European Parliament. All commissioners are first nominated by the government of the respective member state.
The Council of the European Union (also called the Council and the "Council of Ministers", its former title) forms one half of the EU's legislature. It consists of a representative from each member state's government and meets in different compositions depending on the policy area being addressed. Notwithstanding its different configurations, it is considered to be one single body. In addition to the legislative functions, members of the council also have executive responsibilities, such as the development of a Common Foreign and Security Policy and the coordination of broad economic policies within the Union. The Presidency of the council rotates between member states, with each holding it for six months. Beginning on 1 July 2022, the position is held by the Czech Republic.
The European Parliament is one of three
The European Court of Auditors (ECA) is the auditory branch of the European Union. It was established in 1975 in Luxembourg in order to improve EU financial management. It has 27 members (1 from each EU member-state) supported by approximately 800 civil servants. The European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) is the civil service branch of the European Union, and is responsible for selecting staff to work for the institutions and agencies of the European Union including the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, the European Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, the European External Action Service, the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Ombudsman. Each institution is then able to recruit staff from among the pool of candidates selected by EPSO. On average, EPSO receives around 60,000-70,000 applications a year with around 1,500-2,000 candidates recruited by the European Union institutions. The European Ombudsman is the ombudsman branch of the European Union that holds the institutions, bodies and agencies of the EU to account, and promotes good administration. The Ombudsman helps people, businesses and organisations facing problems with the EU administration by investigating complaints, as well as by proactively looking into broader systemic issues. The current Ombudsman is Emily O'Reilly. The European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) is the prosecutory branch of the European Union with juridical personality, established under the Treaty of Lisbon between 22 of the 27 states of the EU following the method of enhanced cooperation. It is based in Kirchberg, Luxembourg City alongside the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Auditors.
Constitutionally, the EU bears some resemblance to both a
Under the principle of
The European Union is based on a series of
The main legal acts of the European Union come in three forms:
Foreign policy co-operation between member states dates from the establishment of the community in 1957, when member states negotiated as a bloc in international trade negotiations under the
The aims of the CFSP are to promote both the EU's own interests and those of the international community as a whole, including the furtherance of international co-operation, respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. The CFSP requires unanimity among the member states on the appropriate policy to follow on any particular issue. The unanimity and difficult issues treated under the CFSP sometimes lead to disagreements, such as those which occurred over the war in Iraq.
The coordinator and representative of the CFSP within the EU is the high representative of the union for foreign affairs and security policy who speaks on behalf of the EU in foreign policy and defence matters, and has the task of articulating the positions expressed by the member states on these fields of policy into a common alignment. The high representative heads up the European External Action Service (EEAS), a unique EU department that has been officially implemented and operational since 1 December 2010 on the occasion of the first anniversary of the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. The EEAS will serve as a foreign ministry and diplomatic corps for the European Union.
Besides the emerging international policy of the European Union, the international influence of the EU is also felt through enlargement. The perceived benefits of becoming a member of the EU act as an incentive for both political and economic reform in states wishing to fulfil the EU's accession criteria, and are considered an important factor contributing to the reform of European formerly Communist countries.: 762 This influence on the internal affairs of other countries is generally referred to as "soft power", as opposed to military "hard power".
Humanitarian aid is financed directly by the budget (70 per cent) as part of the financial instruments for external action and also by the
In 2016, the average among EU countries was 0.4 per cent and five had met or exceeded the 0.7 per cent target: Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
International cooperation and development partnerships
The European Union uses foreign relations instruments like the European Neighbourhood Policy which seeks to tie those countries to the east and south of the European territory of the EU to the union. These countries, primarily developing countries, include some who seek to one day become either a member state of the European Union, or more closely integrated with the European Union. The EU offers financial assistance to countries within the European Neighbourhood, so long as they meet the strict conditions of government reform, economic reform and other issues surrounding positive transformation. This process is normally underpinned by an Action Plan, as agreed by both Brussels and the target country.
There is also the worldwide European Union Global Strategy. International recognition of sustainable development as a key element is growing steadily. Its role was recognised in three major UN summits on sustainable development: the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa; and the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in Rio de Janeiro. Other key global agreements are the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations, 2015). The SDGs recognise that all countries must stimulate action in the following key areas – people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership – in order to tackle the global challenges that are crucial for the survival of humanity.
EU development action is based on the European Consensus on Development, which was endorsed on 20 December 2005 by EU Member States, the council, the European Parliament and the commission. It is applied from the principles of Capability approach and Rights-based approach to development. Funding is provided by the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance and the Global Europe programmes.
Partnership and cooperation agreements are bilateral agreements with non-member nations.
The predecessors of the European Union were not devised as a military alliance because
Since the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, France is the only member officially recognised as a nuclear weapon state and the sole holder of a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. France and Italy are also the only EU countries that have power projection capabilities outside of Europe. Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium participate in NATO nuclear sharing. Most EU member states opposed the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty.
The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (
To become a member, a country must meet the Copenhagen criteria, defined at the 1993 meeting of the European Council in Copenhagen. These require a stable democracy that respects human rights and the rule of law; a functioning market economy; and the acceptance of the obligations of membership, including EU law. Evaluation of a country's fulfilment of the criteria is the responsibility of the European Council.
The four countries forming the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) are not EU members, but have partly committed to the EU's economy and regulations: Iceland, 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 Vatican City include the use of the euro and other areas of co-operation.
|Austria||1 January 1995||8,932,664||83,855 km2
(32,377 sq mi)
(11,787 sq mi)
|Bulgaria||1 January 2007||6,916,548||110,994 km2
(42,855 sq mi)
|Croatia||1 July 2013||4,036,355||56,594 km2
(21,851 sq mi)
|Cyprus||1 May 2004||896,005||9,251 km2
(3,572 sq mi)
|Czech Republic||1 May 2004||10,701,777||78,866 km2
(30,450 sq mi)
|Denmark||1 January 1973||5,840,045||43,075 km2
(16,631 sq mi)
|Estonia||1 May 2004||1,330,068||45,227 km2
(17,462 sq mi)
|Finland||1 January 1995||5,533,793||338,424 km2
(130,666 sq mi)
(247,368 sq mi)
(137,847 sq mi)
|Greece||1 January 1981||10,682,547||131,990 km2
(50,960 sq mi)
|Hungary||1 May 2004||9,730,772||93,030 km2
(35,920 sq mi)
|Ireland||1 January 1973||5,006,907||70,273 km2
(27,133 sq mi)
(116,347 sq mi)
|Latvia||1 May 2004||1,893,223||64,589 km2
(24,938 sq mi)
|Lithuania||1 May 2004||2,795,680||65,200 km2
(25,200 sq mi)
(998 sq mi)
|Malta||1 May 2004||516,100||316 km2
(122 sq mi)
(16,040 sq mi)
|Poland||1 May 2004||37,840,001||312,685 km2
(120,728 sq mi)
|Portugal||1 January 1986||10,298,252||92,390 km2
(35,670 sq mi)
|Romania||1 January 2007||19,186,201||238,391 km2
(92,043 sq mi)
|Slovakia||1 May 2004||5,459,781||49,035 km2
(18,933 sq mi)
|Slovenia||1 May 2004||2,108,977||20,273 km2
(7,827 sq mi)
|Spain||1 January 1986||47,394,223||504,030 km2
(194,610 sq mi)
|Sweden||1 January 1995||10,379,295||449,964 km2
(173,732 sq mi)
|27 total||447,007,596||4,233,262 km2
(1,634,472 sq mi)
The Schengen Area is an area comprising 27 European countries that have officially abolished all passport and all other types of
There are eight countries that are recognised as
The EU's member states cover an area of 4,233,262 square kilometres (1,634,472 sq mi).
Including the overseas territories of France which are located outside the continent of Europe, but which are members of the union, the EU experiences most types of climate from Arctic (north-east Europe) to tropical (French Guiana), rendering meteorological averages for the EU as a whole meaningless. The majority of the population lives in areas with a temperate maritime climate (North-Western Europe and Central Europe), a Mediterranean climate (Southern Europe), or a warm summer continental or hemiboreal climate (Central Europe and Southeastern Europe).
The climate of the European Union is of a
In 1957, when the European Economic Community was founded, it had no environmental policy. Over the past 50 years, an increasingly dense network of legislation has been created, extending to all areas of environmental protection, including air pollution, water quality, waste management, nature conservation, and the control of chemicals, industrial hazards, and biotechnology. According to the Institute for European Environmental Policy, environmental law comprises over 500 Directives, Regulations and Decisions, making environmental policy a core area of European politics.
European policy-makers originally increased the EU's capacity to act on environmental issues by defining it as a trade problem. Trade barriers and competitive distortions in the Common Market could emerge due to the different environmental standards in each member state. In subsequent years, the environment became a formal policy area, with its own policy actors, principles and procedures. The legal basis for EU environmental policy was established with the introduction of the Single European Act in 1987.
Initially, EU environmental policy focused on Europe. More recently, the EU has demonstrated leadership in global environmental governance, e.g. the role of the EU in securing the ratification and coming into force of the Kyoto Protocol despite opposition from the United States. This international dimension is reflected in the EU's Sixth Environmental Action Programme, which recognises that its objectives can only be achieved if key international agreements are actively supported and properly implemented both at EU level and worldwide. The Lisbon Treaty further strengthened the leadership ambitions. EU law has played a significant role in improving habitat and species protection in Europe, as well as contributing to improvements in air and water quality and waste management.
The EU has adopted an
EU member states own the estimated third largest after the United States (US$146 trillion) and China (US$85 trillion)
Economic and monetary union
The creation of a
Capital Markets Union and financial institutions
Free movement of capital is intended to permit movement of investments such as property purchases and buying of shares between countries. Until the drive towards economic and monetary union the development of the capital provisions had been slow. Post-Maastricht there has been a rapidly developing corpus of ECJ judgements regarding this initially neglected freedom. The free movement of capital is unique insofar as it is granted equally to non-member states.
The European System of Financial Supervision is an institutional architecture of the EU's framework of financial supervision composed by three authorities: the European Banking Authority, the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority and the European Securities and Markets Authority. To complement this framework, there is also a European Systemic Risk Board under the responsibility of the central bank. The aim of this financial control system is to ensure the economic stability of the EU.
Eurozone and banking union
In 1999, the currency union started to materialise through introducing a common accounting (virtual) currency in eleven of the member states. In 2002, it was turned into a fully-fledged conventible currency, when euro notes and coins were issued, while the phaseout of national currencies in the eurozone (consisting by then of 12 member states) was initiated. The eurozone (constituted by the EU member states which have adopted the euro) has since grown to 20 countries.
The 20 EU member states known collectively as the eurozone have fully implemented the currency union by superseding their national currencies with the euro. The currency union represents 345 million EU citizens. The euro is the second largest reserve currency as well as the second most traded currency in the world after the United States dollar.
The euro, and the monetary policies of those who have adopted it in agreement with the EU, are under the control of the ECB.
As a political entity, the European Union is represented in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Two of the original core objectives of the European Economic Community were the development of a common market, subsequently becoming a single market, and a customs union between its member states.