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European Union


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After World War II, moves towards European integration were seen by many as an escape from the extreme forms of nationalism that had devastated the continent. The 1948 Hague Congress was a pivotal moment in European federal history. In 1957, the six countries signed the Treaty of Rome, which extended the earlier co-operation within the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and created the European Economic Community (EEC), establishing a customs union.
The introduction of the euro in 2002 replaced several national currencies.

The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of 28 member states that are located primarily in Europe. The EU operates through a system of supranational independent institutions and intergovernmental negotiated decisions by the member states. Institutions of the EU include the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, the European Council, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank, the Court of Auditors, and the European Parliament. The European Parliament is elected every five years by EU citizens. The EU's de facto capital is Brussels.

The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC), formed by the Inner Six countries in 1951 and 1958, respectively. In the intervening years the community and its successors have grown in size by the accession of new member states and in power by the addition of policy areas to its remit. The Maastricht Treaty established the European Union under its current name in 1993. The latest major amendment to the constitutional basis of the EU, the Treaty of Lisbon, came into force in 2009.

The EU has developed a single market through a standardised system of laws that apply in all member states. Within the Schengen Area (which includes 22 EU and 4 non-EU states) passport controls have been abolished. EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital, enact legislation in justice and home affairs, and maintain common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries, and regional development.

The eurozone, a monetary union, was established in 1999 and came into full force in 2002. It is currently composed of 18 member states. Through the Common Foreign and Security Policy the EU has developed a role in external relations and defence. Permanent diplomatic missions have been established around the world. The EU is represented at the United Nations, the WTO (World Trade Organization), the G8, and the G-20.

With a combined population of over 500 million inhabitants, or 7.3% of the world population, the EU in 2012 generated a nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of 16.584 trillion US dollars, constituting approximately 23% of global nominal GDP and 20% when measured in terms of purchasing power parity, which is the largest nominal GDP and GDP PPP in the world. The EU was the recipient of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.

After World War II, moves towards European integration were seen by many as an escape from the extreme forms of nationalism that had devastated the continent. The 1948 Hague Congress was a pivotal moment in European federal history.

In 1957, the six countries signed the Treaty of Rome, which extended the earlier co-operation within the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and created the European Economic Community (EEC), establishing a customs union.

Denmark joined in 1973, Greece joined in 1981; Portugal and Spain in 1986.

In 1979, the first direct, democratic elections to the European Parliament were held.

In 1990, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the former East Germany became part of the Community as part of a reunited Germany.

The European Union was formally established when the Maastricht Treaty—whose main architects were Helmut Kohl (Chancellor of Germany) and François Mitterrand (President of France)—came into force on 1 November 1993.

On 1 January 2007, Romania and Bulgaria became EU members. On 1 July 2013, Croatia became the 28th EU member.

On 1 December 2009, the Lisbon Treaty entered into force and reformed many aspects of the EU. In particular, it changed the legal structure of the European Union, merging the EU three pillars system into a single legal entity provisioned with a legal personality, created a permanent President of the European Council, the first of which was Herman Van Rompuy, and strengthened the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton.

The Union's membership has grown from the original six founding states—Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands—to the present-day 28 by successive enlargements as countries acceded to the treaties and by doing so, pooled their sovereignty in exchange for representation in the institutions.

The European Union comprises 28 sovereign member states:

To join the EU, a country must meet the Copenhagen criteria, defined at the 1993 Copenhagen European Council. These require a stable democracy that respects human rights and the rule of law; a functioning market economy capable of competition within the EU; 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.

No member state has ever left the Union, although Greenland (an autonomous province of Denmark) withdrew in 1985. The Lisbon Treaty now provides a clause dealing with how a member leaves the EU.

The classification of the European Union in terms of international or constitutional law has been much debated, often in the light of the degree of integration that is perceived, desired, or expected. Historically, at least, the EU is an international organisation, and by some criteria, it could be classified as a confederation (weak central government); but it also has many attributes of a federation (strong central government), so some would classify it as a (de facto) federation of states. For this reason, the organisation has, in the past, been termed sui generis (incomparable, one of a kind), though it is also argued that this designation is no longer true.

EU member states retain all powers not explicitly handed to the European Union. In some areas the EU enjoys exclusive competence. These are areas in which member states have renounced any capacity to enact legislation. In other areas the EU and its member states share the competence to legislate. While both can legislate, member states can only legislate to the extent to which the EU has not. In other policy areas the EU can only co-ordinate, support and supplement member state action but cannot enact legislation with the aim of harmonising national laws.

The EU is based on a series of treaties. These first established the European Community and the EU, and then made amendments to those founding treaties. These are power-giving treaties which set broad policy goals and establish institutions with the necessary legal powers to implement those goals. These legal powers include the ability to enact legislation which can directly affect all member states and their inhabitants. The EU has legal personality, with the right to sign agreements and international treaties.

The judicial branch of the EU—formally called the Court of Justice of the European Union—consists of three courts: the Court of Justice, the General Court, and the European Union Civil Service Tribunal. Together they interpret and apply the treaties and the law of the EU. The Court of Justice primarily deals with cases taken by member states, the institutions, and cases referred to it by the courts of member states. The General Court mainly deals with cases taken by individuals and companies directly before the EU's courts, and the European Union Civil Service Tribunal adjudicates in disputes between the European Union and its civil service.

The European Union does not have one unified military. The predecessors of the European Union were not devised as a strong military alliance because NATO was largely seen as appropriate and sufficient for defence purposes. 22 EU members are members of NATO while the remaining member states follow policies of neutrality.

Two of the original core objectives of the European Economic Community were the development of a common market, subsequently renamed the single market, and a customs union between its member states. The single market involves the free circulation of goods, capital, people, and services within the EU, and the customs union involves the application of a common external tariff on all goods entering the market. Once goods have been admitted into the market they cannot be subjected to customs duties, discriminatory taxes or import quotas, as they travel internally.

The free movement of persons means that EU citizens can move freely between member states to live, work, study or retire in another country. This required the lowering of administrative formalities and recognition of professional qualifications of other states.

All EU and many other European countries offer their citizens a free European Health Insurance Card which, on a reciprocal basis, provides insurance for emergency medical treatment insurance when visiting other participating European countries.

One of the top priorities of EU environmental policy is combatting climate change. In 2007, member states agreed that the EU is to use 20% renewable energy in the future and that it has to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 by at least 20% compared to 1990 levels. This includes measures that in 2020, 10% of the overall fuel quantity used by cars and trucks in EU 27 should be running on renewable energy such as biofuels. This is considered to be one of the most ambitious moves of an important industrialised region to fight climate change.

Among the many languages and dialects used in the EU, it has 24 official and working languages: Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Irish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, and Swedish. Important documents, such as legislation, are translated into every official language. The European Parliament provides translation into all languages for documents and its plenary sessions.

Language policy is the responsibility of member states, but EU institutions promote the learning of other languages. English is the most spoken language in the EU, being spoken by 51% of the EU population when counting both native and non-native speakers. German is the most widely spoken mother tongue (about 88.7 million people in 2006). 56% of EU citizens are able to engage in a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue. Most EU official languages are written in the Latin alphabet except Bulgarian, written in Cyrillic, and Greek, written in the Greek alphabet.

The EU is a secular body with no formal connection to any religion.

Christians in the EU are divided among followers of Roman Catholicism, numerous Protestant denominations, and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Other world religions are also represented in the EU population. In 2009, the EU had an estimated Muslim population of 13 million, and an estimated Jewish population of over a million.

Source and more information:
Wikipedia article European Union

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Last updated: January 2018
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