Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
European Union
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

European Union

European Union (other languages)
(In Detail)
Motto In varietate concordia
English: United in diversity (see European symbols)
Official languages; of the Union See Languages of the European Union
Member states may have other official languages.
Council's President Netherlands
(until 31 December, 2004)
Jan Peter Balkenende
(Prime Minister)
Commission's President Romano Prodi (outgoing)
José Durão Barroso
(from 1 Nov 2004)
Parliament's President Josep Borrell
 - Total
Ranked 7th *
3,892,685 km2
 - Total (2004)
 - Density
Ranked 3rd *
454,900,000 (EU 25)
116.4 people/km²
GDP (base PPP)
 - Total (2004)
 - GDP/head
Ranked 1st *
€ 9.61·10¹² [1]
€ 21,125
 - Declared
 - Recognised
Maastricht treaty
7 February, 1992
1 November, 1993
Community Currencies The Euro (EUR or €)
(Eurozone, EU institutions)
Other member states: [1]
Time zone UTC 0 to +2
(+1 to +3 during DST)
(with French overseas départements, UTC -4 to +4)
Anthem "Ode to Joy"
(An die Freude)
Internet TLD .eu (planned)
Second level .eu.int in use.
Calling Codes +3 (proposed). Each member state has its own calling code.
In zones 3 and 4.
* if counted as a single country
[ Edit this box]
The European Union or EU is an international organisation of 25 European states, established by the Treaty on European Union (the Maastricht treaty). Its current legal base is the Treaty of Accession 2003 which entered into force on 1 May, 2004. Its headquarters are in Brussels. See EU treaties for a brief history of the foundation of the EU, European Community (EC, formerly EEC or European Economic Community) and European Parliament.

The European Union has many activities, the most important being a common single market, consisting of a customs union, a single currency (adopted by 12 out of 25 member states), a Common Agricultural Policy and a Common Fisheries Policy. The European Union also has various initiatives to co-ordinate activities of the member states.

Table of contents
1 Status
2 Current issues
3 Origins and History
4 Methods
5 Member states and successive enlargements
6 Economic status
7 Main policies
8 Structure of the European Union
9 See also
10 External links


The European Union is the most powerful regional organisation in existence. In certain areas, where Member States have transferred national sovereignty rights to the Union (e.g. currency, monetary policy, the internal market, foreign trade), the EU begins to resemble a federal state. However, the Union is not organised federally but according to the subsidiarity principle (a term expressly created to describe the peculiar organisation of the Union's competencies). The Member States also remain the Masters of the Treaties, and the Union does not have the power to transfer additional competencies from the Member States onto itself. On account of its unique structure, the European Union can be regarded not merely as an international organisation, but rather as a sui generis entity (i.e. an entity unlike any other).

The EU has recently agreed on the text of a new Constitution which, if ratified by the Member States, will become the first official Constitution of the EU. If all current member states do not ratify the Constitutional Treaty, then the Constitution should fail and the EU keep on functioning under the current arrangements. However, senior politicians in some Member States have suggested that if only a few countries fail to ratify the Treaty, then the rest of the Union should be able to proceed without them, and the rejecting countries be made to leave it.

For further information on this subject, read the article on the Treaty establishing a constitution for Europe.

Current issues

Major issues concerning the European Union at the moment include its enlargement south and east (see below), the Union's relationship with the United States of America and participation in the Euro by those member states currently outside the Eurozone.

Agreement on a final draft of the European constitution was reached on the 18 June 2004 at an Intergovernmental Conference in Brussels and now awaits ratification by the EU member states.

Origins and History

Main article: History of the European Union

Attempts to unify the disparate states of Europe have occurred repeatedly throught the history of the continent. From the Roman Empire, Holy Roman Empire and the Frankish empire of Charlemagne, to the more recent 1800s customs union under Napoleon and the 1940s German conquests, proposals for a single political entity had only transitory success.

Given Europe's heterogeneous collections of languages and cultures, these attempts usually proposed military subjugation of unwilling nations, leading to instability and ultimate failure. The first real proposals for unification peacefully, through cooperation and equality of membership, were proposed by the pacifist Victor Hugo in 1851. Following the catastrophes of the First World War and the Second World War, the impetus for the founding of (what was later to become) the European Union greatly increased, driven by the desire to rebuild Europe and to eliminate the possibility of another such war ever arising. This sentiment eventually led to the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951.

The first full customs union was originally known as the European Economic Community (informally called the Common Market in the UK), established by the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and implemented on January 1, 1958. This later changed to the European Community and then to the European Union. The EU has evolved from a trade body into an economic and political partnership. For more details, please see History of the European Union.


To accomplish this aim, the European Union attempts to form infrastructure that crosses state borders. Harmonised standards create a larger, more efficient market – member states can form a single customs union without loss of health or safety. For example, states whose people would never agree to eat the same food might still agree on standards for labelling and cleanliness.

The power of the European Union reaches far beyond its borders, because to sell within it, it is beneficial to conform to its standards. Once a non-member country's factories, farmers and merchants conform to EU standards, most of the costs of joining the union have been sunk. At that point, harmonising laws to become a full member creates more wealth (by eliminating the customs costs) with only the tiny investment of actually changing the laws.

Regarding non-economic issues, supporters of the European Union argue that the EU is also a force for peace and democracy. Wars that were a periodic feature of the history of Western Europe have ceased since the formation of the EEC as it then was. In the early 1970's, Greece, Portugal and Spain were all dictatorships, but the business communities in these three countries wanted to be in the EU and this created a strong impetus for democracy there.

In more recent times, the European Union continues to extend its influence to the east. It has accepted several new members that were previously behind the Iron Curtain, and has plans to accept several more in the medium-term. It is hoped that in a similar fashion to the entry of Spain, Portugal and Greece, membership for these states will help cement economic and political stability.

Further eastward expansion also has long-term economic benefits, but the remaining European countries are not viewed as currently suitable for membership, especially the troubled economies of countries further east. Eventually including states that are currently politically unstable will, it is hoped, help deal with the lingering consequences of such problems as the Yugoslav wars, or avoid such conflicts as the Cyprus dispute in the future.

Member states and successive enlargements

main articles: European Union member states, Enlargement of the European Union

Since 1 May 2004, the European Union comprises 25 member states. In 1952/1958 the six founding members were:

Nineteen further states have joined in successive waves of enlargement:

Greenland, which was granted home rule by Denmark in 1979, left the European Union in 1985, following a referendum.

Further information about future enlargements can be found in Enlargement of the European Union article.

Many countries, such as Monaco and Andorra, while not being member states have special agreements with the union. (See the special relationships with the EU article)

The total area of the 25 member states (2004) of the European Union is 3,892,685 km². Were it a country, it would be the seventh largest in the world by area. The number of EU citizens (all EU member state citizens or subjects, under the terms of the Maastricht treaty) in the 25 member EU is approximately 453 million as of March 2004. This would be the third largest in the world after India and China.

Overseas territories status quo

For the status of Greenland, the Isle of Man, and the Canary islands, amongst others, see the article on Special member state territories and their relations with the EU.

Economic status

Currently (May 2004) the EU, considered as a unit, has the largest economy in the world, with a 2002 GDP of 9.613·10¹² euro. The United States, by comparison, has the largest GDP of a single country - 10.450·10¹² dollars (or 8.782·10¹² euro at the current exchange rate of $1.19 per euro). The European Union continues to enjoy a significant trade surplus, as opposed to the widening trade deficit being experienced by the US. However, as of 2004 the European Union has generally been suffering stagnant economic growth and low employment (averaged across the Union).

The EU economy is expected to grow further over the next decade as more countries join the union - especially considering that the new States are usually poorer than the EU average, and hence the expected fast GDP growth will help achieve the dynamic of the united Europe. However, GDP per capita of the whole Union will fall over the short-term. In the long-term, the EU's economy suffers from significant demographic challenges, with a below-replacement birth rate.

Standard of living

Below is a table and two graphs showing, respectively, the GNI per capita (PPP) and the GDP (PPP) of each of the 25 member states, and the EU average. This can be used as a rough gauge to the relative standards of living among member states. Data is from the year 2002.

Country GNI (PPP) per capita GDP (PPP)
international dollars millions of international dollars
Luxembourg 53,290 27,171
Denmark 30,600 166,275
Ireland 29,570 136,139
Austria 28,910 235,159
Netherlands 28,350 469,864
Belgium 28,130 284,867
France 27,040 1,601,406
Germany 26,980 2,235,764
United Kingdom 26,580 1,549,131
Italy 26,170 1,524,686
Finland 26,160 136,139
Sweden 25,820 232,451
Spain 21,210 877,971
Greece 18,770 198,996
Cyprus 18,560 13,813
Slovenia 18,480 36,406
Portugal 17,820 186,057
Malta 17,710 7,003
Czech Republic 14,920 161,114
Hungary 13,070 136,096
Slovakia 12,590 69,045
Estonia 11,630 16,643
Poland 10,450 407,747
Lithuania 10,190 35,817
Latvia 9,190 21,544
EU-25 average 22,088 430,692
*Data from table and graphics courtesy of World Bank web site [1].

Main policies

As the changing name of the European Union (from European Economic Community to European Community to European Union) suggests, it has evolved over time from a primarily economic union to an increasingly political one. This trend is highlighted by the increasing number of policy areas that fall within EU competence: political power has tended to shift upwards from the Member States to the EU.

This picture of increasing centralisation is counter-balanced by two points.

Firstly, some Member States have a domestic tradition of strong regional government. This has led to an increased focus on regional policy and the European regions. A Committee of the Regions was established as part of the Treaty of Maastricht.

Secondly, EU policy areas cover a number of different forms of co-operation.

The tension between EU and national (or sub-national) competence is an enduring one in the development of the European Union. (See also Intergovernmentalism vs. Supranationalism (below), Euroscepticism.)

All prospective members must enact legislation in order to bring them into line with the common European legal framework, known as the Acquis Communautaire. (See also European Free Trade Association (EFTA), European Economic Area (EEA) and Single European Sky).

Single market: internal aspects

Single market: external aspects

Increasing co-operation/harmonisation of other areas

Structure of the European Union

The European Union Law comprises a large number of overlapping legal and institutional structures. This is a result of it being defined by successive international treaties. In recent years, considerable efforts have been made to consolidate and simplify the treaties, culminating with the proposed draft Constitution of Europe.

The role of the European Community within the Union

The term European Community (or Communities) was used for the group of members prior to the establishment of the European Union. At present, the term continues to have significance, but in a different context. The "European Community" is one of the three pillars of the European Union, being both the most important pillar and the only one to operate primarily through supranational institutions. The other two pillars – Common Foreign and Security Policy, and Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters, are looser intergovernmental groupings. Confusingly, these latter two concepts are increasingly administered by the Community (as they are built up from mere concepts to actual practice).

What most people think of as the European Union is essentially the European Community. The Community is an actual body, including the European institutions (European Parliament, Council of the European Union, European Commission), whilst the European Union is a less tangible grouping of institutions and agreements.

Intergovernmentalism vs. supranationalism

A basic tension exists within the European Union between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism. Intergovernmentalism is a method of decision-making in international organisations where power is possessed by the member-states and decisions are made by unanimity. Independent appointees of the governments or elected representatives have solely advisory or implementational functions. Intergovernmentalism is used by most international organisations today.

An alternative method of decision-making in international organisations is supranationalism. In supranationalism power is held by independent appointed officials or by representatives elected by the legislatures or people of the member states. Member-state governments still have power, but they must share this power with other actors. Furthermore, decisions are made by majority votes, hence it is possible for a member-state to be forced by the other member-states to implement a decision against its will.

Some forces in European Union politics favour the intergovernmental approach, while others favour the supranational path. Supporters of supranationalism argue that it allows integration to proceed at a faster pace than would otherwise be possible. Where decisions must be made by governments acting unanimously, decisions can take years to make, if they are ever made. Supporters of intergovernmentalism argue that supranationalism is a threat to national sovereignty, and to democracy, claiming that only national governments can possess the necessary democratic legitimacy. Intergovernmentalism has historically been favoured by France, and by more Eurosceptic nations such as Britain and Denmark; while more integrationist nations such as Belgium, Germany, and Italy have tended to prefer the supranational approach.

In practice the European Union strikes a balance between two approaches. This balance however is complex, resulting in the often labyrinthine complexity of its decision-making procedures.

Starting in March 2002, a Convention on the Future of Europe again looked at this balance, among other things, and proposed changes. These changes were discussed at an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in May 2004 and agreement reached on a Constitutional Treaty, which will require ratification by each of the Member States.

The single institutional framework

The three communities, and the three pillars possess a common institutional structure. The European Union has five institutions:

There are also two advisory committees to the above institutions, which advise them on economic and social (principally relations between workers and employers) and regional issues:

There are also several other bodies to implement particular policies, established either under the treaties or by secondary legislation:

Finally the European Ombudsman watches for abuses of power by EU institutions.

See also

List of European Union-related topics, Citizenship, European single currency, European flag, European Union Law, Europhilia, Euroscepticism, History of the European Union, Official Journal of the European Communities, Pro-European, United States of Europe, Value-added tax, Eurodicautom.

External links

The European Union On-Line">

The European Union On-Line

Official EU website, europa.eu.int, in the official languages. Some subpages:

Other sites

The European Union and candidates for enlargement
Member countries: Austria | Belgium | Cyprus | Czech Republic | Denmark | Estonia | Finland | France | Germany | Greece | Hungary | Ireland | Italy | Latvia | Lithuania | Luxembourg | Malta | Netherlands | Poland | Portugal | Slovakia | Slovenia | Spain | Sweden | United Kingdom
Candidate countries joining on January 1, 2007 (preliminary date): Bulgaria | Romania
Other recognised candidate countries: Croatia | Turkey