What Is The European Union (EU)?

The European Union represents the dream of a Europe where open borders and free trade make life better for all of the continent's people, markets, and countries.


The European Union (EU) is the present state of the so-called “European Community” that has developed over the last seven decades following World War 2, an affair that ravaged the European continent. The European Union, whether directly through itself or by way of its constituent and/or affiliated bodies, aims to regulate and foster the economic betterment of its constituent national and multilateral markets, protect human rights, carry out civil and social justice, and increase the ease and efficacy in the movement of capital, goods, services, and humans across national borders of its member states. Beginning with the “Inner Six” in the 1950s, the EU has continually expanded since to reach a zenith of 28 member states, which was reduced to 27 with the departure of the United Kingdom following a June 23rd, 2016 national referendum.

Constituent Bodies Of The EU

Council of the European Union

Represents the collective executive governments of constituent member states.

Court of Justice of the European Union

The EU’s judicial organ.

Central Bank

Issues the Euro and administers monetary policies for countries using it.

European Commission

Upholds and carries out treaties and decisions, suggests legislation, and administers daily affairs of EU business.

European Council

The collective Heads of State of EU members, the European Council President, and European Commission President.

European Court of Auditors

Investigates and audits the EU budget.

European Parliament

Directly-elected part of the EU legislative organ, working in conjunction with the European Commission and the Council of the European Union.

Historical Background and Formation

The year 1945 saw the end of the deadliest episode in human history: World War 2. To many leaders across Europe and around the world it became apparent that this tragic devastation arose in large from centuries-long precedents of entrenched xenophobia and militant nationalism. Indeed, both Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany were only able to see their respective rises to power come to fruition by way of spreading fear and mistrust among their countrymen regarding other countries and even members of non-dominant minority cultures within their own. As a result, several national leaders from across this new Post-World War 2 Europe began to work together to find solutions that would enhance collaboration and confidence between fellow European nations. At the same time, however, the Soviet Union and other Socialist Republics across Europe and beyond were becoming increasingly pitted against capitalist countries in a new “Cold War”, a war of ideologies between market economies and communism.

The Treaty of Paris (1951)

On April 18th, 1951, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany signed the Treaty of Paris. These “Inner Six” nations were first and foremost intent on sharing natural resources used in heavy industry, and the treaty effectively gave rise to the European Coal and Steel Community. It implications, however, were considerably more far-reaching, as this economic cooperation proved to open more doors than ever before for diplomatic relations between some of Europe’s, and the world’s, leading industrialized nations. This was the beginning of what would become the EU as we now know it.

The Treaty of Rome (1957)

On the 25th of March, 1957, the same six nations that had formed the European Coal and Steel Community came together once again to strengthen their multilateral bonds. By strategically minimizing customs duties related to trade between the nations, this newly expanded organization, now known as the European Economic Community (EEC), allowed freer movement of people, investments, services rendered, and goods imported and exported between the countries. The treaty was also a giant leap towards the possibility of creating multinational social policies and programs to improve the lives of people within and across these nations’ national borders.

Expansion of the European Economic Community (EEC)

Following a decade and a half of generally positive developments among the EEC and its original Inner Six, other leading European economies were increasingly clamoring to join in on the prospectively beneficial, and far-reaching, outcomes for themselves. As the world hailed in a New Year’s celebration on January 1st, 1973, the EEC hailed the accession of three new members: Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. The 1980s saw further expansions still, with Greece, Spain, and Portugal also joining the European Economic Community. This same era also was characterized by a broadening of the EEC’s horizons, with the 1985 Schengen Agreement liberating border controls between member states, and the 1986 Single European Act doing the same for trans-European free trade. As the Berlin Wall fell alongside the toppling of Communist regimes all across the continent, it seemed likely, and proved prophetic, that many of these former Socialist republics would someday desire to be part of this freer European community themselves as well. This occurred sooner than later for East Germany, which became part of the EEC in the wake of its geopolitical reunification with its West German counterpart in 1990.

The Maastricht Treaty

Signed in the Netherlands in 1992 and becoming effective the following year, the Maastricht Treaty aimed to go a step beyond the past sphere of the EEC, and to create a truly integrated European marketplace. The long-used name of “European Community” also became official, as the term European Economic Community became less and less accurate as the Maastricht Treaty further pushed the European Community’s sphere to reach further and further beyond the realm of economics. Perhaps one of the Maastricht Treaty’s most important achievements was the creation of the Euro, a common currency now used by 19 European Union member states in lieu of their own national currencies. The treaty also set forth more detail in regards to the management of debts and fiscal policies within and between the constituent European Community member states.

Rapid Growth of Membership

Following the Maastricht Treaty, more and more members, including a number of former communist-controlled nations, were joining the European Community, a result allowed by the increased liberalization of policies and standards regulating such new entries. Austria, Finland, and Sweden each joined at the start of 1995, with an unprecedented wave of 10 additional entrants to follow in May of 2004. More recently still, the European Union (essentially the term used to describe the present European Community) added to its fold Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, and Croatia in 2013.

The Brexit: The United Kingdom Leaves the EU in June of 2016

Ever since the addition of the United Kingdom to the European Community in 1973, many British citizens and lawmakers have argued as to whether or not the country’s place in the EU was warranted or not. Despite the numerous privileges the United Kingdom has received due to its EU member status, many critics have pointed out that, in their view, so called ‘membership fees’ have hurt the British economy, and that freer borders have decreased British national security. The contention between the “Brexit” (desiring a British exit) and the “Bremain” (wishing their country to stay) came to a head with a national referendum on whether or not the country would carry on as an EU member. In a tight vote, 17.4 million British voters cast their ballots to leave the European Union, outnumbering the 16.1 million wishing to stay. The voting showed clear region disparity in preferences as well, an English and Welsh voters were seen far more likely to desire to leave the EU, and the Scottish and Northern Irish more likely to desire to stay. This has even given rise to a resurgence in cries by some for an Irish reunification apart from Great Britain, and for another referendum on Scottish Independence, a measure which had been voted down only two years prior. British Prime Minister David Cameron announced his intent to resign following the results of the referendum.

The European Union (EU) - Members, Foundation, And History

RankEuropean Union MembersDate Joined
1Austria January of 1995
2BelgiumFounder (1958 Treaty of Rome and 1993 Treaty of Maastricht)
3BulgariaJanuary of 2007
4CroatiaJuly of 2013
5CyprusMay of 2004
6Czech RepublicMay of 2004
7DenmarkJanuary of 1973
8EstoniaMay of 2004
9FinlandJanuary of 1995
10FranceFounder (1958 Treaty of Rome and 1993 Treaty of Maastricht)
11GermanyFounder (1958 Treaty of Rome, as West Germany)
12GreeceJanuary of 1981
13HungaryMay of 2004
14IrelandJanuary of 1973
15ItalyFounder (1958 Treaty of Rome and 1993 Treaty of Maastricht)
16LatviaMay of 2004
17LithuaniaMay of 2004
18LuxembourgFounder (1958 Treaty of Rome and 1993 Treaty of Maastricht)
19Malta May of 2004
20NetherlandsFounder (1958 Treaty of Rome and 1993 Treaty of Maastricht)
21PolandMay of 2004
22PortugalJanuary of 1986
23RomaniaJanuary of 2007
24SlovakiaMay of 2004
25SloveniaMay of 2004
26SpainJanuary of 1986
United Kingdom
January of 1995
January of 1973

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