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 byEU citizens.
The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC), formed by theInner 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, andregional development.
The monetary union was established in 1999 and came into full force in 2002. It is currently composed of 18 member states that use the euro as their legal tender. Through the Common Foreign and Security Policy the EU has developed a role in external relations and defence. The union maintains permanent diplomatic missions throughout the world and represents itself at the United Nations, the WTO, the G8, and the G-20.
The EU is considered to be a potential superpower. 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 economy by nominal GDP and the second largest economy by 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, as it led to the creation of the European Movement International and also of the College of Europe, a place where Europe's future leaders would live and study together.1952 saw the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, which was declared to be "a first step in the federation of Europe", starting with the aim of eliminating the possibility of further wars between its member states by means of pooling the national heavy industries.The founding members of the Community were Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany. The originators and supporters of the Community include Alcide De Gasperi, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, and Paul-Henri Spaak.
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. They also signed another treaty on the same day creating the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for co-operation in developing nuclear energy. Both treaties came into force in 1958.
The EEC and Euratom were created separately from ECSC, although they shared the same courts and the Common Assembly. The executives of the new communities were called Commissions, as opposed to the "High Authority". The EEC was headed by Walter Hallstein (Hallstein Commission) and Euratom was headed by Louis Armand (Armand Commission) and then Étienne Hirsch. Euratom would integrate sectors in nuclear energy while the EEC would develop a customs union between members.
Throughout the 1960s, tensions began to show with France seeking to limit supranational power. However, in 1965 an agreement was reached and hence in 1967 the Merger Treaty was signed in Brussels. It came into force on 1 July 1967 and created a single set of institutions for the three communities, which were collectively referred to as the European Communities (EC), although commonly just as the European Community.Jean Rey presided over the first merged Commission (Rey Commission).
In 1973, the Communities enlarged to include Denmark (including Greenland, which later left the Community in 1985), Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Norway had negotiated to join at the same time, but Norwegian voters rejected membership in a referendum. In 1979, the first direct, democratic elections to the European Parliament were held.
Greece joined in 1981; Portugal and Spain in 1986. In 1985, the Schengen Agreement led the way toward 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 Community and the Single European Act was signed.
In 1990, after the fall of the Eastern Bloc, the former East Germany became part of the Community as part of a reunited Germany. With further enlargement planned for former Communist states, Cyprus, and Malta, the Copenhagen criteria for candidate members to join the EU were agreed upon in June 1993.
The European Union was formally established when the Maastricht Treaty—whose main architects wereHelmut Kohl and François Mitterrand—came into force on 1 November 1993. In 1995, Austria, Finland, and Sweden joined the EU. In 2002, euro banknotes and coins replaced national currencies in 12 of the member states. Since then, the eurozone has increased to encompass 18 countries. 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.
On 1 January 2007, Romania and Bulgaria became EU members. In the same year Slovenia adopted the euro, followed in 2008 by Cyprus and Malta, by Slovakia in 2009, by Estonia in 2011 and by Latvia in 2014. In June 2009, the 2009 Parliament elections were held leading to a renewal of Barroso's Commission Presidency, and in July 2009 Iceland formally applied for EU membership.
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, Catherine Ashton.
The European Union received the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize for having "contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe. On 1 July 2013, Croatia became the 28th EU member.