The evolution of what is today the European Union (EU) from a regional economic agreement among six neighboring states in 1951 to today's hybrid intergovernmental and supranational organization of 27 countries across the European continent stands as an unprecedented phenomenon in the annals of history. Dynastic unions for territorial consolidation were long the norm in Europe; on a few occasions even country-level unions were arranged - the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were examples. But for such a large number of nation-states to cede some of their sovereignty to an overarching entity is unique.
Although the EU is not a federation in the strict sense, it is far more than a free-trade association such as ASEAN, NAFTA, or Mercosur, and it has certain attributes associated with independent nations: its own flag, currency (for some members), and law-making abilities, as well as diplomatic representation and a common foreign and security policy in its dealings with external partners.
Thus, inclusion of basic intelligence on the EU has been deemed appropriate as a new, separate entity in The World Factbook. However, because of the EU's special status, this description is placed after the regular country entries.
Following the two devastating World Wars in the first half of the 20th century, a number of European leaders in the late 1940s became convinced that the only way to establish a lasting peace was to unite the two chief belligerent nations - France and Germany - both economically and politically. In 1950, the French Foreign Minister Robert SCHUMAN proposed an eventual union of all Europe, the first step of which would be the integration of the coal and steel industries of Western Europe. The following year the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was set up when six members, Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, signed the Treaty of Paris.
The ECSC was so successful that within a few years the decision was made to integrate other elements of the countries' economies. In 1957, envisioning an "ever closer union," the Treaties of Rome created the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), and the six member states undertook to eliminate trade barriers among themselves by forming a common market. In 1967, the institutions of all three communities were formally merged into the European Community (EC), creating a single Commission, a single Council of Ministers, and the body known today as the European Parliament. Members of the European Parliament were initially selected by national parliaments, but in 1979 the first direct elections were undertaken and they have been held every five years since.
In 1973, the first enlargement of the EC took place with the addition of Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. The 1980s saw further membership expansion with Greece joining in 1981 and Spain and Portugal in 1986. The 1992 Treaty of Maastricht laid the basis for further forms of cooperation in foreign and defense policy, in judicial and internal affairs, and in the creation of an economic and monetary union - including a common currency. This further integration created the European Union (EU), at the time standing alongside the European Community. In 1995, Austria, Finland, and Sweden joined the EU/EC, raising the membership total to 15.
A new currency, the euro, was launched in world money markets on 1 January 1999; it became the unit of exchange for all EU member states except the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Denmark. In 2002, citizens of those 12 countries began using euro banknotes and coins. Ten new countries joined the EU in 2004 - Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia - and in 2007 Bulgaria and Romania joined, bringing the membership to 27, where it stands today.
In an effort to ensure that the EU could function efficiently with an expanded membership, the Treaty of Nice (signed in 2000) set forth rules aimed at streamlining the size and procedures of EU institutions. An effort to establish a "Constitution for Europe," growing out of a Convention held in 2002-2003, foundered when it was rejected in referenda in France and the Netherlands in 2005. A subsequent effort in 2007 incorporated many of the features of the rejected Constitution while also making a number of substantive and symbolic changes. The new treaty, initially known as the Reform Treaty but subsequently referred to as the Treaty of Lisbon, sought to amend existing treaties rather than replace them. The treaty was approved at the EU intergovernmental conference of the 27 member states held in Lisbon in December 2007, after which the process of national ratifications began. In October 2009, an Irish referendum approved the Lisbon Treaty (overturning a previous rejection) and cleared the way for an ultimate unanimous endorsement. Poland and the Czech Republic signed on soon after. The Lisbon Treaty, again invoking the idea of an "ever closer union," came into force on 1 December 2009 and the European Union officially replaced and succeeded the European Community.
Albania 282 km, Andorra 120.3 km, Belarus 1,050 km, Croatia 999 km, Holy See 3.2 km, Liechtenstein 34.9 km, Macedonia 394 km, Moldova 450 km, Monaco 4.4 km, Norway 2,348 km, Russia 2,257 km, San Marino 39 km, Serbia 945 km, Switzerland 1,811 km, Turkey 446 km, Ukraine 1,257 km
party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulphur 94, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94
signed but not ratified:
Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds
note:only official languages are listed; German, the major language of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, is the most widely spoken mother tongue - over 19% of the EU population; English is the most widely spoken language - about 49% of the EU population is conversant with it (2007)
7 February 1992 (Maastricht Treaty signed establishing the EU); 1 November 1993 (Maastricht Treaty entered into force)
note:Treaties of Rome, which were signed on 25 March 1957 and entered into force on 1 January 1958, created the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community; the Treaty of Lisbon, which was signed on 13 December 2007 and entered into force on 1 December 2009, replaced and succeeded the European Community with the European Union
Europe Day 9 May (1950); note - the day in 1950 that Robert SCHUMAN proposed the creation of what became the European Coal and Steel Community, the progenitor of today's European Union, with the aim of achieving a united Europe
note:the EU legal order, although based on a series of treaties, has often been described as "constitutional" in nature; the Treaty on European Union (TEU), as modified by the Lisbon Treaty, states in Article 1 that "the HIGH CONTRACTING PARTIES establish among themselves a EUROPEAN UNION ... on which the Member States confer competences to attain objectives they have in common"; Article 1 of the TEU states further that the EU is "founded on the present Treaty and on the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (hereinafter referred to as 'the Treaties')," both possessing the same legal value; Article 6 of the TEU provides that a separately adopted Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union "shall have the same legal value as the Treaties"
unique supranational law system in which, according to an interpretive declaration of member-state governments appended to the Treaty of Lisbon, "the Treaties and the law adopted by the Union on the basis of the Treaties have primacy over the law of Member States" under conditions laid down in the case law of the Court of Justice; key principles of EU law include fundamental rights as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and as resulting from constitutional traditions common to the EU's states
under the EU treaties there are three distinct institutions each of which conducts functions that may be regarded as executive in nature:
the European Council:
brings together heads of state and government, along with the president of the European Commission, and meets at least four times a year; its aim is to provide the impetus for the development of the Union and to issue general policy guidelines; leaders of the EU member states appointed former Belgian Prime Minister Herman VAN ROMPUY to be the first full-time president of the European Council in November 2009; he took office on 1 December 2009 and will serve a two-and-one-half-year term, renewable once; his core responsibilities include chairing the summits each year and providing policy and organizational continuity
consists of ministers of each EU member state and meets regularly in different configurations depending on the subject matter; it carries out policy-making and coordinating functions (also legislative functions); although the name is similar, the "Council" is an institution distinct from the head of state-level "European Council"; ministers of EU member states chair meetings of the Council based on a six-month rotating presidency
the European Commission:
is comprised of 27 members, one from each member country; each commissioner is responsible for one or more policy areas; its responsibilities include promoting the general interest of the EU, acting as "guardian of the Treaties," executing the budget and managing programs, ensuring the Union's external representation, and additional duties; its president is Jose Manuel BARROSO (since 2004); the president of the European Commission is designated by member state governments and confirmed by the European Parliament; working from member state recommendations, the Commission president then assembles a "college" of Commission members; the European Parliament confirms the entire Commission for a five-year term; the next confirmation process will likely be held in January 2015
note:for external representation and foreign policy making, leaders of the EU member states appointed UK Baroness Catherine ASHTON to be the first High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy; ASHTON took office on 1 December 2009; her concurrent appointment as Vice President of the European Commission endows her position with the policymaking influence of the Council of the EU and the budgetary influence of the European Commission; the High Representative helps develop and implement the EU's common foreign and security policy, represents and acts for the Union in many international contexts, and oversees the new diplomatic corps of the EU, formally established on 1 December 2010, the European External Action Service
two legislative bodies consisting of the Council of the European Union (27 member-state ministers having 345 votes; the number of votes is roughly proportional to member-states' population) and the European Parliament (736 seats; seats allocated among member states in proportion to population; members elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year term); note - the Council is the main decision-making body of the EU, although the Commission proposes most EU legislative acts
last held on 4-7 June 2009 (next to be held in June 2014)
percent of vote - EPP 36%, S&D 25%, ALDE 11.4%, Greens/EFA 7.5%, ECR 7.3%, GUE/NGL 4.8%, EFD 4.3%, independents 3.7%; seats by party - EPP 265, S&D 184, ALDE 84, Greens/EFA 55, ECR 54, GUE/NGL 35, EFD 32, independents 27
Court of Justice of the European Union (ensures that the treaties are interpreted and applied uniformly throughout the EU, resolves disputed issues among the EU institutions, issues opinions on questions of EU law referred by member state courts) - 27 judges (one from each member state) appointed for a six-year term; note - the court can sit in chambers, in a "Grand Chamber" of 13 judges, or as the full court; General Court (a court below the Court of Justice) - 27 judges appointed for a six-year term; Civil Service Tribunal - 7 judges appointed for a three-year term
Confederal Group of the European United Left-Nordic Green Left or GUE/NGL [Lothar BISKY]; Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group or EFD [Nigel FARAGE and Francesco SPERONI]; European Conservatives and Reformists Group or ECR [Michael KAMINSKI]; Group of Greens/European Free Alliance or Greens/EFA [Rebecca HARMS and Daniel COHN-BENDIT]; Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe or ALDE [Guy VERHOFSTADT]; Group of the European People's Party or EPP [Joseph DAUL]; Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament or S&D [Martin SCHULZ]
a blue field with 12 five-pointed gold stars arranged in a circle in the center; blue represents the sky of the Western world, the stars are the peoples of Europe in a circle, a symbol of unity; the number of stars is fixed
none/Ludwig VON BEETHOVEN, arranged by Herbert VON KARAJAN
note:adopted 1972, not in use until 1986; according to the European Union, the song is meant to represent all of Europe rather than just the organization; the song also serves as the anthem for the Council of Europe
Internally, the EU has abolished trade barriers, adopted a common currency, and is striving toward convergence of living standards. Internationally, the EU aims to bolster Europe's trade position and its political and economic power. Because of the great differences in per capita income among member states (from $7,000 to $78,000) and in national attitudes toward issues like inflation, debt, and foreign trade, the EU faces difficulties in devising and enforcing common policies. Eleven established EU member states, under the auspices of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), introduced the euro as their common currency on 1 January 1999 (Greece did so two years later), but the UK and Denmark have 'opt-outs' that allow them to keep their national currencies, and Sweden has not taken the steps needed to participate. Between 2004 and 2007, the EU admitted 12 countries that are, in general, less advanced economically than the other 15. Of the 12 most recent member states, only Slovenia (1 January 2007), Cyprus and Malta (1 January 2008), Slovakia (1 January 2009), and Estonia (1 January 2011) have adopted the euro; the remaining states other than the UK and Denmark are legally required to adopt the currency upon meeting EU's fiscal and monetary convergence criteria. The EU has recovered from the global financial crisis faster than expected, with business investment growing by an estimated 2% in 2010, but with public investment and housing development lagging. Strong corporate profits should enable this recovery to continue in 2011. Nevertheless, significant risks to growth remain, including, high official debts and deficits, aging populations, over-regulation of non-financial businesses, and doubts about the sustainability of the EMU. In June 2010, prompted by the Greek financial crisis, the EU and the IMF set up a $1 trillion bailout fund to rescue any EMU member in danger of default, but it has not calmed market jitters that have diminished the value of the euro. Discussions are currently under way to create a permanent European Stabilization Mechanism (ESM) in 2013, when the existing European Financial Stability Facility expires.
note:this is the quantity of money, M1, for the euro area, converted into US dollars at the exchange rate for the date indicated; it excludes the stock of money carried by non-euro-area members of the European Union
note:this is the quantity of broad money for the euro area, converted into US dollars at the exchange rate for the date indicated; it excludes the stock of broad money carried by non-euro-area members of the European Union
among the world's largest and most technologically advanced, the EU industrial base includes: ferrous and non-ferrous metal production and processing, metal products, petroleum, coal, cement, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, rail transportation equipment, passenger and commercial vehicles, construction equipment, industrial equipment, shipbuilding, electrical power equipment, machine tools and automated manufacturing systems, electronics and telecommunications equipment, fishing, food and beverage processing, furniture, paper, textiles, tourism
machinery, motor vehicles, aircraft, plastics, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals, fuels, iron and steel, nonferrous metals, wood pulp and paper products, textiles, meat, dairy products, fish, alcoholic beverages
the five-nation Eurocorps - created in 1992 by France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, and Luxembourg - has deployed troops and police on peacekeeping missions to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and assumed command of the ISAF in Afghanistan in August 2004; Eurocorps directly commands the 5,000-man Franco-German Brigade, the Multinational Command Support Brigade, and EUFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina; in November 2004, the EU Council of Ministers formally committed to creating 13 1,500-man battle groups by the end of 2007, to respond to international crises on a rotating basis; 22 of the EU's 27 nations have agreed to supply troops; France, Italy, and the UK formed the first of three battle groups in 2005; Norway, Sweden, Estonia, and Finland established the Nordic Battle Group effective 1 January 2008; nine other groups are to be formed; a rapid-reaction naval EU Maritime Task Group was stood up in March 2007 (2007)
as a political union, the EU has no border disputes with neighboring countries, but Estonia has no land boundary agreements with Russia, Slovenia disputes its land and maritime boundaries with Croatia, and Spain has territorial and maritime disputes with Morocco and with the UK over Gibraltar; the EU has set up a Schengen area - consisting of 22 EU member states that have signed the convention implementing the Schengen agreements or "acquis" (1985 and 1990) on the free movement of persons and the harmonization of border controls in Europe; these agreements became incorporated into EU law with the implementation of the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam on 1 May 1999; in addition, non-EU states Iceland and Norway (as part of the Nordic Union) have been included in the Schengen area since 1996 (full members in 2001), and Switzerland since 2008 bringing the total current membership to 25; the UK (since 2000) and Ireland (since 2002) take part in only some aspects of the Schengen area, especially with respect to police and criminal matters; nine of the 12 new member states that joined the EU since 2004 joined Schengen on 21 December 2007; of the three remaining EU states, Romania and Bulgaria may join by late 2011, while Cyprus' entry is held up by the ongoing Cyprus dispute