European Union

What is the European Union?

The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union, consisting of 28 member states that are subject to the obligations and the privileges of the membership. Every member state is part of the founding treaties of the union and is subjected to binding laws within the common legislative and judicial institutions. In order for the EU to adopt policies that concern defence and foreign affairs, all member states must agree unanimously.

The goals of the European Union are:

  • Promote peace, its values and the well-being of its citizens;
  • Offer freedom, security and justice without internal borders;
  • Sustainable development based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive market economy with full employment and social progress, and environmental protection;
  • Combat social exclusion and discrimination;
  • Promote scientific and technological progress;
  • Enhance economic, social and territorial cohesion and solidarity among EU countries;
  • Respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity;
  • Establish an economic and monetary union whose currency is the euro.

From economic to political union

The European Union is a unique economic and political union between 28 EU countries that together cover much of the continent.

The predecessor of the EU was created in the aftermath of the Second World War. The first steps were to foster economic cooperation: the idea being that countries that trade with one another become economically interdependent and so more likely to avoid conflict.

The result was the European Economic Community (EEC), created in 1958, and initially increasing economic cooperation between six countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Since then, 22 other members joined and a huge single market (also known as the 'internal' market) has been created and continues to develop towards its full potential.

What began as a purely economic union has evolved into an organization spanning policy areas, from climate, environment and health to external relations and security, justice and migration. A name change from the European Economic Community (EEC) to the European Union (EU) in 1993 reflected this.

Stability, a single currency, mobility and growth

The EU has delivered more than half a century of peace, stability and prosperity, helped raise living standards and launched a single European currency: the euro. More than 340 million EU citizens in 19 countries now use it as their currency and enjoy its benefits.

Thanks to the abolition of border controls between EU countries, people can travel freely throughout most of the continent. And it has become much easier to live, work and travel abroad in Europe. All EU citizens have the right and freedom to choose in which EU country they want to study, work or retire. Every EU country must treat EU citizens in exactly the same way as its own citizens for employment, social security and tax purposes.

The EU's main economic engine is the single market. It enables most goods, services, money and people to move freely. The EU aims to develop this huge resource to other areas like energy, knowledge and capital markets to ensure that Europeans can draw the maximum benefit from it.