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Circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background
Motto: "In Varietate Concordia" (Latin)
"United in Diversity"
Anthem: "Anthem of Europe" (instrumental)
Globe projection with the European Union in green
CapitalBrussels (de facto)[1]
50°51′N 4°21′E / 50.850°N 4.350°E / 50.850; 4.350Coordinates: 50°51′N 4°21′E / 50.850°N 4.350°E / 50.850; 4.350
Largest urban agglomerationParis
Official languages
Official scripts[3]
Religion
(2015)
Demonym(s)European[5]
TypeSupranational union
Member states
GovernmentIntergovernmental and supranational
Ursula von der Leyen
David Sassoli
Charles Michel
 Croatia
LegislatureLegislative procedure
Council of the European Union
European Parliament
Formation[6]
1 January 1958
1 July 1987
1 November 1993
1 December 2009
1 July 2013
31 January 2020
Area
• Total
4,233,262 km2 (1,634,472 sq mi) (7th)
• Water (%)
3.08
Population
• 2020 estimate
Increase 447,206,135[7]
• Density
106/km2 (274.5/sq mi)
GDP (PPP)2020 estimate
• Total
Increase $20.366 trillion[8]
• Per capita
$45,541
GDP (nominal)2020 estimate
• Total
Increase $16.033 trillion[9]
• Per capita
$35,851
Gini (2018)Negative increase 30.9[10]
medium
HDI (2017)Increase 0.899[b]
very high
CurrencyEuro (EUR; ; in eurozone) and (EUR)
Time zoneUTC to UTC+2 (WET, CET, EET)
• Summer (DST)
UTC+1 to UTC+3 (WEST, CEST, EEST)
(see also Summer Time in Europe)
Note: with the exception of the Canary Islands and Madeira, the outermost regions observe different time zones not shown.[c]
Date formatdd/mm/yyyy (CE)
See also: Date and time notation in Europe
Mains electricity230 V–50 Hz
Calling code
Internet TLD.eu[d]

The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of 27 member states that are located primarily in Europe.[12] Its members have a combined area of 4,233,255.3 km2 (1,634,469.0 sq mi) and an estimated total population of about 447 million. The EU has developed an internal single market through a standardised system of laws that apply in all member states in those matters, and only those matters, where members have agreed to act as one. EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within the internal market,[13] enact legislation in justice and home affairs and maintain common policies on trade,[14] agriculture,[15] fisheries and regional development.[16] For travel within the Schengen Area, passport controls have been abolished.[17] A monetary union was established in 1999, coming into full force in 2002, and is composed of 19 EU member states which use the euro currency.

The EU and European citizenship were established when the Maastricht Treaty came into force in 1993.[18] The EU traces its origins to the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC), established, respectively, by the 1951 Treaty of Paris and 1957 Treaty of Rome. The original members of what came to be known as the European Communities were the Inner Six: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany. The Communities and their successors have grown in size by the accession of new member states and in power by the addition of policy areas to their remit. The latest major amendment to the constitutional basis of the EU, the Treaty of Lisbon, came into force in 2009.

In January 2020, the United Kingdom became the first member state ever to leave the EU. Following a 2016 referendum, the UK signified its intention to leave and negotiated a withdrawal agreement. The UK is in a transitional phase until at least 31 December 2020, during which it remains subject to EU law and part of the EU single market and customs union. Before this, three territories of member states had left the EU or its forerunners, these being French Algeria (in 1962, upon independence), Greenland (in 1985, following a referendum) and Saint Barthélemy (in 2012).

Containing in 2020 some 5.8% of the world population,[note 1] the EU in 2017 (including the United Kingdom) had generated a nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of around 20 trillion US dollars, constituting approximately 25% of global nominal GDP.[20] Additionally, all EU countries have a very high Human Development Index, according to the United Nations Development Programme. In 2012, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.[21] 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 World Trade Organization, the G7 and the G20. Due to its global influence, the European Union has been described as an emerging superpower.[22]

History

Background

During the centuries following the fall of Rome in 476, several European States viewed themselves as translatio imperii ("transfer of rule") of the defunct Roman Empire: the Frankish Empire (481–843) and the Holy Roman Empire (962–1806) were thereby attempts to resurrect Rome in the West.[e] This political philosophy of a supra-national rule over the continent, similar to the example of the ancient Roman Empire, resulted in the early Middle Ages in the concept of a renovatio imperii ("restoration of the empire"),[24] either in the forms of the Reichsidee ("imperial idea") or the religiously inspired Imperium Christianum ("christian empire").[25][26] Medieval Christendom[27][28] and the political power of the Papacy[29][30] are often cited as conducive to European integration and unity.

In the oriental parts of the continent, the Russian Tsardom, and ultimately the Empire (1547–1917), declared Moscow to be Third Rome and inheritor of the Eastern tradition after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.[31] The gap between Greek East and Latin West had already been widened by the political scission of the Roman Empire in the 4th century and the Great Schism of 1054; and would be eventually widened again by the Iron Curtain (1945–91).[32]

Pan-European political thought truly emerged during the 19th century, inspired by the liberal ideas of the French and American Revolutions after the demise of Napoléon's Empire (1804–15). In the decades following the outcomes of the Congress of Vienna, ideals of European unity flourished across the continent, especially in the writings of Wojciech Jastrzębowski,[33] Giuseppe Mazzini[34] or Theodore de Korwin Szymanowski.[35] The term United States of Europe (French: États-Unis d'Europe) was used at that time by Victor Hugo during a speech at the International Peace Congress held in Paris in 1849:[36]

A day will come when all nations on our continent will form a European brotherhood ... A day will come when we shall see ... the United States of America and the United States of Europe face to face, reaching out for each other across the seas.

During the interwar period, the consciousness that national markets in Europe were interdependent though confrontational, along with the observation of a larger and growing US market on the other side of the ocean, nourished the urge for the economic integration of the continent.[37] In 1920, advocating the creation of a European economic union, British economist John Maynard Keynes wrote that "a Free Trade Union should be established ... to impose no protectionist tariffs whatever against the produce of other members of the Union."[38] During the same decade, Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi, one of the first to imagine of a modern political union of Europe, founded the Pan-Europa Movement.[39] His ideas influenced his contemporaries, among which then Prime Minister of France Aristide Briand. In 1929, the latter gave a speech in favour of a European Union before the assembly of the League of Nations, precursor of the United Nations.[40] In a radio address in March 1943, with war still raging, Britain's leader Sir Winston Churchill spoke warmly of "restoring the true greatness of Europe" once victory had been achieved, and mused on the post-war creation of a "Council of Europe" which would bring the European nations together to build peace.[41]

Meeting in the Hall of Knights in The Hague, during the congress (9 May 1948)

Preliminary (1945–57)

After World War II, European integration was seen as an antidote to the extreme nationalism which had devastated parts of the continent.[42] In a speech delivered on 19 September 1946 at the University of Zürich, Switzerland, Winston Churchill went further and advocated the emergence of a United States of Europe.[43] The 1948 Hague Congress was a pivotal moment in European federal history, as it led to the creation of the European Movement International and of the College of Europe, where Europe's future leaders would live and study together.[44]

It also led directly to the founding of the Council of Europe in 1949, the first great effort to bring the nations of Europe together, initially ten of them. The Council focused primarily on values—human rights and democracy—rather than on economic or trade issues, and was always envisaged as a forum where sovereign governments could choose to work together, with no supra-national authority. It raised great hopes of further European integration, and there were fevered debates in the two years that followed as to how this could be achieved.

But in 1952, disappointed at what they saw as the lack of progress within the Council of Europe, six nations decided to go further and created the European Coal and Steel Community, which was declared to be "a first step in the federation of Europe".[45] This community helped to economically integrate and coordinate the large number of Marshall Plan funds from the United States.[46] European leaders Alcide De Gasperi from Italy, Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman from France, and Paul-Henri Spaak from Belgium understood that coal and steel were the two industries essential for waging war, and believed that by tying their national industries together, future war between their nations became much less likely.[47] These men and others are officially credited as the founding fathers of the European Union.

Treaty of Rome (1957–92)

The continental territories of the member states of the European Union (European Communities pre-1993), coloured in order of accession

In 1957, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany signed the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Community (EEC) and established a customs union. They also signed another pact creating the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for co-operation in developing nuclear energy. Both treaties came into force in 1958.[47]

The EEC and Euratom were created separately from the ECSC and they shared the same courts and the Common Assembly. The EEC was headed by Walter Hallstein (Hallstein Commission) and Euratom was headed by Louis Armand (Armand Commission) and then Étienne Hirsch. Euratom was to integrate sectors in nuclear energy while the EEC would develop a customs union among members.[48][49]

During the 1960s, tensions began to show, with France seeking to limit supranational power. Nevertheless, in 1965 an agreement was reached and on 1 July 1967 the Merger Treaty created a single set of institutions for the three communities, which were collectively referred to as the European Communities.[50][51] Jean Rey presided over the first merged Commission (Rey Commission).[52]

In 1989, the Iron Curtain fell, enabling the Community to expand further (the Berlin Wall and behind it the Brandenburg Gate pictured)

In 1973, the Communities were enlarged to include Denmark (including Greenland, which later left the Communities in 1985, following a dispute over fishing rights), Ireland, and the United Kingdom.[53] Norway had negotiated to join at the same time, but Norwegian voters rejected membership in a referendum. In 1979, the first direct elections to the European Parliament were held.[54]

Greece joined in 1981, Portugal and Spain following in 1986.[55] In 1985, the Schengen Agreement paved the way for the creation of open borders without passport controls between most member states and some non-member states.[56] In 1986, the European flag began to be used by the EEC[57] and the Single European Act was signed.

In 1990, after the fall of the Eastern Bloc, the former East Germany became part of the Communities as part of a reunified Germany.[58] A close fiscal integration with the introduction of the euro was not matched by institutional oversight making things more troubling.[when?] Attempts to solve the problems and to make the EU[when?] more efficient and coherent had limited success.[59]

Maastricht Treaty (1992–2007)

The euro was introduced in 2002, replacing 12 national currencies. Seven countries have since joined.

The European Union was formally established when the Maastricht Treaty—whose main architects were Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand—came into force on 1 November 1993.[18][60] The treaty also gave the name European Community to the EEC, even if it was referred as such before the treaty. With further enlargement planned to include the former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Cyprus and Malta, the Copenhagen criteria for candidate members to join the EU were agreed upon in June 1993. The expansion of the EU introduced a new level of complexity and discord.[59] 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 19 countries. The euro currency became the second largest reserve currency in the world. 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.[61]

Lisbon Treaty (2007–present)

In 2007, Bulgaria and Romania became EU members. The same year, Slovenia adopted the euro,[61] followed in 2008 by Cyprus and Malta, by Slovakia in 2009, by Estonia in 2011, by Latvia in 2014, and by Lithuania in 2015.

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 position of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.[62][63]

In 2012, the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize for having "contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe."[64][65] In 2013, Croatia became the 28th EU member.[66]

From the beginning of the 2010s, the cohesion of the European Union has been tested by several issues, including a debt crisis in some of the Eurozone countries, increasing migration from Africa and Asia, and the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the EU.[67] A referendum in the UK on its membership of the European Union was held in 2016, with 51.9% of participants voting to leave.[68] The UK formally notified the European Council of its decision to leave on 29 March 2017, initiating the formal withdrawal procedure for leaving the EU; following extensions to the process, the UK left the European Union on 31 January 2020, though most areas of EU law will continue to apply to the UK for a transition period lasting until the end of 2020 at the earliest.[69]

Structural evolution

The following timeline illustrates the integration that has led to the formation of the present union, in terms of structural development driven by international treaties:

Signed:
In force:
Document:
1947
1947
Dunkirk
Treaty
1948
1948
Brussels
Treaty
1951
1952
Paris
Treaty
1954
1955
Modified
Brussels
Treaty
1957
1958
Rome &
Euratom
treaties
1965
1967
Merger
Treaty
1975
1976
Council
Agreement
on TREVI
1986
1987
Single
European
Act
1985/90
1995
Schengen
Treaty
&
Convention
1992
1993
Maastricht Treaty
1997
1999
Amsterdam
Treaty
2001
2003
Nice
Treaty
2007
2009
Lisbon
Treaty
 
                           
Three pillars of the European Union:  
European Communities
(with common institutions)
 
European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM)   
European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) Treaty expired in 2002 European Union (EU)
    European Economic Community (EEC)   European Community (EC)
        Schengen Rules  
    Terrorism, Radicalism, Extremism and Violence Internationally (TREVI) Justice and Home Affairs
(JHA)
  Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters (PJCC)
  European Political Cooperation (EPC) Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)
Franco-British alliance Western Union (WU)
(Cannibalised militarily by NATO in 1951)
Western European Union (WEU)
(Social and cultural activities transferred to the Council of Europe in 1960)
   
Treaty terminated in 2011    
                       

Brexit

On 1 February 2020, the United Kingdom left the European Union in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. Between then and (as of February 2020) 31 December 2020, a transition period is in operation that keeps in place all other aspects of the relationship to allow businesses to prepare and for a free trade agreement to be negotiated.[70]

Future enlargement

The criteria for accession to the Union are included in the Copenhagen criteria, agreed in 1993, and the Treaty of Maastricht (Article 49). Article 49 of the Maastricht Treaty (as amended) says that any "European state" that respects the "principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law", may apply to join the EU. Whether a country is European or not is subject to political assessment by the EU institutions.[71]

There are five recognised candidates for future membership of the Union: Turkey (applied on 14 April 1987), North Macedonia (applied on 22 March 2004 as "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"), Montenegro (applied in 2008), Albania (applied in 2009), and Serbia (applied in 2009). While the others are progressing, Turkish talks are at an effective standstill.[72][73][74]

In March 2020, Hungary passed extensive legislation to give prime minister Viktor Orbán indefinite emergency powers, citing the 2019-2020 coronavirus pandemic as the reason for the expansion of executive powers. The powers included issuing executive decrees, suspending parliament and the shutting down and persecution of opposition media publications deemed fake news. Many have since called apon the EU to sever ties to the country for democratic backsliding and for being fundamentally incompatible with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.[75][76] Despite these calls, there are no mechanisms to remove member states from the union and can only be sanctioned in accordance to article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which had first been proposed in 2015, but was formally voted for in 2018, again for the breach of the EU's core values.[77]

Demographics

Population

As of 1 February 2020, the population of the European Union was about 447 million people (5.8% of the world population).[7][78] In 2015, 5.1 million children were born in the EU-28, corresponding to a birth rate of 10 per 1,000, which is 8 births below the world average.[79] For comparison, the EU-28 birth rate had stood at 10.6 in 2000, 12.8 in 1985 and 16.3 in 1970.[80] Its population growth rate was positive at an estimated 0.23% in 2016.[81]

In 2010, 47.3 million people who lived in the EU were born outside their resident country. This corresponds to 9.4% of the total EU population. Of these, 31.4 million (6.3%) were born outside the EU and 16.0 million (3.2%) were born in another EU member state. The largest absolute numbers of people born outside the EU were in Germany (6.4 million), France (5.1 million), the United Kingdom (4.7 million), Spain (4.1 million), Italy (3.2 million), and the Netherlands (1.4 million).[82] In 2017, approximately 825,000 people acquired citizenship of a member state of the European Union. The largest groups were nationals of Morocco, Albania, India, Turkey and Pakistan.[83] 2.4 million immigrants from non-EU countries entered the EU in 2017.[84][85]

Urbanisation

The EU contains about 40 urban areas with populations of over one million. The largest metropolitan areas in the EU are Paris and Madrid.[86] These are followed by Barcelona, Berlin, Rhine-Ruhr, Rome, and Milan, all with a metropolitan population of over 4 million.[87]

The EU also has numerous polycentric urbanised regions like Rhine-Ruhr (Cologne, Dortmund, Düsseldorf et al.), Randstad (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht et al.), Frankfurt Rhine-Main (Frankfurt), the Flemish Diamond (Antwerp, Brussels, Leuven, Ghent et al.) and Upper Silesian area (Katowice, Ostrava et al.).[86]


Languages

Language Native speakers Total
German 18% 32%
French 13% 26%
Italian 12% 16%
Spanish 8% 15%
Polish 8% 9%
Romanian 5% 5%
Dutch 4% 5%
Greek 3% 4%
Hungarian 3% 3%
Portuguese 2% 3%
Czech 2% 3%
Swedish 2% 3%
Bulgarian 2% 2%
English 1% 51%
Slovak 1% 2%
Danish 1% 1%
Finnish 1% 1%
Lithuanian 1% 1%
Croatian 1% 1%
Slovene <1% <1%
Estonian <1% <1%
Irish <1% <1%
Latvian <1% <1%
Maltese <1% <1%

Survey 2012.[89]
Native: Native language[90]
Total: EU citizens able to hold a
conversation in this language[91]

The European Union has 24 official languages: Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Irish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, and Swedish. Important documents, such as legislation, are translated into every official language and the European Parliament provides translation for documents and plenary sessions.[92][93][94]

Due to the high number of official languages, most of the institutions use only a handful of working languages.[95] The European Commission conducts its internal business in three procedural languages: English, French, and German. Similarly, the European Court of Justice uses French as the working language,[96][97] while the European Central Bank conducts its business primarily in English.[98][99]

Even though language policy is the responsibility of member states, EU institutions promote multilingualism among its citizens.[f][100] English is the most widely spoken language in the EU, being understood by 51% of the EU population when counting both native and non-native speakers.[101] German is the most widely spoken mother tongue (18% of the EU population), followed by French (13% of the EU population). In addition, both are official languages of several EU member states. More than half (56%) of EU citizens are able to engage in a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue.[102]

A total of twenty official languages of the EU belong to the Indo-European language family, represented by the Balto-Slavic,[g] the Italic,[h] the Germanic,[i] the Hellenic,[j] and the Celtic[k] branches. Only four languages, namely Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian (all three Uralic), and Maltese (Semitic), are not Indo-European languages.[103] The three official alphabets of the European Union (Cyrillic, Latin, and modern Greek) all derive from the Archaic Greek scripts.[3][104]

Luxembourgish (in Luxembourg) and Turkish (in Cyprus) are the only two national languages that are not official languages of the EU. On 26 February 2016 it was made public that Cyprus has asked to make Turkish an official EU language, in a “gesture” that could help solve the division of the country.[105] Already in 2004, it was planned that Turkish would become an official language when Cyprus reunites.[106]

Besides the 24 official languages, there are about 150 regional and minority languages, spoken by up to 50 million people.[103] Catalan, Galician and Basque are not recognised official languages of the European Union but have semi-official status in one member state (Spain): therefore, official translations of the treaties are made into them and citizens have the right to correspond with the institutions in these languages.[107][108] The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages ratified by most EU states provides general guidelines that states can follow to protect their linguistic heritage. The European Day of Languages is held annually on 26 September and is aimed at encouraging language learning across Europe.[109]

Religion

The EU has no formal connection to any religion. The Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union[110] recognises the "status under national law of churches and religious associations" as well as that of "philosophical and non-confessional organisations".[111]

The preamble to the Treaty on European Union mentions the "cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe".[111] Discussion over the draft texts of the European Constitution and later the Treaty of Lisbon included proposals to mention Christianity or a god, or both, in the preamble of the text, but the idea faced opposition and was dropped.[112]

Religious affiliation in the European Union (2015)[4]
Affiliation % of EU population
Christian 71.6 71.6
 
Catholic 45.3 45.3
 
Protestant 11.1 11.1
 
Eastern Orthodox 9.6 9.6
 
Other Christian 5.6 5.6
 
Muslim 1.8 1.8
 
Other faiths 2.6 2.6
 
Irreligious 24 24
 
Non-believer/Agnostic 13.6 13.6
 
Atheist 10.4 10.4
 

Christians in the European Union are divided among members of Catholicism (both Roman and Eastern Rite), numerous Protestant denominations (Anglicans, Lutherans, and Reformed forming the bulk of this category), and the Eastern Orthodox Church. In 2009, the EU had an estimated Muslim population of 13 million,[113] and an estimated Jewish population of over a million.[114] The other world religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism are also represented in the EU population.

According to new polls about religiosity in the European Union in 2015 by Eurobarometer, Christianity is the largest religion in the European Union, accounting for 71.6% of the EU population. Catholics are the largest Christian group, accounting for 45.3% of the EU population, while Protestants make up 11.1%, Eastern Orthodox make up 9.6%, and other Christians make up 5.6%.[4]

Eurostat's Eurobarometer opinion polls showed in 2005 that 52% of EU citizens believed in a god, 27% in "some sort of spirit or life force", and 18% had no form of belief.[115] Many countries have experienced falling church attendance and membership in recent years.[116] The countries where the fewest people reported a religious belief were Estonia (16%) and the Czech Republic (19%).[115] The most religious countries were Malta (95%, predominantly Catholic) as well as Cyprus and Romania (both predominantly Orthodox) each with about 90% of citizens professing a belief in their respective god. Across the EU, belief was higher among women, older people, those with religious upbringing, those who left school at 15 or 16, and those "positioning themselves on the right of the political scale".[115]

Member states

Through successive enlargements, the European Union has grown from the six founding states (Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) to the current 27. Countries accede to the union by becoming party to the founding treaties, thereby subjecting themselves to the privileges and obligations of EU membership. This entails a partial delegation of sovereignty to the institutions in return for representation within those institutions, a practice often referred to as "pooling of sovereignty".[117][118]

To become a member, a country must meet the Copenhagen criteria, defined at the 1993 meeting of the European Council in Copenhagen. These require a stable democracy that respects human rights and the rule of law; a functioning market economy; and the acceptance of the obligations of membership, including EU law. Evaluation of a country's fulfilment of the criteria is the responsibility of the European Council.[119] Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty provides the basis for a member to leave the Union. Two territories have left the Union: Greenland (an autonomous province of Denmark) withdrew in 1985;[120] the United Kingdom formally invoked Article 50 of the Consolidated Treaty on European Union in 2016, and became the only sovereign state to leave when it withdrew from the EU in 2020.

There are six countries that are recognised as candidates for membership: Albania, Iceland, North Macedonia,[l] Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey,[121] though Iceland suspended negotiations in 2013.[122] Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are officially recognised as potential candidates,[121] with Bosnia and Herzegovina having submitted a membership application.

The four countries forming the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) are not EU members, but have partly committed to the EU's economy and regulations: Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, which are a part of the single market through the European Economic Area, and Switzerland, which has similar ties through bilateral treaties.[123][124] The relationships of the European microstates, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City include the use of the euro and other areas of co-operation.[125] The following 27 sovereign states (of which the map only shows territories situated in and around Europe) constitute the European Union:[126]

FinlandSwedenEstoniaLatviaLithuaniaPolandSlovakiaHungaryRomaniaBulgariaGreeceCyprusCzech RepublicAustriaSloveniaItalyMaltaPortugalSpainFranceGermanyLuxembourgBelgiumNetherlandsDenmarkIrelandMap showing the member states of the European Union (clickable)
About this image
List of member states
Arms Flag State Capital Code Accession Population
(2019)[7]
Area Population
density
MEPs
Coat of arms of Austria Austria Vienna AT 199501011 January 1995 8,858,775 83,855 km2
(32,377 sq mi)
106/km2
(270/sq mi)
19
Coat of arms of Belgium Belgium Brussels BE 19570325Founder 11,467,923 30,528 km2
(11,787 sq mi)
376/km2
(970/sq mi)
21
Coat of arms of Bulgaria Bulgaria Sofia BG 200701011 January 2007 7,000,039 110,994 km2
(42,855 sq mi)
63/km2
(160/sq mi)
17
Coat of arms of Croatia Croatia Zagreb HR 201307011 July 2013 4,076,246 56,594 km2
(21,851 sq mi)
72/km2
(190/sq mi)
12
Coat of arms of Cyprus Cyprus Nicosia CY 200405011 May 2004 875,898 9,251 km2
(3,572 sq mi)
95/km2
(250/sq mi)
6
Coat of arms of the Czech Republic Czech Republic Prague CZ 200405011 May 2004 10,649,800 78,866 km2
(30,450 sq mi)
135/km2
(350/sq mi)
21
Coat of arms of Denmark Denmark Copenhagen DK 197301011 January 1973 5,806,081 43,075 km2
(16,631 sq mi)
135/km2
(350/sq mi)
14
Coat of arms of Estonia Estonia Tallinn EE 200405011 May 2004 1,324,820 45,227 km2
(17,462 sq mi)
29/km2
(75/sq mi)
7
Coat of arms of Finland Finland Helsinki FI 199501011 January 1995 5,517,919 338,424 km2
(130,666 sq mi)
16/km2
(41/sq mi)
14
Coat of arms of France France Paris FR 19570325Founder 67,028,048 640,679 km2
(247,368 sq mi)
105/km2
(270/sq mi)
79
Coat of arms of Germany Germany Berlin DE 19570325Founder[m] 83,019,214 357,021 km2
(137,847 sq mi)
233/km2
(600/sq mi)
96
Coat of arms of Greece Greece Athens GR 198101011 January 1981 10,722,287 131,990 km2
(50,960 sq mi)
81/km2
(210/sq mi)
21
Coat of arms of Hungary Hungary Budapest HU 200401011 May 2004 9,797,561 93,030 km2
(35,920 sq mi)
105/km2
(270/sq mi)
21
Coat of arms of Ireland Ireland Dublin IE 197301011 January 1973 4,904,226 70,273 km2
(27,133 sq mi)
70/km2
(180/sq mi)
13
Coat of arms of Italy Italy Rome IT 19570325Founder 60,359,546 301,338 km2
(116,347 sq mi)
200/km2
(520/sq mi)
76
Coat of arms of Latvia Latvia Riga LV 200405011 May 2004 1,919,968 64,589 km2
(24,938 sq mi)
30/km2
(78/sq mi)
8
Coat of arms of Lithuania Lithuania Vilnius LT 200405011 May 2004 2,794,184 65,200 km2
(25,200 sq mi)
43/km2
(110/sq mi)
11
EU Member States' CoA Series- Luxembourg.svg Luxembourg Luxembourg City LU 19570325Founder 613,894 2,586 km2
(998 sq mi)
237/km2
(610/sq mi)
6
Coat of arms of Malta Malta Valletta MT 200405011 May 2004 493,559 316 km2
(122 sq mi)
1,562/km2
(4,050/sq mi)
6
Coat of arms of the Netherlands Netherlands Amsterdam NL 19570325Founder 17,282,163 41,543 km2
(16,040 sq mi)
416/km2
(1,080/sq mi)
29
Coat of arms of Poland Poland Warsaw PL 200405011 May 2004 37,972,812 312,685 km2
(120,728 sq mi)
121/km2
(310/sq mi)
52
Coat of arms of Portugal Portugal Lisbon PT 198601011 January 1986 10,276,617 92,390 km2
(35,670 sq mi)
111/km2
(290/sq mi)
21
Coat of arms of Romania Romania Bucharest RO 200701011 January 2007 19,401,658 238,391 km2
(92,043 sq mi)
81/km2
(210/sq mi)
33
Coat of arms of Slovakia Slovakia Bratislava SK 200405011 May 2004 5,450,421 49,035 km2
(18,933 sq mi)
111/km2
(290/sq mi)
14
Coat of arms of Slovenia Slovenia Ljubljana SI 200405011 May 2004 2,080,908 20,273 km2
(7,827 sq mi)
103/km2
(270/sq mi)
8
Coat of arms of Spain Spain Madrid ES 198601011 January 1986 46,934,632 504,030 km2
(194,610 sq mi)
93/km2
(240/sq mi)
59
Coat of arms of Sweden Sweden Stockholm SE 199501011 January 1995 10,230,185 449,964 km2
(173,732 sq mi)
23/km2
(60/sq mi)
21
27 total 446,834,579 4,233,262 km2
(1,634,472 sq mi)
106/km2
(270/sq mi)
705

Geography

The EU's member states cover an area of 4,233,262 square kilometres (1,634,472 sq mi).[n] The EU's highest peak is Mont Blanc in the Graian Alps, 4,810.45 metres (15,782 ft) above sea level.[127] The lowest points in the EU are Lammefjorden, Denmark and Zuidplaspolder, Netherlands, at 7 m (23 ft) below sea level.[128] The landscape, climate, and economy of the EU are influenced by its coastline, which is 65,993 kilometres (41,006 mi) long.

Including the overseas territories of France which are located outside the continent of Europe, but which are members of the union, the EU experiences most types of climate from Arctic (north-east Europe) to tropical (French Guiana), rendering meteorological averages for the EU as a whole meaningless. The majority of the population lives in areas with a temperate maritime climate (North-Western Europe and Central Europe), a Mediterranean climate (Southern Europe), or a warm summer continental or hemiboreal climate (Northern Balkans and Central Europe).[129]

The EU's population is highly urbanised, with some 75% of inhabitants living in urban areas as of 2006. Cities are largely spread out across the EU with a large grouping in and around the Benelux.[130]

Politics

Organigram of the political system with the seven institutions of the Union in blue, national / intergovernmental elements in orange

The EU operates through a hybrid system of supranational and intergovernmental decision-making,[131][132] and according to the principles of conferral (which says that it should act only within the limits of the competences conferred on it by the treaties) and of subsidiarity (which says that it should act only where an objective cannot be sufficiently achieved by the member states acting alone). Laws made by the EU institutions are passed in a variety of forms.[133] Generally speaking, they can be classified into two groups: those which come into force without the necessity for national implementation measures (regulations) and those which specifically require national implementation measures (directives).[134]

Constitutionally, the EU bears some resemblance to both a confederation and a federation,[135][136] but has not formally defined itself as either. (It does not have a formal constitution: its status is defined by the Treaty of European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). It is more integrated than a traditional confederation of states because the general level of government widely employs qualified majority voting in some decision-making among the member states, rather than relying exclusively on unanimity.[137][138] It is less integrated than a federal state because it is not a state in its own right: sovereignty continues to flow 'from the bottom up', from the several peoples of the separate member states, rather than from a single undifferentiated whole. This is reflected in the fact that the member states remain the 'masters of the Treaties', retaining control over the allocation of competences to the Union through constitutional change (thus retaining so-called Kompetenz-kompetenz); in that they retain control of the use of armed force; they retain control of taxation; and in that they retain a right of unilateral withdrawal from the Union under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. In addition, the principle of subsidiarity requires that only those matters that need to be determined collectively are so determined.

The Berlaymont building in the European Quarter of Brussels, Belgium, houses the headquarters of the European Commission

The European Union has seven principal decision-making bodies, its institutions: the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the European Court of Auditors. Competence in scrutinising and amending legislation is shared between the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament, while executive tasks are performed by the European Commission and in a limited capacity by the European Council (not to be confused with the aforementioned Council of the European Union). The monetary policy of the eurozone is determined by the European Central Bank. The interpretation and the application of EU law and the treaties are ensured by the Court of Justice of the European Union. The EU budget is scrutinised by the European Court of Auditors. There are also a number of ancillary bodies which advise the EU or operate in a specific area.

  • the European Council, which sets the general political directions and priorities of the Union by gathering together its member states' heads of state/government (elected chief executives). The conclusions of its summits (held at least quarterly) are adopted by consensus.
  • the European Commission, the only institution empowered to propose legislation, serves as the "Guardian of the Treaties". It consists of an executive cabinet of public officials, led by an indirectly elected President. This College of Commissioners manages and directs the Commission's permanent civil service. It turns the consensus objectives of the European Council into legislative proposals.
  • the Council of the European Union brings together ministers of member states governments' departments. It serves to represent the various governments directly and its approval is required for any proposal to enter into law.
  • the European Parliament consists of 705 directly elected representatives. It shares with the Council of the EU equal legislative powers to amend, approve or reject Commission proposals for most areas of EU legislation. Its powers are limited in areas where member states' view sovereignty to be of primary concern (i.e. defence). It elects the Commission's President, must approve the College of Commissioners, and may vote to remove them collectively from office.
  • the Court of Justice of the European Union ensures the uniform application of EU law and resolves disputes between EU institutions and member states, and against EU institutions on behalf of individuals.
  • the European Central Bank is responsible for monetary stability within member states.
  • the European Court of Auditors investigates the proper management of finances within both the EU entities and EU funding provided to its member states. As well as providing oversight and advice, it can refer unresolved issues to the European Court of Justice to arbitrate on any alleged irregularities.

EU policy is in general promulgated by EU directives, which are then implemented in the domestic legislation of its member states, and EU regulations, which are immediately enforceable in all member states. Lobbying at EU level by special interest groups is regulated to try to balance the aspirations of private initiatives with public interest decision-making process[139]

European Parliament

The European Parliament is one of three legislative institutions of the EU, which together with the Council of the European Union is tasked with amending and approving the Commission's proposals. The 705 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are directly elected by EU citizens every five years on the basis of proportional representation. MEPs are elected on a national basis and they sit according to political groups rather than their nationality. Each country has a set number of seats and is divided into sub-national constituencies where this does not affect the proportional nature of the voting system.[140]

In the ordinary legislative procedure, the European Commission proposes legislation, which requires the joint approval of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union to pass. This process applies to nearly all areas, including the EU budget. The Parliament is the final body to approve or reject the proposed membership of the Commission, and can attempt motions of censure on the Commission by appeal to the Court of Justice. The President of the European Parliament (currently David Sassoli) carries out the role of speaker in Parliament and represents it externally. The President and Vice-Presidents are elected by MEPs every two and a half years.[141]

European Council

The European Council gives political direction to the EU. It convenes at least four times a year and comprises the President of the European Council (currently Charles Michel), the President of the European Commission and one representative per member state (either its head of state or head of government). The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (currently Josep Borrell) also takes part in its meetings. It has been described by some as the Union's "supreme political authority".[142] It is actively involved in the negotiation of treaty changes and defines the EU's policy agenda and strategies.

The European Council uses its leadership role to sort out disputes between member states and the institutions, and to resolve political crises and disagreements over controversial issues and policies. It acts externally as a "collective head of state" and ratifies important documents (for example, international agreements and treaties).[143]

Tasks for the President of the European Council are ensuring the external representation of the EU,[144] driving consensus and resolving divergences among member states, both during meetings of the European Council and over the periods between them.

The European Council should not be mistaken for the Council of Europe, an international organisation independent of the EU based in Strasbourg.

European Commission

The European Commission acts both as the EU's executive arm, responsible for the day-to-day running of the EU, and also the legislative initiator, with the sole power to propose laws for debate.[145][146][147] The Commission is 'guardian of the Treaties' and is responsible for their efficient operation and policing.[148] It operates de facto as a cabinet government,[citation needed] with 27 Commissioners for different areas of policy, one from each member state, though Commissioners are bound to represent the interests of the EU as a whole rather than their home state.

One of the 27 is the President of the European Commission (Jean-Claude Juncker for 2014–2019), appointed by the European Council, subject to the Parliament's approval. After the President, the most prominent Commissioner is the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who is ex-officio a Vice-President of the Commission and is also chosen by the European Council.[149] The other 26 Commissioners are subsequently appointed by the Council of the European Union in agreement with the nominated President. The 27 Commissioners as a single body are subject to approval (or otherwise) by vote of the European Parliament.

Council of the European Union

The Council of the European Union (also called the "Council"[150] and the "Council of Ministers", its former title)[151] forms one half of the EU's legislature. It consists of a government minister from each member state and meets in different compositions depending on the policy area being addressed. Notwithstanding its different configurations, it is considered to be one single body.[152] In addition to its legislative functions, the Council also exercises executive functions in relations to the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

In some policies, there are several member states that ally with strategic partners within the Union. Examples of such alliances include the Visegrad Group, Benelux, the Baltic Assembly, the New Hanseatic League, and the Craiova Group.

Budget

European Union 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework
European Union 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework[153]

The EU had an agreed budget of €120.7 billion for the year 2007 and €864.3 billion for the period 2007–2013,[154] representing 1.10% and 1.05% of the EU-27's GNI forecast for the respective periods. In 1960, the budget of the then European Economic Community was 0.03% of GDP.[155]

In the 2010 budget of €141.5 billion, the largest single expenditure item is "cohesion & competitiveness" with around 45% of the total budget.[156] Next comes "agriculture" with approximately 31% of the total.[156] "Rural development, environment and fisheries" takes up around 11%.[156] "Administration" accounts for around 6%.[156] The "EU as a global partner" and "citizenship, freedom, security and justice" bring up the rear with approximately 6% and 1% respectively.[156]

The Court of Auditors is legally obliged to provide the Parliament and the Council (specifically, the Economic and Financial Affairs Council) with "a statement of assurance as to the reliability of the accounts and the legality and regularity of the underlying transactions".[157] The Court also gives opinions and proposals on financial legislation and anti-fraud actions.[158] The Parliament uses this to decide whether to approve the Commission's handling of the budget.

The European Court of Auditors has signed off the European Union accounts every year since 2007 and, while making it clear that the European Commission has more work to do, has highlighted that most of the errors take place at national level.[159][160] In their report on 2009 the auditors found that five areas of Union expenditure, agriculture and the cohesion fund, were materially affected by error.[161] The European Commission estimated in 2009 that the financial effect of irregularities was €1,863 million.[162]

Competences

EU member states retain all powers not explicitly handed to the European Union. In some areas the EU enjoys exclusive competence. These are areas in which member states have renounced any capacity to enact legislation. In other areas the EU and its member states share the competence to legislate. While both can legislate, member states can only legislate to the extent to which the EU has not. In other policy areas the EU can only co-ordinate, support and supplement member state action but cannot enact legislation with the aim of harmonising national laws.[163]

That a particular policy area falls into a certain category of competence is not necessarily indicative of what legislative procedure is used for enacting legislation within that policy area. Different legislative procedures are used within the same category of competence, and even with the same policy area.

The distribution of competences in various policy areas between Member States and the Union is divided in the following three categories:

As outlined in Title I of Part I of the consolidated Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union
European Union articles
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