Europe is one of the smallest continents in the world, but it has a significant impact on its politics and economy. Inspired by decades of collaboration, Europe is home to one of the largest global organizations— the European Union.
What is the European Union?
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 member countries in the European continent. It has a single internal market through a standardized laws system that applies in all member states. The EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital within the internal market.
The core values of the EU are human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, human rights, and the rule of law. Its primary goals are to promote peace, freedom, justice, economic and social security among EU countries.
Brief History of the European Union
The idea of a unified Europe began with Ancient Rome when a few European states were considered the central rulers in Europe. However, it wasn’t until 1920 that this theory started to take form when economist John Maynard proposed the notion of a single labor market.
Eventually, France and Germany first proposed the concept of a common European trade area five years after World War II. The purpose of creating such a union was to create a peaceful region in Europe that collaborated in economic terms.
Later in 1957, the Treaty of Rome was signed by six founding members: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands— creating the common European market. In 1972 Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom joined. Seven years later, the first European Parliament was created.
In 2009, the EU countries signed the Treaty of Lisbon, which increased the powers of the European Parliament. Moreover, the treaty gave the EU more powers on border control, immigration, judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters, and police cooperation.
Currently, the EU is the largest trade block globally and the biggest exporter of manufactured goods and services. At the same time, it’s a leading door of humanitarian aid, committed to helping victims of natural and man-made disasters worldwide.
How does the EU work?
The EU functions based on the rule of laws agreed on by all member countries, which together run the four key EU institutions as listed below:
- The Council of the European Union. Consisting of the Heads of State or Government of EU countries, the Council of the European Union is responsible for setting the policies and the new legislation.
- The European Parliament. EU citizens elect the MEPs, who represent their interests to the Parliament in return. Plus, within the Parliament, all the laws proposed by the Council are debated and approved.
- The European Commission. The EU Commission represents the EU interests’ and the EU as a whole. In addition, it’s responsible for executing the laws.
- The Court of Justice. This legal body interprets EU laws to make sure they are applied in the same way in all EU countries. It also settles legal disputes between national governments and EU institutions.
EU Countries List
Following is the complete list of EU countries and their accession date into the block:
|Austria||January 1, 1995|
|Belgium||March 25, 1957|
|Bulgaria||January 1, 2007|
|Croatia||July 1, 2013|
|Cyprus||May 1, 2004|
|Czech Republic||May 1, 2004|
|Denmark||January 1, 1973|
|Estonia||May 1, 2004|
|Finland||January 1, 1995|
|France||March 25, 1957|
|Germany||March 25, 1957|
|Greece||January 1, 1981|
|Hungary||May 1, 2004|
|Ireland||January 1, 1973|
|Italy||March 25, 1957|
|Latvia||May 1, 2004|
|Lithuania||May 1, 2004|
|Luxembourg||March 25, 1957|
|Malta||May 1, 2004|
|Netherlands||March 25, 1957|
|Poland||May 1, 2004|
|Portugal||January 1, 1986|
|Romania||January 1, 2007|
|Slovakia||May 1, 2004|
|Slovenia||May 1, 2004|
|Spain||January 1, 1986|
|Sweden||January 1, 1995|
Countries In the Process of Joining the EU
The following countries are still under negotiations to join the EU in the future:
- North Macedonia
Potential countries that have yet to begin the negotiation process include Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Differences Between the EU and the EEA
In terms of membership, the sole difference between the EU and the EEA is that the latter consists of three more countries, which are:
The EEA was established to connect the EU’s internal market to countries in the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). As a result, the EEA members are not obliged to implement EU policies on common agriculture and fisheries, customs union, the standard trade policy, foreign and security policy, etc.
Differences Between the EU and the EFTA
EFTA stands for the European Free Trade Association, which has four member states as listed below:
None of the EFTA members are part of the EU. However, EFTA has negotiated access to the EU single market and has partially accepted EU laws relating to single market access.
The EFTA doesn’t have EU-style standard policies, such as agriculture, fishing, transport, and regions. It has no plans for the sort of economic and political integration implied by Eurozone membership.
Are the EU and the Schengen Area the Same?
The EU and the Schengen Area are two separate concepts. While the first covers its member states’ political and economic aspects, the latter is primarily focused on providing international visitors access to Europe. Additionally, there are 27 European Union countries, whereas the Schengen Area consists of 22 members of the EU and four EFTA countries.
Differences Between the EU and the EUROZONE
The Eurozone is a subgroup of the European Union, consisting of the member states that use the same currency; the Euro. However, not every member of the EU agreed to use one monetary value; that is why there are still many countries in Europe that use their local currency.
Here is a list of the countries that belong to the Eurozone:
- The Netherlands
Membership Conditions for EU
Any European country has the right to apply for EU membership— provided they meet the following criteria:
- Have a functioning democratic government that guarantees and protects the fundamental rights of its citizens and minority groups.
- Have a stable market and economic foundation that enables them to participate in the EU market.
- Be able to follow the EU laws and policies in every aspect.
In addition to these essential criteria, each new member must pay the membership fee— negotiated during the joining process. However, due to a complicated political situation, the EU has put additional conditions on some countries, i.e., Balkan countries.
What Benefits Do the Countries in the EU Enjoy?
EU members enjoy many benefits, some of which are:
- The freedom of movement of goods, labor, and capital.
- The opportunity for economic growth.
- The free movement of EU citizens between member states.
- Consular protection of EU citizens during international travels.
- Social and physical security under EU laws.
Can Member Countries Leave the EU?
Yes, under EU laws, any member country who wants to revoke its membership can do so. However, the process may take a few years, during which there will be a transitional period until the exit agreement is finalized. The only country that has exited the EU is the United Kingdom— officially no longer in the EU since December 2020.