What is the European Union?

Updated: June 25, 2020 | 3 minute read

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What is the European Union?  

The European Union (EU) is a group of 27 countries which make up the greater part of the continent. The collection of nations was developed in the years following the second world war and aimed to endorse peace and trade with one another. It was essential for European countries to become economically interdependent after a time of significant instability.

In 1958 it was then referred to as the European Economic Community (ECC) and was established between Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. In 1993, years later, this expanded and was subsequently known as the European Union (EU. Since it's conception, the EU has grown to include an additional 22 countries.

To this day, although the name has changed, the collective still commits themselves to a social, political and economic agreement. The European Union began solely centred on economic reasons and has since progressed to policy creation and implementation, climate, environment and health, justice, security, migration and the Schengen Area.

What countries are in the EU?


What are the functions of the EU?

 Over the years, the focus of the European Union has shifted from purely economic growth to a more holistic mission, reflected in the goals and values.

In 2020, the goals currently include:

  • Advocating peace and the well-being of its 512.6 million citizens;

  • Offering freedom, security and justice without internal borders;

  • Maintaining sustainable development based on steady economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive market economy with full employment and social progress and environmental protection;

  • Combating social exclusion and discrimination;

  • Endorsing scientific and technological progress;

  • Enhancing economic, social and territorial cohesion and solidarity among EU countries;

  • Respecting its rich cultural and linguistic diversity;

  • Establishing an economic and monetary union whose currency is the euro.

 Learn more about the EU functions here

What are the values of the EU?

The following values are at the core of the European Union and the European way of life. The 5 essential pillars held by all member states include; tolerance, inclusion, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination.

  1. Freedom - At the heart of the EU sit four key principles: the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour. This allows for goods, services, capital and persons to move without restriction within the EU. Other freedoms such as freedom of thought, religion, expression and information are all protected by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

  2. Democracy - The EU operates with a representative democracy which means that all EU members enjoy political rights, such as the right to vote in elections to the European Parliament, contest as a candidate and vote in their country of residence. 

  3. Equality - The Principle of equal pay formed part of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and is found across all EU policies.

  4. Rule of Law - A separate judiciary independently maintains laws and justice. The European Court of Justice retains final jurisdiction which must be respected by all member states.

  5. Human Rights - The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights consist of the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, age or sexual orientation, the right to the protection of personal data and the right to get access to justice.

What are the benefits of the EU?

There is a multitude of benefits to forming part of the EU; however, the following are a few worth highlighting;

  • Since its formation, we have seen more than half a century of stability, progress and harmony;

  • The Schengen Area was established in 1995, and this agreement made it possible to live, work and travel easily within the member states;

  • The EU is the world's largest trading block and import and export market for over 100 countries. The EU runs on a single market economy, enabling goods, services and people to move freely;

  • The EU provides support to over 120 million people every year, who are victims of man-made or natural disasters across the world. This makes the European Union the world's leading contributor to humanitarian aid.

After reading this article, you should have a better idea about the European Union and the progress that has been made throughout the 60 years of its presence. With the euro's value steadily on the rise, the EU continues to prove itself as an economic force in the arena.

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