The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of 28 member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC) formed by six countries in the 1950s. In the intervening years the EU has grown, in size, by the the accession of new member states and, in power, by the addition of policy areas to its remit. The Maastricht Treaty established the European Union under its current name in 1993. The last amendment to the constitutional basis of the EU, the Treaty of Lisbon, came into force in 2009.
The EU operates through a hybrid system of supranational independent institutions and intergovernmentally made decisions negotiated by the member states. Important institutions of the EU include the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, the European Council, the Court of Justice of the European Union, and the European Central Bank. The European Parliament is elected every five years by EU citizens.
The EU has developed a single market through a standardised system of laws which apply in all member states including the abolition of passport controls within the Schengen area. It ensures the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital, enacts legislation in justice and home affairs, and maintains common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development.
A monetary union, the eurozone, was established in 1999 and is currently composed of 16 member states.
With a population of 500 million inhabitants, the EU generated an estimated 21% (US$ 14.8 trillion) share of the global economy (GDP PPP) in 2009. As a trading bloc the EU accounts for 20% of global imports and exports.
Countries of the European Union
The European Union is composed of 28 sovereign Member States: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
Kosovo is also listed as a potential candidate but the European Commission does not list it as an independent country because not all member states of the EU recognise it as an independent country separate from Serbia.
Four Western European countries that are not EU members have partly committed to the EU's economy and regulations: Iceland (a candidate country for EU membership), 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.
Geographic territory of the European Union
The territory of the EU consists of the combined territories of its 27 member states with some exceptions, outlined below.
The territory of the EU is not the same as that of Europe, as parts of the continent are outside the EU.
Some parts of member states (taken in a wide sense) are not part of the EU, despite forming part of the European continent (for example the Isle of Man and Channel Islands (three Crown Dependencies), and the Faroe Islands (a territory of Denmark)).
As well, although being technically part of the EU, EU law is suspended in Northern Cyprus as it is under the de facto control of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, a self-proclaimed state that is recognised only by a very few countries, Turkey in paticular.