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The European Union, commonly abbreviated as the E.U., is an economic and political union between 28 member countries, located primarily in Europe. Committed to regional integration, the EU was established by the Treaty of Maastricht on 1 November 1993 upon the foundations of the European Communities.
With over 500 million citizens, the EU combined generates an estimated 28% share (US$ 16.45 trillion in 2009) of the nominal gross world product and about 21.3% (US$14.8 trillion in 2009) of the PPP gross world product. The EU has developed a single market through a standardized system of laws which apply in all member states, ensuring the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital.
It maintains common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. Seventeen member states have adopted a common currency, the euro, constituting the Eurozone. The EU has developed a limited role in foreign policy, having representation at the World Trade Organization, G8, G-20 major economies and at the United Nations. It enacts legislation in justice and home affairs, including the abolition of passport controls by the Schengen Agreement between several EU and non-EU states.
As an international organization, the EU operates through a hybrid system of supranationalism and intergovernmentalism. In certain areas, decisions are made through negotiation between member states, while in others, independent supranational institutions are responsible without a requirement for unanimity between 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, the European Space Agency, the European Defense Forces and the European Central Bank. The European Parliament is elected every five years by member states' citizens, to whom the citizenship of the European Union is guaranteed.
The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community formed among West Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and France in 1951 and the Treaty of Rome formed in 1957 by the same states. Since then, the EU has grown in size through enlargement, and in power through the addition of policy areas to its remit.
In 1973, the Communities enlarged to include Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Norway had negotiated to join at the same time but Norwegian voters rejected membership in a referendum and so Norway remained outside until the 1990s. In 1979, the first direct, democratic elections to the European Parliament were held. Greece joined in 1981, and Spain and Portugal in 1986. In 1985, the Schengen Agreement led the way toward the creation of open borders without passport controls between most member states and some non-member states. In 1986, the European flag began to be used by the Community and the Single European Act was signed.
In 1990, following the end of the Cold War, the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany) became part of the Community as part of a newly united Germany. With enlargement towards Eastern and Central Europe on the agenda, the Copenhagen criteria for candidate members to join the European Union were agreed. The European Union was formally established when the Maastricht Treaty came into force on 1 November 1993, and in 1995 Norway and Sweden joined the newly established EU.
In 2002, a single currency replaced several national currencies across the member states. Since then, the eurozone has increased to encompass 17 countries. In 2004, the EU saw its biggest enlargement to date when Austria, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, and Slovenia joined the union.
In late 2004, the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was signed by representatives of all member states and was ratified by all of the member states, coming into force on July 1st, 2005. This reformed many aspects of the EU but in particular created a permanent President of the European Council, the first of which is Herman van Rompuy, a strengthened High Representative, Catherine Ashton, merged the European Space Agency and the West European Union into the framework of the EU, to name a few.
The European Union currently has 28 member states.
- Austria (2004)
- Belgium (1958)
- Bulgaria (2007)
- Croatia (2004)
- Cyprus (2004)
- Czechoslovakia (2004)
- Denmark (1973)
- Estonia (2004)
- Finland (2004)
- France (1958)
- Germany (1958/1990)
- Greece (1981)
- Hungary (2004)
- Ireland (1973)
- Italy (1958)
- Latvia (2004)
- Lithuania (2004)
- Luxembourg (1958)
- Malta (2004)
- Netherlands (1958)
- Norway (1995)
- Poland (2004)
- Portugal (1986)
- Romania (2007)
- Slovenia (2004)
- Spain (1986)
- Sweden (1995)
- United Kingdom (1973)
If thought of as a single economy, the EU generates an estimated nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of US$ 16.45 trillion (14.794 trillion international dollars based on purchasing power parity) in 2009, amounting to over 21% of the world's total economic output in terms of purchasing power parity, which makes it the largest economy in the world by nominal GDP and the second largest trade bloc economy in the world by PPP valuation of GDP.
Since 1986, the EU has operated a single market, as well as a customs union. On January 1st 1999, the European Union launched the Euro, a common currency. Today Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia Cyprus, Denmark, Estland, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden have all adopted the Euro. Future enlargement is planned in September of 2010, when Poland and Hungary will officially join the eurozone.
The EU has been regarded as a soft power in world politics, being one of the most important economic powerhouses of the world. All EU-members are part of the WTO, and since a EU representative has a right of membership in the G8 and it is often dubbed "the 9th member“.
The EU is also the world's largest aid donor and in 2006 the aid budget was 671 million euros, 48% of which went to African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.
Since the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was ratified in 2005, the EU has officially created its own armed forces. Although 24 members of the EU are also members of NATO, the European leaders decided it was in their best interest to create a joint defense of their own.
The TCE did not give any limit to the number of personnel, it only stated that an autonomous EU military command would be established immediately. The command was created on July 5th 2005, merging its structure with the Western European Union and was established in Luxembourg. The newly created European Defense Forces (EDF) initially consisted of 50,000 troops mostly from former Western European Union members but soon grew to encompas 150,000 troops from almost all of the various member states.
The organization consists of three branches: a Ground Forces, Navy and an Air Force. The EDF uses mostly European made weapons, with the SA80 assault rifle family being used as its primary weapon of choice. Other hand-held standard issue weapons include the Benelli M4 Super 90, the HS2000 and various other weapons. The Air Force consists mostly of Eurofighter Typhoons and Eurocopter Tigers.
The EU has yet to decide on the limit of troops in the EDF. The UK has not been particularly pleased by the organization's creation, as it fears it would replace member countries' own militaries. These fears are not unfounded, as there has been a growing movement within the EU to replace national armies with the EDF.