The European Union

The European Union is a group of countries whose governments work together.

EU Member states and Candidate countries map

Following World War II, many countries in Europe wanted to live peacefully together and help one another's economies. The European Economic Community, as it was then known, was therefore set up in 1957. Over the years it has grown to 28 member countries, with nearly 500 million people now living in the EU. Its motto is 'united in diversity'.

Before being allowed to join the EU, a country must fulfil the Copenhagen Criteria, which state that it must:
  • have a democratic government where people can vote to elect a political party to lead it;
  • respect the rule of law;
  • give everybody their human rights (e.g. the right for: water, freedom of speech, freedom from torture and freedom from slavery);
  • respect and protect national minorities (e.g. the Cornish minority in Cornwall and Irish Republicans in Northern Ireland).
  • be able to cope with competition when buying or selling goods with other countries.
Flag of Europe

People living in EU countries get many benefits. For example, they:
  • become an EU citizen;
  • can live in safety, without the threat of war;
  • have rights to help protect them;
  • can trade (buy and sell) goods easily with other EU countries without any special permissions or extra taxes;
  • can move freely around the EU, crossing borders easily to: work, live or go on holiday;
  • get the chance to be listened to by other world countries.
Öresundsbron från Luftkastellet

The European Council is made of all the heads of state or government of the EU countries. Meetings take place in Brussels and they decide how to develop the EU or how to solve any crises. The President of the European Council is often seen as the face of the EU to the rest of the world and changes every two years and six months.

EU Council Room

Many countries in the EU use a currency called the euro (€) which is divided up into 100 cents. One side of each coin is the same in all euro countries but the other side is different and contains a symbol relating to the country it is minted (made) in.

Some people nicknamed Eurosceptics think that by joining the EU, countries are losing their identity and are being forced to obey rules that they don't always agree with. Thee is a big debate at the moment about whether the UK should replace the pound with the euro.