2. What is the EU?

The European Union (EU) was created by intergovernmental treaties between the Member States. These treaties defined a number of institutions, and defined their competence. The EU is a unique institution:

  • It is a free trade area, with most product-related regulation harmonised
  • It is an area with free movement of labour
  • It has many common environmental standards
  • It has many common social standards
  • It is attempting to develop a unified foreign policy

EU Member States continue to exist, with their own politics and parliaments. However, in some areas – e.g. laws concerning the trading of goods, also known as ‘Internal Market legislation’- they have very little freedom to go against agreed EU regulation.

Who is in the EU?

The EU is currently made up of 28 countries, making up a total population of just over 500 million:

Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Poland, Romania, Netherlands, Greece, Portugal, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Sweden, Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Slovakia, Finland, Ireland, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia, Estonia, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta
[in order of population size].

In addition, three countries that are in the European Economic Area (EEA) but not the EU – Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – also apply many EU regulations, including those related to the internal market. However, EEA countries have no vote in EU decision-making processes. Switzerland also has agreements with the EU governing many aspects of regulation, but again has no influence on EU laws.

Throughout its history, the EU has been gradually expanding, with Romania and Bulgaria joining at the start of 2007, and Croatia joining on 1st July 2013. Discussions are ongoing with a number of other countries, including Serbia, Iceland and Turkey – for the latest information see the European Commission’s Enlargement web site.

For more information about the EU

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