Thursday, February 28, 2008

European Union

The European Union (EU) is a political and economic community of twenty-seven member states, located primarily in Europe.

The EU comprises a single market created by a system of laws which apply in all member states, guaranteeing the freedom of movement of people, goods, services and capital. It maintains a common trade policy, agricultural and fisheries policies, and a regional development policy. In 1999 the EU introduced a common currency, the Euro, which has been adopted by fifteen member states. It represents its members in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and observes at G8 summits and at the United Nations (UN). It has also developed a role in foreign policy, and in justice and home affairs. Twenty-one EU countries are members of NATO. Passport control between many member states has been abolished under the Schengen Agreement. The EU countries together have almost 500 million citizens generating an estimated 31% share of the world's nominal gross domestic product (GDP) (US$16.6 trillion) in 2007.

Much of the EU's functioning depends on agreement between members, an intergovernmental feature it shares with most international organisations. However, it also has supranational bodies, able to make decisions binding upon member states. Important institutions and bodies of the EU include the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the European Council, the European Court of Justice and the European Central Bank. EU citizens elect the Parliament every five years.

The EU traces its origins to the European Coal and Steel Community formed among six countries in 1951 and the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Since then the EU has grown in size through the accession of new member states and has increased its powers by the addition of new policy areas to its remit. In 1993, the Maastricht Treaty established the current legal framework. The Treaty of Lisbon signed in December 2007 is intended to amend the existing treaties to update the political and legal structure of the union, if ratification is completed in 2008.

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