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European Union

The Flag of EuropeThe Flag of EuropeThe European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of 27 member states. The EU has developed a single market through new laws that apply to all member states. Passport controls have been abolished in what is known as the Schengen Area, which includes most—but not all—of the EU member states. The EU's aims include ensuring the free movement of people, goods and services. There are common policies on tradeagriculture and fisheries. A monetary union, known as the Eurozonein which the euro is the currency used in all countries that are members (18 out of 27), was established in 1999.

Unpatrolled border between two Schengen Area statesUnpatrolled border between two Schengen Area states

Origins of the EU

The EU’s origins were in the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). After World War II ended, France and Germany came up with a plan to ensure they would never again go to war with one other. So they, plus four other nations—Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg—agreed to pool their coal and steel resources. Then, following the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the same six countries formed the European Economic Community (EEC) or Common Market, which came into being in 1958. Since then, a number of other European states joined, including Britain. The Maastricht Treaty established the European Union under its current name in 1993. Today the EU has 27 member states with a total population of more than 450 million.

The membership of the EU by key datesThe membership of the EU by key dates

EU members

The EU economy is the world’s biggest, with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of €20.4 trillion. This is about a fifth of the world’s total GDP.

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