Journalists often use “Europe” interchangeably with “the EU” (the abbreviation for the European Union) — although that’s not exactly accurate. So, what exactly is the EU then? Keep reading to find out.
10. The European Union is a Political and Economic Union
The European Union (EU) is an international organization that governs common economic, social and security policies of its member states. Its goals are: sustainable development based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive market economy with full employment and social progress, and environmental protection; promoting peace; offering freedom, security and justice without internal borders; combating social exclusion and discrimination; enhancing economic, social and territorial cohesion and solidarity among its countries; promoting scientific and technological progress; respecting its rich cultural and linguistic diversity; and establishing an economic and monetary union whose currency is the euro.
The European Union is run by five main bodies: European Parliament, Council of the Union, European Commission, Court of Justice, and the Court of Auditors.
9. It Was Created by the Maastricht Treaty
The European Union was created by the Maastricht Treaty. Known formally as the Treaty on European Union, the Maastricht Treaty was approved in December 1991 by heads of government of the states making up the European Community (EC). It was signed on February 7, 1992 by the leaders of 12 member nations (Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and West Germany). The Maastricht Treaty was entered into force on November 1, 1993.
8. It’s Been in the Works Since World War II
Even though the Maastricht Treaty wasn’t put into effect until the 1990s, the European Union has been part of a series of efforts to integrate Europe since World War II. After the war was over, several countries in western Europe wanted closer social, political and economic ties so they could achieve economic growth, military security, and a lasting alliance between Germany and France. So, in 1951, the leaders of Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed the Treaty of Paris. This led to the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which, in turn, led to other international treaties and treaty revisions based largely upon the ECSC model, which eventually led to the creation of the EU.
7. Not Every European Country is a Member of the European Union
Europe is made up of between 42 and 48 countries (some people don’t count Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Vatican City), yet there are only 28 countries that are members of the European Union. These countries are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
On June 23, 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU. The country is due to exit on October 31, 2019.
FUN FACT: The capital of the European Union is Brussels, Belgium.
6. The European Union is the Largest Trade Block in the World
According to its website, the European Union is “the world’s biggest exporter of manufactured goods and services, and the biggest import market for over 100 countries.”
In fact, “free trade among its members was one of the EU’s founding principles,” the website also says. “This is possible thanks to the single market. Beyond its borders, the EU is also committed to liberalizing world trade.”
The single market enables citizens to live or work in any EU country, move their money, sell goods without restrictions, and provide services on the same basis.
FUN FACT: The United States is the European Union’s main trading partner.
5. Not Every EU Country Uses the Euro
Although the euro is the official currency of the EU, not every EU country uses it. In fact, only 19 of the 28 EU countries have the euro as their official currency. Together, these 19 countries make up a region that is known as the “Eurozone.”
Technically speaking, EU rules state that member countries have to join the single currency. However, countries such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have all refused to join because they feel the euro is a terrible idea.
FUN FACT: Four non-EU countries adopted the euro and now use it as their official currency. Those countries are Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City.
4. It’s Not Very Pro-Migrant or Pro-Refugee
If all you did was listen to Angela Merkel all day, you’d think the EU was pro-migrant and pro-refugee. But, the fact of the matter is, many EU residents are anti-immigrant. For example, Heinz-Christian Strache, the former vice chancellor of Austria, once said that refugees should be housed in “underused” army camps and placed under a curfew. “Order is needed as long as we have an open asylum system,” he told Austrian television.
There are also anti-immigrant parties in the governments of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Netherlands, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Brussels. In fact, Brussels made a deal in March 2016 to send refugees back from the EU to Turkey. The deal was so anti-refugee that Amnesty International called it shameful.
As for Angela Merkel? Well, after she opened Germany’s doors to asylum seekers, the German people voted her out in the 2017 election.
3. It Was Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
As we mentioned earlier, one of the EU’s main goals is to promote peace. It should come as no surprise, then, that the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. According to The Nobel Prize’s official website, the organization was awarded the prize “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”
The award was presented by Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, on October 12, 2012. During an interview with journalist Geir Helljesen, Jagland said the decision was unanimous and that it came at the right time.
2. It’s the World’s Leading Donor of Humanitarian Aid
According to the European Union’s website, the EU and its constituent countries are the world’s leading donor of humanitarian aid. In fact, the organization supports over 120 million people each year. The EU recently announced that it was donating more than €110 million in humanitarian aid to the Horn of Africa. Since 2018, the EU has provided a total of €316.5 million in humanitarian aid to the Horn of Africa.
“The EU is committed to assist people in need in the Horn of Africa. I have visited the region several times and EU partners are making a real difference in helping those most in need. Our new funding will support those that have fled their homes, fragile host communities, and those suffering from natural disasters, especially drought. For aid to work, it is essential that across the region humanitarian organizations have full access to those in need,” Christos Stylianides, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis management, said in an article published on the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations’ website.
1. Burgundy Passports are an EU Standard
When new members join the union, the EU suggests that they use burgundy passports, although it’s not a requirement. So, why burgundy? Well, since the EU’s motto, which is “united in diversity,” signifies how Europeans have come together to work for peace and prosperity, it makes sense that they’d want unity when it comes to their passports as well. But, of course there are other reasons. According to Hrant Boghossian, the vice president of Arton Group, which runs the interactive Passport Index database, some speculate that it has to do with “a past communist history.” But, what it really boils down to is culture, history, practicality and availability, Boghossian told The Telegraph. “Passport production is a highly controlled process, and only few companies around the world are doing it,” he said. Besides, the cover is “usually supplied by a third party” and “only comes in certain color variations to meet the required standards,” he added.
Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave a comment below!