The EU

Fancy a trip to Brussels? Well, join us in the article below for a deep dive into the European Union, an intergovernmental organisation in the heart of Brussels!

The EU The EU

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    The European Union (EU), is a significant political and economic institution which influences the day-to-day lives of millions of people in Europe. As an organisation, the EU is a major example of regionalism. By exploring the organisation through its history, aims and institutions, we will be able to understand its role on a global and regional scale.

    European Union: an economic and political organisation within Europe, which was established in 1993

    EU summary

    The European Union (EU) is an economic and political group in Europe, established in 1993. As we will see below, progress toward the modern-day European Union has a long history as the "European project" begun in 1951. In total there are 27 member states:

    The EU European Union Member Countries StudySmarterFig. 1 - European Union Member Countries

    After the Second World War, European countries witnessed a mass amount of destruction and casualties, and determined to prevent a situation like this from taking place again. A solution was needed, especially as it was just over two decades since the First World War.

    It was agreed that there was an increase in nationalism during the Second World War, leading to regional political and economic instability.

    Therefore, national European leaders met in 1944 at the Bretton Woods Conference in America. One of the initial ideas was in regards to the economy, to increase trade between different countries. This was an early idea and contributed to the Marshall Plan. Another idea was in regards to security, as all the countries shared borders with other European nations, an increase in co-operation between states should lead to better protection for all.

    History of the EU

    The European Union at its present state was not always like this. It started with 6 countries and only included steel and coal production. As the years went by, it led to the creation of one of the largest single markets in the world.

    Let’s explore the timeline.

    1951 – Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands and West Germany create an institution to oversee how much coal and steel is produced by each nation, this was known as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The consequence of this was that these 6 countries no longer had the power to decide their steel and coal production and as a result could not make arms except by agreement.

    1957 - The Treaty of Rome led to the establishment of the European Economic Community (EEC). This was also between the 6 nations of the ECSC. Aims included creating a market for the free movement of goods, people, capital and services and forming closer political unification among European states.

    1973 - During this year, 3 other nations joined the EEC: the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark.

    1986 – The Single European Act was established, creating a single market and a reduction in tariffs between these nations. This was a significant act, where nations gave some of their constitutional powers to the European Union.

    1993 – The Maastricht Treaty led to the official creation of the European Union. Including the free movement of people, goods, services and money. The institution now had 12 members, with Greece, Portugal, and Spain joining.

    1995 – The passport-free Schengen Area was established, this meant for the citizens of member states, there were no longer borders; residents could move freely between EU member states.

    2002 – The Euro (€) currency was established and adopted by 12 member states. 19 members use it at present.

    Constitutional treaty of the EU

    The constitution treaty of the EU was a treaty to recognise the European Union as a constitution. In essence, it would join all previous treaties of the EU to form a single codified constitution. In 2004, all members of the EU signed the treaty but it was abandoned after French and Dutch citizens rejected it. This then brought about the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007. This also brought all previous treaties with slight amendments but would not establish the EU as a single codified constitution and was enforced in 2009.

    Main aims of the EU

    Within its border, the EU aims to promote peace and enable freedom while regulating and fighting against crime. They want a market to develop economic growth and prosperity for all member states and help them stimulate more scientific discovery and preserve and sustain the environment.

    The EU Flag of Europe StudySmarterFig. 2 - Flag of Europe

    In addition, they advocate for gender equality and cultural and linguistic diversity. Outside of its borders, the EU is involved in sustainability, peace and security while protecting human rights and maintaining international law.

    Below is a summary of the key aims and values of the European Union:

    Key aims of the EU

    The key aims of the EU are in Article 3 of the Lisbon Treaty:1

    1. promote peace, its values and well-being of citizens
    2. create internal market
    3. freedom, justice and security within internal border
    4. sustainable development based on balanced economical growth
    5. protect and improve the environment
    6. promote scientific and technological advances
    7. tackle discrimination
    8. increase economical, territorial and social cohesion between EU states
    9. respect the diversity of culture and language
    10. create an economic and monetary union with the Euro (€) as the currency

    Values of the EU

    1. Human dignity: The dignity of humans must be respected and protected
    2. Freedom: giving citizens the right of free movement, as well freedom to a private life, religion and expression
    3. Democracy: the EU is a representative democracy where by citizens can stand as candidates and vote for candidates to represent them within the EU
    4. Equality: all citizens have equal rights
    5. Rule of law: the EU is based on treaties and agreed by member states and this is all upheld by an independent judiciary
    6. Human rights: human rights are protected by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which gives the individuals the rights and freedom from discrimination

    The EU and regionalism

    Many of the EU's key aims seem pretty ambitious and therefore cannot be achieved alone. The European Union can only achieve its aims through member state cooperation. The model of the European Union encourages regional cooperation and stronger relationships between European states, who must work together to achieve their collective goals.

    Cooperation and solidarity are necessary requirements in order to bring about the solutions that will once again bring stability to the European integration and bring it back to the track of growth"

    - Alexis Tsipras (Greek politician), 20162

    This trend is often referred to as "European integration" and is an example of regionalism and supranationalism.

    Regionalism: increasing the political power of a region rather than individual states

    Supranationalism: transfer of power from state level to superior intergovernmental institutions

    We can first explore this before the EU as a whole institution existed and when it was the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) with only 6 members.

    It is here we can identify co-operation as each member country was regulated in terms of how much steel and coal they were able to produce. This key example led to the integration of various energy sectors whilst also being able to create unified standards which would further facilitate trading between member states. This was eventually applicable to all EU member states.

    Main institutions of the EU

    The EU The Main Institutions of the European Union StudySmarterFig. 3 The Main Institutions of the European Union

    The ambitious aims of the European Union cannot be achieved without a strong bureaucratic structure to carry out the organisation's key functions and duties. These essential functions and duties of the European Union are carried out via five key institutions. These include:

    1. European Commission
    2. European Council
    3. Council of the European Union
    4. European Parliament
    5. Court of Justice of the European Union

    European Commission

    The European Commission, the executive branch of the EU acts as a cabinet government, with each country being a member and known as 'commissioners' and are led by a President. It is divided into departments, similar to what you would see in a single country's government containing civil servants. The commission has executive power, which allows it to form treaties, and legislative powers in which they are the sole institution that can initiate legislature and it is also their responsibility to ensure the any legislation is enforced.

    European Council

    This particular body leads the direction of the EU. The council itself includes heads of member states, the President of the European Council, and the President of the European Commission. The institution is particular involved in matters regarding foreign policy whereby they act as a 'collective head of state' and are involved in the ratification of treaties. The council also has the power to suspend other EU states, appoint their own President and the President for the European Central Bank. It is important to note they do not have any legislative power.

    Council of the European Union

    The Council of the European Union is a legislative body that has the power to amend, veto and approve legislation from the European Commission. The members of the council work to represent the views of member countries, making it an intergovernmental branch. The council also has the function of being responsible for the budget of the EU whilst also directing economic policy of the EU member states.

    Intergovernmental: being composed of many sovereign governments

    European Parliament

    The European Parliament is also a legislative body and the branch of the EU that is directly elected every 5 years by citizens, members are called Members of the European Parliament (MEP). It is important to note this particular branch cannot initiate legislation – only the European Commission can do this. But like the Council of the European Union, they are able to amend, veto and approve legislature. The Parliament alongside the Council of the European is also in charge of the budget and is involved in approving or rejecting appointments to the European Commission.

    Court of Justice of the European Union

    The Court of Justice of the European Union is the single judicial branch of the EU which ensure EU law is followed in all member states. It consists of two courts; the Court of Justice, which listens to application from national courts and having a judge from every member country, and the General Court, which focusses on agriculture, trade marks and state aid. It has 54 judges, where all positions do not have to billed and do not have to come from each member state.

    In 2014, before Britain left the EU, a case was brought up regarding clean air in the UK. The court ruled against the UK and stated that levels of Nitrous Oxide in the UK exceeded EU maximum limits. As a result, the UK had to lay out and revise plans on how it will tackle reducing the Nitrous Oxide levels by 1 January 20153.

    The EU: Brexit

    In 2015, an election took place in the UK. This came to be a turning point for the EU due to the first nation leaving the institution a year later. There were various arguments detailing why the UK should leave, such as:

    Sovereignty – the details of the EU treaties meant that sovereignty lay within the EU in regards to all member states. Where in the UK, parliament should be sovereign, this brought on a fierce debate on whether the EU should be able to overrule UK law. The EU also brought about many regulations in terms of the quality of food and the environment, this led to an increase in costs to help this, and many British politicians argued that this money would be a better used on public services in the UK itself.

    The Euro – During the establishment of the EU, most politicians believed this was an excellent idea. However, after the 2008 financial crisis, countries that had adopted the Euro currency were some of the hardest hit with countries like Greece still having not made a recovery over a decade later. Although Britain did not adopt the Euro, it provided evidence to Brexiteers that the EU was not good for the UK economy.

    Immigration – One of the most popular arguments for leaving the EU was due to the free movement and mass migration of individuals. Due to the financial crash of 2008 which led to the drop of the Euro, countries from this zone moved to the UK where there was a better economy and a bigger chance of work. It led to the arguments that British individuals were being paid less and companies knew others would work at a cheaper rate.

    David Cameron promised to have a referendum if he was re-elected as Prime Minister, this went forward in 2016 and led to Britain exiting the European Union on the 31st January 2020.

    The EU - Key takeaways

    • The European Union (EU) is an economic and political organisation within Europe, which was established in 1993.
    • In total there are 27 member states.
    • Key establishments towards the creation of the European Union were; the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (EEC), The Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty.
    • The main institutions of the EU are: the European Commission, the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament, and the Court of Justice of the European Union.
    • In 2020, Britain left the EU; this was the first nation to leave the institution.


    1. Aims and values, European Union
    2. A. Tsipras, CNN Newsroom, 2016
    3. The Court clarifies Member States’ obligations as regards respecting the limit values for nitrogen dioxide, Court of Justice of the European Union
    Frequently Asked Questions about The EU

    What are the benefits of the UK leaving the EU? 

    The UK parliament was able to regain full sovereignty and take back control over immigration, among other areas. 

    What European countries are not in the EU? 

    Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Iceland, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom (left EU in 2020) and Vatican City. 

    Which government took the UK into the EU? 

    Under the Prime Minister Edward Heath in 1972 

    What is the main purpose of the EU? 

    To be an economic and political organisation within Europe.

    What are the 6 values of the EU? 

    Human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and human rights.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    How many states are there?

    How many states were in the ECSC?

    When did the UK join the EEC?


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    Team The EU Teachers

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