The 27 member countries are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
The evolution of what is today the European Union (EU) from a regional economic agreement among six neighboring states in 1951 to today's hybrid intergovernmental and supranational organization of 27 countries across the European continent stands as an unprecedented phenomenon in the annals of history. Dynastic unions for territorial consolidation were long the norm in Europe; on a few occasions even country-level unions were arranged - the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were examples. But for such a large number of nation-states to cede some of their sovereignty to an overarching entity is unique.
Although the EU is not a federation in the strict sense, it is far more than a free-trade association such as ASEAN, NAFTA, or Mercosur, and it has certain attributes associated with independent nations: its own flag, currency (for some members), and law-making abilities, as well as diplomatic representation and a common foreign and security policy in its dealings with external partners.
Following the two devastating World Wars in the first half of the 20th century, a number of European leaders in the late 1940s became convinced that the only way to establish a lasting peace was to unite the two chief belligerent nations - France and Germany - both economically and politically. In 1950, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed an eventual union of all Europe, the first step of which would be the integration of the coal and steel industries of Western Europe. The following year the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was set up when six members, Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, signed the Treaty of Paris.
The ECSC was so successful that within a few years the decision was made to integrate other elements of the countries' economies. In 1957, envisioning an "ever closer union," the Treaties of Rome created the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), and the six member states undertook to eliminate trade barriers among themselves by forming a common market. In 1967, the institutions of all three communities were formally merged into the European Community (EC), creating a single Commission, a single Council of Ministers, and the body known today as the European Parliament. Members of the European Parliament were initially selected by national parliaments, but in 1979 the first direct elections were undertaken and they have been held every five years since.
In 1973, the first enlargement of the EC took place with the addition of Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. The 1980s saw further membership expansion with Greece joining in 1981 and Spain and Portugal in 1986. The 1992 Treaty of Maastricht laid the basis for further forms of cooperation in foreign and defense policy, in judicial and internal affairs, and in the creation of an economic and monetary union - including a common currency. This further integration created the European Union (EU), at the time standing alongside the European Community. In 1995, Austria, Finland, and Sweden joined the EU/EC, raising the membership total to 15.
A new currency, the euro, was launched in world money markets on 1 January 1999; it became the unit of exchange for all EU member states except the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Denmark. In 2002, citizens of those 12 countries began using euro banknotes and coins. Ten new countries joined the EU in 2004 - Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia - and in 2007 Bulgaria and Romania joined, bringing the membership to 27, where it stands today.
In an effort to ensure that the EU could function efficiently with an expanded membership, the Treaty of Nice (signed in 2000) set forth rules aimed at streamlining the size and procedures of EU institutions. An effort to establish a "Constitution for Europe," growing out of a Convention held in 2002-2003, foundered when it was rejected in referenda in France and the Netherlands in 2005. A subsequent effort in 2007 incorporated many of the features of the rejected Constitution while also making a number of substantive and symbolic changes. The new treaty, initially known as the Reform Treaty but subsequently referred to as the Treaty of Lisbon, sought to amend existing treaties rather than replace them. The treaty was approved at the EU intergovernmental conference of the 27 member states held in Lisbon in December 2007, after which the process of national ratifications began. In October 2009, an Irish referendum approved the Lisbon Treaty (overturning a previous rejection) and cleared the way for an ultimate unanimous endorsement. Poland and the Czech Republic signed on soon after. The Lisbon Treaty, again invoking the idea of an "ever closer union," came into force on 1 December 2009 and the European Union officially replaced and succeeded the European Community.
Location: Europe between the North Atlantic Ocean in the west and Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine to the east
Area: 4,324,782 sq km
Land Boundaries: 12,440.8 km (Albania 282 km, Andorra 120.3 km, Belarus 1,050 km, Croatia 999 km, Holy See 3.2 km, Liechtenstein 34.9 km, Macedonia 394 km, Moldova 450 km, Monaco 4.4 km, Norway 2,348 km, Russia 2,257 km, San Marino 39 km, Serbia 945 km, Switzerland 1,811 km, Turkey 446 km, Ukraine 1,257 km)
As a political union, the EU has no border disputes with neighboring countries, but Estonia has no land boundary agreements with Russia, Slovenia disputes its land and maritime boundaries with Croatia, and Spain has territorial and maritime disputes with Morocco and with the UK over Gibraltar.
The EU has set up a Schengen area - consisting of 22 EU member states that have signed the convention implementing the Schengen agreements or "acquis" (1985 and 1990) on the free movement of persons and the harmonization of border controls in Europe. These agreements became incorporated into EU law with the implementation of the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam on 1 May 1999.
Iin addition, non-EU states Iceland and Norway (as part of the Nordic Union) have been included in the Schengen area since 1996 (full members in 2001), and Switzerland since 2008 bringing the total current membership to 25.
The UK (since 2000) and Ireland (since 2002) take part in only some aspects of the Schengen area, especially with respect to police and criminal matters.
Nine of the 12 new member states that joined the EU since 2004 joined Schengen on 21 December 2007. Of the three remaining EU states, Romania and Bulgaria may join by late 2011, while Cyprus' entry is held up by the ongoing Cyprus dispute.
Coastline: 65,992.9 km
Natural Hazards: flooding along coasts; avalanches in mountainous area; earthquakes in the south; volcanic eruptions in Italy; periodic droughts in Spain; ice floes in the Baltic
Terrain: fairly flat along the Baltic and Atlantic coast; mountainous in the central and southern areas. The highest point is Mont Blanc (4,807 m) situated on the border between France and Italy. The lowest points are Lammefjord, Denmark (-7 m) and Zuidplaspolder, Netherlands (-7 m).
Climate: cold temperate; potentially subarctic in the north to temperate; mild wet winters; hot dry summers in the south
Topography of Europe. Source: Wikipedia.
People and Society
Population: 503,824,373 (July 2012 est.)
0-14 years: 15.44% (male 38,992,677/female 36,940,450)
15-64 years: 67.23% (male 166,412,403/female 164,295,636)
65 years and over: 17.33% (male 35,376,333/female 49,853,361) (2009 est.)
Population Growth Rate: 0.212 % (2012 est.)
Birthrate: 10.27 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Death Rate: 10.05 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)
Net Migration Rate: 1.90 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Life Expectancy at Birth: 79.76 years
male: 76.91 years
female: 82.76 years (2012 est.)
Total Fertility Rate: 1.58 children born/woman (2012 est.)
Languages: Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, Gaelic, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, Swedish
Government Type: a hybrid intergovernmental and supranational organization
Capital: Brussels (Belgium), Strasbourg (France), Luxembourg
Independence Date: 7 February 1992 (Maastricht Treaty signed establishing the EU); 1 November 1993 (Maastricht Treaty entered into force)
Note: Treaties of Rome, which were signed on 25 March 1957 and entered into force on 1 January 1958, created the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community; the Treaty of Lisbon, which was signed on 13 December 2007 and entered into force on 1 December 2009, replaced and succeeded the European Community with the European Union
Legal System: unique supranational law system in which, according to an interpretive declaration of member-state governments appended to the Treaty of Lisbon, "the Treaties and the law adopted by the Union on the basis of the Treaties have primacy over the law of Member States" under conditions laid down in the case law of the Court of Justice; key principles of EU law include fundamental rights as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and as resulting from constitutional traditions common to the EU's states
International Environmental Agreements
The EU is party to international agreements on: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulphur 94, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Tropical Timber 83, and Tropical Timber 94. It has signed but not ratified an international agreement on: Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds.
Agricultural products: wheat, barley, oilseeds, sugar beets, wine, grapes; dairy products, cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry; fish
Irrigated Land: 182,913 sq km (2008 est.)
Natural Resources: iron ore, natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, lead, zinc, bauxite, uranium, potash, salt, hydropower, arable land, timber, fish
Internally, the EU has abolished trade barriers, adopted a common currency, and is striving toward convergence of living standards.
Internationally, the EU aims to bolster Europe's trade position and its political and economic weight.
Because of the great differences in per capita income among member states (from $7,000 to $78,000) and in national attitudes toward issues like inflation, debt, and foreign trade, the EU faces difficulties in devising and enforcing common policies.
Eleven established EU member states, under the auspices of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), introduced the euro as their common currency on 1 January 1999 (Greece did so two years later). Between 2004 and 2007, 12 states acceded to the EU that are, in general, less advanced economically than the other 15 member states. Of the 12 most recent entrants, only Slovenia (1 January 2007), Cyprus and Malta (1 January 2008), Slovakia (1 January 2009), and Estonia (1 January 2011) have adopted the euro; 10 non-Euro member states, other than the UK and Denmark which have formal opt-outs, are required by EU treaties to adopt the common currency upon meeting fiscal and monetary convergence criteria.
Following the 2008-09 global economic crisis, the EU economy saw moderate GDP growth in 2010 and 2011, but a sovereign debt crisis in the euro zone intensified in 2011 and became the bloc's top economic and political priority. Despite EU/IMF adjustment programs in Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, and consolidation measures in many other EU member states, significant risks to growth remain, including high public debt loads, aging populations, onerous regulations, and fears of debt crisis contagion. In response, euro-zone leaders moved in 2011 to boost funding levels for the temporary European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) to almost $600 billion, to make loan terms more favorable for crisis-hit countries, and to bring the permanent European Stabilization Mechanism (ESM) online in July 2012, a year earlier than originally planned. In addition, 25 of 27 EU member states (all except the UK and Czech Republic) have indicated their intent to enact a "fiscal compact" treaty to boost long-term budgetary discipline and coordination.
GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $15.39 trillion (2011 est.) (Larger than any single nation economy in the world)
GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $17.72 trillion (2011 est.)
GDP- per capita (PPP): $34,000 (2011 est.)
GDP- composition by sector:
services: 73.1% (2011 est.)
Industries: among the world's largest and most technologically advanced, the EU industrial base includes: ferrous and non-ferrous metal production and processing, metal products, petroleum, coal, cement, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, rail transportation equipment, passenger and commercial vehicles, construction equipment, industrial equipment, shipbuilding, electrical power equipment, machine tools and automated manufacturing systems, electronics and telecommunications equipment, fishing, food and beverage processing, furniture, paper, textiles, tourism