What the EU is
What is the EU?
The EU is a unique body of democratic nations working together which have opted to devolve some of their sovereign decision-making powers to the EU in order to gain the benefits of size. There are currently 28 Member States.
How does the EU work?
The EU is composed of a number of institutions with different functions. The key ones include:
- The European Parliament, whose members are elected every five years and which speaks on behalf of the citizens of the EU and adopts new laws.
- The European Council, composed of the leaders of Member States, which sets the political direction and priorities of the EU
- The Council, composed of government ministers of Member States, which decides on policies and legislation.
- The European Commission, which proposes new laws for adoption by the Parliament and the Council.
The history of the EU
The origins of the EU go back to the period after the second world war and the determination in Europe never to let such a war happen again. On 9 May 1950 Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister, proposed a new transnational body to oversee European coal and steel industries – coal and steel being necessary for the manufacture of arms. Joint management of these resources would make war difficult. His speech is known as the Schuman Declaration. Six European countries – France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands - formed the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952, and this led in time to the formation of the European Economic Community, with a wider economic remit, including a common market. The Community grew by stages into the EU as it is today, with its single market and currency, the euro.
A step change took place in 2009 with the Treaty of Lisbon, which gave the EU a more important role in international affairs and created the post of a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – effectively a Foreign Minister for the EU. This post is currently held by Federica Mogherini. She is supported by the European External Action Service EEAS – the EU's diplomatic service.