What is the EU?
The European Union (EU) is a group of 28 European countries working together to achieve objectives set out in international treaties. EU policies aim to allow the free movement of people, goods, services and capital (money) within the union. It operates a single market by applying the same trade laws in every member country.
Other areas where members work together include the environment, human rights, regional development, foreign policy, fisheries and agriculture. Many members of the EU have taken the partnership further and operate a shared single currency, the euro, and borders without passport controls. The UK chose not to join these developments.
The union is made of seven main EU institutions. These are:
- the European Parliament, which is directly elected every five years
- the European Council, made up of each member country’s head of government
- the European Commission, an executive made of one commissioner from each member country and a large staff
- the Council of the European Union, made of ministers from each member country and a large staff
- the Court of Justice of the European Union, with a judge from each member country
- the European Central Bank which coordinates banking policy
- the European Court of Auditors which checks the EU accounts
Lesser known institutions include the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, the European Investment Bank (which manages the European Investment Fund) and the EU Ombudsman.
Click here for a two page institutions summary.
The EU has its origins in the 1950s. Britain joined in 1973.