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European Union


The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of certain countries in Europe. Since July 2013 there are 28 Member States in the European Union: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The European Union has grown out of three communities founded after World War II to establish peace and prosperity in Europe. The European Coal and Steel Community was set up in 1951, the European Atomic Energy Commission was founded in 1957 and the European Economic Community was also founded in 1957.

The fundamental laws of the European Union are set out in the various treaties agreed and ratified by the Member States. A treaty is ratified when it is formally accepted by the Member State.

The most important treaty is the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Community in 1957. Since the Treaty of Rome, the following treaties have been agreed and ratified by all the Member States: the Merger Treaty in 1967, the Single European Act in 1986, the Treaty on European Union (the Maastricht Treaty) in 1992, the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, the Treaty of Nice in 2002 and the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009.

The European Union has four main aims:

  • To establish European citizenship. This means protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms.
  • To ensure freedom, security and justice. This means co-operation in the field of justice and home affairs.
  • To promote economic and social progress. This involves the single market, the euro, environmental protection and social and regional development.
  • To assert Europe's role in the world.

The European Union is run by five main institutions:

Europe Direct is a free telephone and e-mail service that provides information about the EU. It offers information on a wide range of subjects including legislation, policies, institutions, programmes and the rights of EU citizens. It can also refer users to the best source of advice at EU, national, regional and local levels. There are a number of Europe Direct local information centres in Ireland.

Page edited: 1 July 2013



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    The fundamental laws of the European Union are set out in the Treaties. Find out how the institutions of the EU also have the power to make new laws.

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