SINCE ITS CREATION IN 1957, THE EU HAS GROWN FROM 6 TO 27 COUNTRIES. THESE COUNTRIES JOINED FORCES TO BUILD A BETTER FUTURE TOGETHER. WHICH COUNTRIES ARE MEMBERS OF THE EU AND WHEN DID THEY JOIN? IN THIS CHAPTER YOU WILL LEARN HOW THE EU BECAME WHAT IT IS TODAY AND WHAT MAKES IT UNIQUE.

WHAT IS THE EUROPEAN UNION?

EU Member States

The European Union is a unique partnership between 27 European countries, known as Member States, or EU countries. Together they cover much of the European continent. The EU is home to around 447 million people, which is around 6 % of the world’s population. Citizens of the EU countries are also EU citizens.

EXERCISE 1 WHO IS A MEMBER OF THE EU?

Look at the list of flags and country names on the right. They are all European but they don’t all belong to the European Union. Once you have identified the EU countries, locate them on the map. If you need help, take a look at this website: europa.eu/!cW78Hk

A map of Europe with a list of flags of the 43 countries in Europe.

ALBANIA

ANDORRA

AUSTRIA

BELARUS

BELGIUM

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

BULGARIA

CROATIA

CYPRUS

CZECHIA

DENMARK

ESTONIA

FINLAND

FRANCE

GERMANY

GREECE

HUNGARY

ICELAND

IRELAND

ITALY

LATVIA

LIECHTENSTEIN

LITHUANIA

LUXEMBOURG

MALTA

MOLDOVA

MONTENEGRO

NORTH MACEDONIA

NETHERLANDS

NORWAY

POLAND

PORTUGAL

ROMANIA

SERBIA

SLOVAKIA

SLOVENIA

SPAIN

SWEDEN

SWITZERLAND

TURKEY

UKRAINE

UNITED KINGDOM

VATICAN CITY


N.B. The United Kingdom voted to leave the EU in a national referendum in June 2016, and left in 2020.

EXERCISE 2 HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE VARIOUS EU COUNTRIES?

Imagine you work for a national tourist board. Choose the two EU countries that you know best and write a short text about them for tourists. For example, how many people live in these two countries and what are their capital cities? What do they have to offer to visitors (food, culture, language and so on)?

DID YOU KNOW?

The EU has nine regions which are located far from the European continent. These overseas territories (also known as ‘outermost regions’) are: French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, Réunion and Saint Martin (France), the Azores and Madeira (Portugal) and the Canary Islands (Spain).

EU official languages

The European Union has 24 official languages.

Why so many? The EU would not exist without its Member States and its people. As a democratic organisation, the EU has to communicate with the governments of the Member States and their inhabitants, companies and public bodies in their own languages. Everyone living in the EU has the right to know what is being done in their name and with their taxes, and what rules they have to follow. They should also be able to participate in EU affairs without first having to learn another language.

Dobró útro / Buenos días
Dobré ráno / Godmorgen
Guten Morgen / Tere hommikust
Kalimera / Good morning
Bonjour / Dia DUIT
Dobro jutro / Buongiorno
Labas rytas / Labrīt
JÓ NAPOT / L-Għodwa t-Tajba
Goedemorgen / Dzień dobry
Bom dia / Bună dimineaţa
Dobré ráno / Dobro jutro
Hyvää huomenta / God morgon

DID YOU KNOW?

You can write to the EU institutions in any of the EU’s 24 official languages and you will receive a reply in that language.

European values

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘United in diversity’? It’s the EU’s motto and encapsulates what the EU’s values are all about. While each EU country has its own culture, language and traditions, they all share the same common values which they must comply with as members of the European Union.

One fundamental value that unites all EU countries is democracy. This means that only democratic countries can be members of the EU. Other values that are common to all EU countries are respect for human dignity, freedom, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of people belonging to minority groups.

The EU is founded on six core values that form the basis of our society:

  • respect for human dignity
  • freedom
  • democracy
  • equality
  • the rule of law
  • respect for human rights, including those of minorities.

These values have been fought for over many years and have shaped the kind of society we live in today.

The EU’s values are set out in the EU treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. These are important legal texts that all EU countries have approved and must therefore respect.

play video WATCH THE VIDEO: EU values explained in 1 minute europa.eu/!uwrcHp

The EU treaties contain the rules that guide the work of the EU. They are amended from time to time, for example when new countries join or when there are changes to how the EU works. The most recent treaty is the Lisbon Treaty, which was signed in the Portuguese capital in 2007.

Find out more about the EU treaties: europa.eu/!gy77mf

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union came into force with the Lisbon Treaty. It set out the rights and freedoms that all people living in the EU enjoy, such as personal, economic and social rights. To reflect modern society, the charter includes newer fundamental rights, such as data protection and guarantees on bioethics. It also includes specific provisions on the rights of under-18s, ensuring that children’s rights are part of the human rights that the EU and its Member States are obliged to comply with and protect.

Find out more about the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU: https://fra.europa.eu/en/eu-charter and the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child: https://ec.europa.eu/info/policies/justice-and-fundamental-rights/rights-child_en

From 6 to 27 EU countries

The EU is made up of very different countries. The EU country with the largest population is Germany, which has around 83 million inhabitants, while the smallest, Malta, has 500 000 inhabitants. In the EU, people speak different languages which use one of three different alphabets (Latin, Greek and Cyrillic). There are different traditions, cultures, foods and festivals in each country.

DID YOU KNOW?

The European flag is made up of 12 golden stars in a circle on a blue background. It was adopted in 1984 by the European Union (which was called the European Economic Community at the time) and now flies above buildings, parks and monuments all over Europe. The number of stars never changes – it is always 12. They symbolise unity, solidarity and harmony among the people of Europe.

EXERCISE 3 WHAT DO THE EU’S VALUES AND PRINCIPLES MEAN IN PRACTICE?

Part 1. Put a cross in the correct column for each of the eight questions below. In small groups, discuss what you think a country can or cannot do if it wants to be part of the EU.

A country … (A)
can join the EU
(B)
can’t join the EU
1. that does not have freedom of the press
2. that applies the death penalty
3. that allows its citizens to protest against the government
4. in which the parliament is elected on a regular basis
5. in which the army determines policy and may even intervene in internal affairs with military power
6. in which people are considered innocent until their guilt has been established by a court
7. in which there is only one party which is always in government
8. which protects minorities, even when the majority is against them

Part 2. In small groups, choose two of the six EU values listed below and discuss what they mean to you.

How did it all begin?

After two destructive world wars in the first half of the twentieth century (1914–1918 and 1939–1945), people were determined that nothing like that should ever be allowed to happen again.

Between 1945 and 1950, some European politicians, including Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Winston Churchill, began the process of creating the European Union we live in today. Their vision was to unite European countries economically and politically in order to secure lasting peace and prosperity.

On 9 May 1950, France’s Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, proposed merging European production of coal and steel. At the time, these were the raw materials used for war – coal as an energy resource, and steel for weapons and machinery. By pooling their production, no one country could secretly arm itself against the others. Following this proposal, the European Coal and Steel Community came into being in 1952. It was founded by six neighbouring countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – and laid the foundations for the EU we know today.

You can discover more about the people and politicians who shaped the European Union over the years in our EU Pioneers series here:

europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/history/eu-pioneers_en

Building on the European Coal and Steel Community

A few years later, the six founding countries decided to extend their cooperation to other economic sectors. The Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957, establishing the European Economic Community, and came into force in 1958. Its initial aim was to foster trade and further economic integration between the participating countries.

New members

In 1973, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom (*) joined the European Economic Community. A few years later, with the end of right-wing dictatorships in southern Europe, three countries became eligible to apply for membership. The first of these was Greece, which joined in 1981. Portugal and Spain followed in 1986. In 1993, the European Union was created and Austria, Finland and Sweden joined 2 years later. This brought the EU’s membership to 15.

Soon after the Second World War, Europe was split into east and west by the ‘iron curtain’ as the 40-year-long Cold War began. The Berlin Wall was a symbol of this division as it split the city of Berlin in two. After the fall of communism in 1989, the formerly communist central and eastern European countries started a process of democratisation and applied to join the EU.

In 2004, eight countries from central and eastern Europe joined the EU: Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. In the same year, the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta also became members. In 2007, Bulgaria and Romania joined, followed by Croatia in 2013.

The addition of new EU members has expanded the common market and helped maintain peace and prosperity in Europe. Any new member must be prepared to sign up to the treaties and take on board the full body of EU law. It must respect the EU’s values, such as the principles of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Beyond its own borders, the EU also maintains strong relationships with neighbouring countries. The European neighbourhood policy supports the security, stability and prosperity of the countries to the immediate east and south of the EU. In addition, the EU’s enlargement policy covers potential new members. Beyond the ‘neighbourhood’ region, the EU’s global relations are usually based on trade deals, partnerships and multilateral cooperation.

(*)The United Kingdom left the EU in 2020.

DID YOU KNOW?

The current candidate countries for EU membership are: Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo (*) are potential candidates.

(*) This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.

An infographic showing the year each Member State joined the EU.

Nobel Peace Prize

The EU was set up to secure lasting peace among its members. Since its establishment, violent internal conflicts and opportunities for war to break out between Europeans have been greatly reduced. In recognition of its work for peace, democracy and human rights in Europe and around the world, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. It decided to donate the EUR 930 000 prize money – plus a further EUR 930 000 from the EU itself – to children who are denied the chance to grow up in peace.

The EU through the ages

From a continent at war to a peaceful union, follow the EU’s journey with our EU timeline:

europa.eu/learning-corner/eu-timeline/overview_en

EXERCISE 4 WHAT DOES THE EUROPEAN UNION MEAN TO YOU?

As we have seen, the European Union’s origins date back to the early 1950s, when it was founded by people who had experienced the atrocities of one, or even two, world wars. These wars resulted in tens of millions of deaths across the continent. At the time, the ambition to unite countries and people that had so recently been in conflict was visionary.

By the time you and your friends were born, the EU had already enjoyed more than 50 years of peace and prosperity, although you may have heard or read stories about difficult experiences in other parts of the world during this time. As young people, what do you think about this long-lasting peace in Europe? Do you take it for granted or do you sometimes worry about the future? Is democracy alone enough to guarantee peace? Discuss this with your classmates.