Since its creation in 1957, the EU has grown from six to 28 countries. They joined forces to build a better future together. Which countries belong to 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.
The European Union is not a state, but a unique partnership between European countries, known as Member States. Together they cover much of the European continent. The EU is home to over 510 million people, which corresponds to around 6 % of the world's population. Citizens of the EU Member States are also citizens of the European Union.
The EU is currently made up of 28 countries. In June 2016 the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU.
Look at the list of flags and country names on the right. They are all European but they do not all belong to the European Union. From the list, identify which do. Once you have identified them, locate them on the map. If you need help, take a look at this website.
BOSNIA and Herzegovina
Imagine you work for a tourist agency in Europe. Choose two EU countries that you know best and create a short summary aimed at tourists. For example, how many people live in them and what are their capital cities? What do they have to offer to visitors (food, culture, language and so on)?
The European Union has 24 official languages.
Why are there so many? The EU would not exist without its Member States and citizens. As a democratic organisation, it has to communicate with the governments of the Member States, its citizens, its companies and its public bodies in their own language. People have the right to know what is being done in their name. They must also be able to get actively involved in EU affairs without first having to learn a foreign language. Did you know that you can write to the EU institutions in any of the 24 official languages and receive a reply in the same language?
In this interactive audio booklet you can hear how all 24 languages sound when spoken.
Have you ever heard the phrase 'United in diversity'? It is the EU's motto and it represents 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 and must respect them if they want to be part of the European Union.
One fundamental value that unites all the Member States is democracy. This means that only democratic countries can be members of the EU.
The other values of the EU that are common to all Member States are human dignity, freedom, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of people belonging to minority groups.
These values are set out in an important legal text, called a treaty, which all Member States have approved and must therefore respect. The Lisbon Treaty is the most recent treaty. It was signed in the Portuguese capital in 2007.
As we have seen, the EU is made up of very different countries. The largest, Germany, has around 82 million inhabitants, while the smallest, Malta, has 400 000. Europeans speak different languages and use three different alphabets (Latin, Greek and Cyrillic). There are different traditions, cultures, foods and festivals.
The flag of Europe is made up of 12 golden stars 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 parliaments, municipal buildings, parks and monuments all over Europe.
The design symbolises the peoples of Europe, with the circle representing their union. The number of stars never changes — it is always 12: representing perfection and entirety.
|A country …|| (A)
Can join the EU
Cannot 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 a president governs until death and is succeeded by a son or a daughter|
|6 In which the army determines policy and may even intervene in internal affairs with military power|
|7 In which people are considered innocent until their guilt has been established by a court|
|8 In which there is only one party which is always in government|
|9 Which protects minorities, even when the majority is against them|
After the Second World War, which lasted from 1939 to 1945 and occurred just 20 years after the end of the First World War, people were determined that nothing like this should ever be allowed to happen again.
Between 1945 and 1950, a few 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. New structures were created in western Europe to unite European countries economically and politically in order to secure lasting peace and prosperity.
On 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman (the French foreign minister at the time) proposed that the production of coal and steel — the raw materials that were used to prepare for war — should be managed jointly in order to ensure that no one country could secretly arm itself against the others. At that time, coal played the role that oil and natural gas do today, in being the most important energy source available. The European Coal and Steel Community, from which today's EU emerged, came into being in 1952. It was founded by six neighbouring countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
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. Mutual hostility was replaced by cooperation — and this cooperation was extremely successful. The European Economic Community made great strides economically. No wonder more and more countries have asked to join over the years.
In 1973, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the EU. A few years later, three European countries, previously ruled by dictatorships, had become democratic and were also able to apply for membership. They were Greece, which joined in 1981, followed by Portugal and Spain in 1986. Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the European Union in 1995, bringing its 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. After its fall in 1989, the path was clear for the central and eastern European countries that had previously been controlled by the former Soviet Union to reform their systems and apply 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, and Croatia became the 28th member of the EU in 2013.
The addition of new members to the EU has helped to maintain peace and stability in Europe and to extend the area of democracy and the single market. 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 principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law.
Although there may sometimes be disagreements between EU countries, the basic principles behind the EU have remained unchanged over the last 70 years. In 2012, thanks to its tireless work for peace, democracy and human rights in Europe and around the world, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The EU is the first group of countries in the world to have been accorded this honour.
As we have seen, the European Union has its origins in the early 1950s when its ground rules were laid down by the people who had experienced the atrocities of one, or even two, world wars. These had resulted in tens of millions of deaths across the continent. The idea was to avoid future conflict by creating close collaboration between countries and uniting their citizens: quite a brave project for countries and people that had recently been in conflict.
Not many young people nowadays still have living relatives to tell them about their experiences during these difficult times. You and your friends were born in or around the year 2000, by which time there had already been 50 years of peace and prosperity in Europe. As a young person, 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? Discuss this with your classmates.