The European Union is an economic and political partnership between 27 countries with 498 million citizens. Sixteen member countries use its common currency, the euro, which is administered by the European Central Bank.
Political structure: comprises the European Parliament (representing the people of Europe), the Council of the European Union (representing national governments and which is the main decision-making body) and the European Commission (representing the common EU interest.)
EU policies include frontier-free travel and trade, safer food and a greener environment, better living standards in poorer regions and joint action on crime and terror. It operates a single economic market with consistent trade policies and free trade between members.
The EU has trade and co-operation agreements with neighboring countries which are not members and some of these, such as Turkey, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, are candidates to join the Union. Countries must fulfill requirements on democracy, political and economic structures. Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein meet the criteria but are not members because public opinion in those countries is against joining.
The EU’s membership is:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Updated September 2009