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By Lindsay Graham

Understanding the EU

The end of the Second World War brought the end of frequent and bloody battles between neighbors in Europe, and at this time, the beginning of cooperation between countries began to flourish. Around 1951, The European Coal and Steel Community began to unite the European countries economically and politically in order to achieve lasting peace, and thus the concept of an organization started to take shape. The year of 1958 marks the foundation of this organization now known as the European Union (EU).

The EU has created a huge single market that not only focuses on economic values, but also now spans policy areas that include human rights and the environment. This organization is based on law and established by treaties. These treaties have helped to secure peace, stability and raised living standards across participating nations, with their reach extending to those countries wishing to be annexed into the EU.

With the creation of one single market among members, the eradication of border controls between participating countries has enabled most goods, services, money and people to move freely across Europe.

Joining the EU

Since the EU is a voluntary and democratically-run organization, becoming a member of the EU is not a quick process. There are three stages to the application process and each application varies in the duration of time. In order to be considered, an applicant country must meet the conditions of membership, also known as the Copenhagen Criteria. This criteria includes a free-market economy, a stable democracy and rule of law and acceptance of all EU legislation. Once a country becomes an official candidate for membership, it will move on to formal membership negotiations. These negotiations take place in an intergovernmental conference between ministers and ambassadors of EU governments and the candidate country.

The duration of negotiations varies from candidate to candidate and no negotiations are closed until every EU government is satisfied with the candidate’s progress on all policy fields. Once all negotiations are closed, the accession treaty is drafted to include the detailed terms and conditions of the membership, along with transitional arrangements and deadlines. Once this treaty is signed, the applicant is now an acceding country and is expected to become a fully participating member by the date laid down in the treaty. During this time, an acceding country has “active observer status” and is entitled to speak in EU bodies and agencies, but not vote as a full member.

From six to twenty-eight

This rare political and economical alliance between European countries started with only six countries; France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. These founding countries had the idea that those who trade with one another are more likely to avoid conflict due to economic interdependency.

Over the following decades, the EU has grown from six to 28 countries, with the most recent annexation occurring in 2013. The year of 2004 marked the biggest expansion of the EU, with 10 new countries joining. This expansion marked the re-unification of Europe after decades of disconnect when Estonia, Latvia, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Malta, Cyprus, Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic joined. The first enlargement occurred in 1973, when Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the EU, bringing the total number to nine. Greece joined the organization in 1981, after becoming eligible in 1974, once the military regime was overthrown and democracy was restored. Joining at the same time, Spain and Portugal raised the total number of members to 12 in 1986. Austria, Finland and Sweden made the move to join the EU in 1995, bringing the total to 15 and now covering almost the whole expanse of Western Europe. The total number of members as it stands today occurred with the addition of Croatia back in 2013.

Although the European Union covers a good portion of Europe, there are still countries and states that are not members. There are 15 European countries or states that are not members of the organization.

The European Union is made up of 28 countries that cover the majority of the European continent. The founding of the EU has allowed a single market to be created among participating countries that in turn has allowed trade routes to be more fluid, along with the open access across borders for citizens of participating countries. The EU has succeeded in establishing decades of peace, both economically and socially between participating countries.

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