The European Union is described foremost as a political and economic partnership-type institution with 27 member states, all of them European countries. Also commonly shortened to just ‘the EU’, the European Union was founded after the end of the Second World War. Starting goals were aimed at ensuring peace and stability for nations shaken and torn apart by by the horrors of the war, as well as preventing another such conflict from ever taking place again. Consolidation and common goals for prosperity were a big theme in the early days of the EU. Statistics on the number of conflicts in Europe report 17 violent conflicts in 2011, which, while being a slightly higher number than in previous years, is still lower than the peak of 21 conflicts in 2007.
The European Union aimed to establish economic cooperation and partnerships between European countries. Interdependence in trading was seen as a guarantee for peaceful relationships between nations. While EU beginnings may have had a basis in economic goals, activities in the European Union also encompass environmental policy, cultural development, integration policy and international exchange as well as the promotion of human rights. The influence the EU wields on the world stage is significant, both economically and politically. According to EU statistics concerning US direct investment position in Europe, in 2010 investments amounted to over two trillion dollars.
The unification of European countries began in the 1950s through the European Coal and Steel Community. Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands were the six founding members of the EU. 1957 saw the creation of the Treaty of Rome, which gave birth to the European Economic Community (EEC), or the so-called ‘Common Market’. The European Union has basically become an enormous market of its own with a common currency used by a number of its member states – the euro. Experts have been divided on the introduction of the euro in 2001 as have citizens. Since the economic crisis of 2008, the euro has had its fair share of hard times. EU statistics on the monthly inflation rate in the euro area report 2.7 percent for February 2012, compared to the same month in the previous year. The official national debt level in the EU in the first quarter of 2011 showed Germany at the top of the list with over two trillion euros worth of national debt.
In the 1960s the European Union stopped countries charging custom taxes for trading with each other. In this decade joint control over food production was also introduced. European Union statistics state that France and Germany are among the largest national markets for food products. Later in the 1970s the EU member circle expanded to include Denmark, Ireland and the UK. Other crucial events in the history of the world take place in the European Union during this time. The Salazar rule in Portugal crumbled, as did the regime of General Franco in Spain.
The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, leading to Germany’s reunification in October 1990. As a result of this event in particular, closer ties are forged between European countries and mutual interest about European issues began to strengthen. The quality of life changed. The average life expectancy in Europe is also very high, with 81 years on average for Western Europe.
In later years the European Union cancelled border control and introduced the Schengen Agreement – citizens are able to travel freely between different European countries. This of course led to more Europeans and international citizens taking up studying and working within Europe. However, the economic crisis did affect unemployment levels, making it an ever-present issue. As statistics from January 2012 show, the EU unemployment rate in member states of the European Union was highest in Spain at 23 percent.
The main institutions involved in European Union legislation and policy are the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission.
One of the most serious issues currently facing the European Union is the ongoing economic crisis, which is also affecting the futures and job prospects of Europeans.
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