Over the centuries, Europeans have been influenced, among others, by Greek philosophy, the Roman Empire, Christianity, Renaissance humanism, and the scientific and industrial revolutions.
Many types of music, architecture and literature have their roots in Europe and have inspired artists in different countries. One example of this is Gothic architecture, which originated in France in the 12th century: many fine examples can still be seen across Europe. But jazz music was invented in New Orleans (USA).
2. How it all started
The first organisation from which today's EU emerged was founded in 1951 by six countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Spain was not one of the founding members. It joined the EU in 1986. This first organisation was called the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and its aim was to secure peace in Europe.
3. New economic sectors and countries
The Treaty that expanded cooperation to other economic areas was signed in 1957 in the Italian capital, Rome, not in London (United Kingdom). It is therefore referred to as the ‘Treaty of Rome’. The United Kingdom didn’t become a member until 1973, along with Denmark and Ireland.
4. The EU flag
The number of stars on the EU flag has nothing to do with the number of Member States. The 12 gold stars on a blue background represent the people of Europe in a circle, a symbol of unity. Thus the European flag symbolises both the European Union and, more broadly, the ideals of unity, solidarity and harmony among the peoples of Europe.
5.Fall of the Berlin Wall
Germany was one of the founding members of the EU, and at the time (1951) it was West Germany that signed the first Treaty. When Germany was reunified in October 1990, it was former East Germany that became part of the European Union.
6.Official languages of the EU
Since the accession of Croatia, the EU now comprises 28 members and 24 official languages. This means that you can write to the EU institutions in any of the 24 official languages, and receive a reply in the same language. Why are there so many official languages? Because everyone in the EU has the right to understand what is going on, and to express their concerns, in their own language.
Belgium is one of the founding members of the EU, together with France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Portugal joined the EU in 1986, together with Spain
Sweden joined the EU in 1995, together with Austria and Finland.
Malta joined the EU in 2004, together with Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
11. Czech Republic
In 1993 Czechoslovakia split into two countries – the Czech Republic and Slovakia - which both joined the EU in 2004.
The European Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. Free trade is not one of the fundamental values of the EU. The EU has however removed barriers to free trade between its members and created an internal market. The EU also negotiates free trade agreements with countries around the world.
2. Treaty of Lisbon
The Treaty of Lisbon is the most recent treaty. It was signed in the Portuguese capital in 2007. From time to time the EU treaties have been amended to include new members, to reform the EU's institutions or to give it new areas of responsibility. You might also have heard of the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice treaties. All previous treaties are now incorporated into the current consolidated version of the EU treaties.
3. The EU's responsibilities
The EU can decide on common rules – EU laws – to make, for example, the single market work, or to protect the environment and consumers. For certain areas – like school education and training - the role of the EU is to support, coordinate or complement the action of member countries. It has no power to pass laws and may not interfere with member countries’ ability to do so. EU countries are responsible for their own education and training systems. The EU helps them set joint goals and share good practices. The EU also finances projects and programmes in this field, such as Erasmus+, which has helped many young people to study or volunteer in another EU country.
4.Decision-making in the EU
Decision-making in the European Union involves several institutions. The European Commission, which represents the interests of the Union as a whole, drafts the proposals for new European laws about, for example, minimum environmental standards. The proposals will be discussed, amended and finally adopted – or rejected - by the Council (representing the governments of the 28 EU countries) and the European Parliament (directly elected by EU citizens). This is the most common decision-making procedure in the EU. It is called the ordinary legislative procedure, also known as 'codecision'.
5. European Commission
The Commissioners do not represent the views of their country of origin but rather the common interest of the EU. The European Commission proposes new laws and programmes in the interest of Europe. It is the European Parliament and Council that adopt them. The European Commission is the 'executive body' of the EU. It manages EU policies and the budget. It also ensures that member countries apply EU legislation properly.
6. European Parliament
The European Parliament is directly elected by EU citizens every five years. The next elections will be held in late spring 2019. You are eligible to vote when you are 18 years old, and in Austria even at 16. The main meetings, also known as 'plenary sessions', take place in Strasbourg (France), and sometimes in Brussels (Belgium).
7. Council of the EU
Not much would happen in the EU if all 28 Member States had to agree on all decisions by unanimity. This is why the Member States decided in the treaties to take most decisions by a qualified majority vote. To reach a qualified majority a 'double majority' is needed, i.e. 55% of the Member States must vote in favour (i.e. 16 out of 28 Member States), and they must also represent 65% of the total EU population.
8. European Council
The European Council represents the highest level of political cooperation between EU countries. It does not adopt legislative proposals. EU law is adopted by the European Parliament and by Member States' ministers in Council meetings.
9. President of the European Commission
Jean-Claude Juncker has been the President of the European Commission since 1 November 2014. He decides on the organisation of the Commission and determines the Commission's policy agenda. He is the first President to have been elected by the European Parliament on the basis of a political programme for his mandate. Jean-Claude Juncker also represents the Commission in European Council meetings, G7 and G20 summits as well as in bilateral meetings with countries outside the EU.
10.High Representative of the Union
Federica Mogherini has been the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy since 1 November 2014. As the EU's chief diplomat she is charged with shaping and carrying out the EU's foreign, security and defence policies. She is also Vice-President of the European Commission. This allows her to coordinate and ensure coherence in EU foreign policy as the European Commission has important international responsibilities such as trade, development, neighbourhood policy and humanitarian aid.
11. Who am I?
Antonio Tajani was elected President of the European Parliament in January 2017 for a period of two and a half years. He is a member of the European People's Party Group, which is the biggest political group in the Parliament.
12. Who am I?
Donald Tusk has been President of the European Council since 1 December 2014. He is responsible for convening and chairing European Council meetings and driving forward its work. Donald Tusk represents the EU externally on foreign and security issues, alongside Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. He also represents the EU at G7 and G20 summits, together with Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission.
HOW IS THE EU RELEVANT TO US?
In the single market, EU citizens can travel, study, work or retire in any EU country. They can shop and do business across country borders. Anna, as an EU citizen, is allowed to work and study in France. If she stays in France for more than 3 months, she needs to register as resident.
The Erasmus programme was launched almost 30 years ago to allow students to do part of their studies at a university in another EU country. Todays' programme, Erasmus+, is not only for university students but also offers many other opportunities. Young people may study, train or work as volunteers, within or outside the EU, in a wide range of areas such as social care, the environment, culture, youth, sports and development cooperation.
3. The euro
In 2015, Lithuania introduced the euro as its currency. The country joined the euro area (shown in blue on the map) as its 19th member. The coins feature Vytis, a knight on horseback holding a sword and shield, which is also displayed on the coat-of-arms of the country.
4. Protecting consumers
If you sign a contract and order something from a salesman on your doorstep, by phone or by mail order, you have the right to cancel your order within 14 days. The EU has now extended this right to apply also to online purchases. Anna can choose to withdraw her order for any reason within this timeframe - even if she simply changes her mind.
5. Air passengers' rights
EU legislation protects air passengers' rights when travelling in Europe. If you are left stranded at an airport because your plane was overbooked or seriously delayed, you can claim compensation for this.
6. No border controls
The Schengen area comprises 22 EU countries (light blue) and four non-EU countries (dark blue). Both France and Poland are Schengen countries, so Anna can take the flight from France to Poland, and back, without her passport. Anna should however take her national ID card along with her so that she can identify herself as an EU citizen.
Footnote: Due to the recent unprecedented increase of refugees and migrants coming to Europe, some Schengen countries have temporarily reintroduced checks at their borders within the EU.
7. Health insurance on temporary visits abroad
As an EU citizen, if you unexpectedly fall ill or have an accident during a temporary stay abroad, you are entitled to any medical treatment that can't wait until you get home. The European Health Insurance Card is delivered by your health insurance institution and proves that you are insured in an EU country. With this card you can get access to State-provided healthcare abroad, and pay the same fees as locals.
8. Cheaper mobile roaming charges
To protect you against excessive bills, the EU has capped prices for calling, texting or using the internet on your phone when you are in another EU country. The cost of making and receiving calls when abroad in the EU is now substantially cheaper than in 2007, when the EU first started to tackle excessive roaming charges. The EU is proposing to abolish roaming charges by 2017. When using your phone abroad, you would then pay the same charges as you would at home.
9. Protecting the environment
Every year the EU publishes a report on the quality of bathing water. It tracks the water quality at more than 21 000 bathing sites on the coast and in lakes and rivers in the EU's 28 countries. In 2015, the water quality was excellent at 84% of the sites across Europe. Just under 2% of bathing sites failed to meet the minimum standards for water quality and were rated ‘poor’.
10. Helping less-developed European regions
The EU co-finances thousands of projects in regions and cities all over Europe. All 28 Member States and their citizens benefit from this funding. The bulk of the funding goes to the less-developed European regions (shown in red on the map) in order to help them catch up and reduce the economic, social and territorial disparities that still exist within the EU.
11. EU in the world
The EU is home to 7% of the world's population. This share is decreasing and in 2060 we will only represent 5%. Although Europe is a relatively small continent, economically it is significant. Together, the EU countries are one of the largest economies in the world, similar in size to the US economy. The importance of the EU's work for peace, democracy and human rights in Europe and in the world for over 60 years was recognised in 2012 when the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The EU is the first group of countries in the world to be accorded this honour.
12. The EU budget
The EU budget for 2016 is € 155 billion. This corresponded to about 1% of the EU countries' GDP – the total value of all goods and services produced in the EU. To compare, the national government expenditure of EU countries corresponds to 49% of their GDP on average. Most of the EU budget – 94% – goes to citizens, regions, cities, farmers and businesses in the EU Member States, and as development aid to countries outside the EU.
WHAT IS ON THE EU'S AGENDA?
1. 10 priorities for Europe
What is taught at school is very important, but it is not up to the EU to decide. The EU countries and their regional and local authorities decide on school curricula. Economic growth, jobs and energy are all important policies for the EU. The 10 priorities tackle problems that Europe is facing and which need a common approach at EU level.
2. Strategic investments
Investment is needed to create new jobs and to get Europe growing again. Public and private funds will target large infrastructure projects, but also:
-projects to help young people find jobs
-education, research and innovation
-renewable energy and energy efficiency
-support to small and medium sized companies
3. A digital single market
Only 15% of EU citizens shop online from another EU country. One of the main obstacles for consumers and companies wanting to buy and sell products online is the high cost of delivering packages across borders. Prices charged by postal operators to deliver a small parcel to another EU country are often up to 5 times higher than domestic prices. This does not correspond to the actual costs. These services could become cheaper and better if there were more competition. In order to foster competition, the European Commission has proposed new rules to increase price transparency.
4. Remove barriers online
Geo-blocking has nothing to do with computer hardware. It is a practice whereby online sellers either deny consumers access to a website based on their location, or re-route them to a local store with different prices. Such blocking can mean, for example, that car rental customers from different EU countries pay different prices for an identical car rental in the same place. The European Commission wants to remove barriers like this, when they are unjustified. It has therefore put forward a proposal to ban the blocking of access to websites and the use of automatic re-routing without the customer's prior consent.
5. Better connected energy market
We import 53% of the energy used in the EU. Some countries depend on one main supplier for their gas imports. Diversification of energy sources and suppliers is key to improving our energy security. At present, many electricity grids and gas pipelines are built for national purposes and are not well connected across national borders. This must be improved so that energy can flow freely across the EU without any technical or legal barriers.
The EU target is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 (from 1990 levels). Greenhouse gases are emitted from many human activities, such as burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) for electricity, heat, and transportation. As much as 94% of the fuel used for transportation in the EU is dependent on oil. We need to invest more in the development of renewable energy sources, and new technologies that will boost the transformation to a low-carbon economy, such as electricity-powered cars and planes.
7. Trade agreement with the US
One difficulty during the negotiations will be to find a way to combine differences in laws with free trade. In areas such as food safety, health, social and data protection or cultural diversity, the European standards are in many cases higher than those in the US. The European Commission is negotiating on behalf of the EU and its 28 member countries to achieve a reasonable and balanced trade agreement. The Commission supports free trade, but not at the price of lowering European standards. The trade agreement must be unanimously approved by the Member States in the Council. It must also be approved by the European Parliament.
8. Fight against cybercrime
All criminal activity that happens on the internet is considered as cybercrime. What makes cybercrime extremely problematic is that the criminal can be thousands of kilometres away from where the effects of the crime are felt and that it can take many different forms. The EU has set up a European Cybercrime Centre. It serves as the central hub for criminal information and intelligence and facilitates cooperation between the EU countries' national law enforcement authorities.
9. Migration to the EU
Asylum is a fundamental right in the EU and it is granted to refugees. EU countries have an international obligation to grant asylum under the UN Convention on refugees. A refugee is a person who is fleeing his or her home country and who can't return due to a well-founded fear of persecution. An asylum-seeker is someone who says he or she is a refugee and who has made an application for international protection, but whose claim has not yet been definitively evaluated. Migrant is a broader term than refugee, referring to a person who leaves his or her home country to settle in another, often in search of a better life.
10. The refugee crisis
The EU has dedicated over €10 billion from the EU budget (2015 and 2016) to address the global refugee crisis. Most of this (60%) is spent on actions outside the EU. Many people arrive in Europe needing basics such as clean water, food and shelter, and the EU is financing projects to address the most urgent humanitarian needs. The EU also provides humanitarian aid to refugees and migrants in countries outside the EU, such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Turkey hosts by far the biggest number of refugees – about 3 million in total, of whom 2.5 million are Syrians.
11. The EU action plan on migration
Many people are fleeing from war and conflict and are in need of international protection. The EU cannot simply cordon itself off; it needs a strong common asylum policy with a clear system for the reception of asylum-seekers inside the EU. At the same time, more must be done to stop irregular migration to the EU. Europe also needs migrants. By 2060, the number of retired people will be more than the active population, and there is a shortage of people with specific skills needed on the labour market. Well-managed legal migration can help address the EU's long-term economic and demographic challenges.
Before making proposals on new EU laws and actions, and throughout the whole decision-making process, the European Commission listens closely to citizens and stakeholders. One way to express your concerns is online. Citizens can give their comments by replying to a public online consultation, or by sending comments on their own initiative.