The European Union (EU) is a sui generis association of 28 European states which delegate or transmit by treaty the exercise of certain competences to common bodies. It covers an area of 4,493,7124 km2, has a population of 505.7 million2 and is the world’s leading economic power5.
The European Union is governed by the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), in their current versions, since 1 December 2009 and the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. Its institutional structure is partly supranational, partly intergovernmental: the European Parliament is elected by direct universal suffrage, while the European Council and the Council of Ministers are composed of representatives of the Member States; the European Commission is elected by Parliament on a proposal from the European Council. The Court of Justice is responsible for ensuring the application of EU law.
The declaration of 9 May 1950 by Robert Schuman, French Minister for Foreign Affairs, is considered to be the founding text of European integration. Under the impetus of political figures nicknamed “Fathers of Europe”, such as Konrad Adenauer, Jean Monnet and Alcide De Gasperi, six States created the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951. After the failure of a European Defence Community in 1954, a European Economic Community was established in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome. Economic cooperation was deepened by the Single European Act in 1986.
In 1992, the Maastricht Treaty established a political union called the European Union, which provided for the creation of an economic and monetary union (the euro area) with a single currency, the euro. Established in 1999, it has eighteen states by 2014. New institutional reforms were introduced in 1997 and 2001. Following the rejection of a draft European Constitution, the institutions were reformed again in 2009 by the Lisbon Treaty.
The founding members of the European Union (1957) are Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. They were joined in 1973 by three members of the European Free Trade Association: Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The Union enlarges southwards with the accession of Greece in 1981 and Spain and Portugal in 1986. Meanwhile, in 1985, Greenland decided to withdraw by ratifying the Greenland Treaty and now has the status of an associated overseas country and territory. With the end of the Cold War, the eastern part of Germany de facto joined the European Union in 1990 (since reunited with the West German part). Then, in 1995, the European Union joined neutral states: Austria, Finland and Sweden and in 2004 ten new states, mostly from the Eastern bloc: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia; then in 2007 Bulgaria and Romania. Croatia’s accession took effect on 1 July 20136 and confirms the prospects for enlargement in the Balkans begun nine years earlier.