It governs common economic, political, social and security policies of its member states.

According to the EU website, the objectives of the European Union are to establish European citizenship, ensure freedom, justice and security, promote economic and social progress, and assert Europe’s role in the world.

Membership is open to any country with a democratic government, a good human rights record, and sound economic policies.

The member states delegate sovereignty to the EU institutions to represent the interests of the European Union as a whole.

Decisions and procedures stem from treaties ratified by the member states.

The capital of the European Union is Brussels, Belgium.

The European Union is run by five main bodies: European Parliament, Council of the Union, European Commission, Court of Justice, and the Court of Auditors.
An estimated 446 million people live within the European Union.

The United States is the European Union’s main trading partner.

The Treaty of Lisbon amends the Treaty on European Union to explicitly recognize for the first time the member states’ right to withdraw from the union. (Article 50, amended TEU)
– Any member state may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
– A member state which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.

Timeline

1957 – The European Economic Community (EEC) is created. The member countries are Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany. The group aims to remove trade barriers and form a common market.

1973 – Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom become member countries.

1981 – Greece becomes a member.

1985 – Spain and Portugal become members.

June 14, 1985 – Five of the 10 member states sign the Schengen Agreement, which eventually opens borders of agreeing member states, doing away with border controls. As of 2016, 26 countries belong to the Schengen Area.

February 7, 1992 – The Treaty on the European Union is signed in Maastricht (Netherlands) by leaders of the member states.

November 1, 1993 – The Maastricht Treaty enters into force.

1993 – The EEC members at the time (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Spain, UK, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, and Portugal) extend their cooperation into the areas of justice and home affairs and a common foreign and security policy.

January 1, 1995 – Austria, Finland, and Sweden join the European Union.

April 30, 2004 – A ceremony is held in Dublin, Ireland, marking the expansion of the European Union from 15 to 25 members. The new members are Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, and Slovenia.

June 2004 – The member countries approve the text of the EU Constitution. It is signed by all the members in October 2004.

May 29, 2005 – The people of France (and its territories) vote against the EU constitution in a referendum. (No = 54.87%/Yes = 45.13%)

June 1, 2005 – The Netherlands votes against the constitution in a referendum. All 27 members of the European Union must pass the constitution for it to take effect. Either a national parliament can approve it or in some countries, the citizens vote on a referendum.

June 23, 2007 – EU leaders in Brussels agree on an outline of a treaty that would replace the EU constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters two years ago.

June 19, 2008 – The European Union decides to lift diplomatic sanctions imposed on Cuba.

November 19, 2009 – Herman Van Rompuy, the Belgian Prime Minister, becomes the first president of the European Council under the Treaty of Lisbon. Catherine Ashton of the United Kingdom will be the first foreign minister.

December 1, 2009 – The Treaty of Lisbon comes into force, having been ratified by all EU member states. It amends the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 and the Rome Treaty of 1957.

October 12, 2012 – The European Union receives the Nobel Peace Prize for contributing to the advancement of peace, democracy and human rights in Europe.
June 25, 2013 – The European Union agrees to a new round of membership negotiations with Turkey.

July 1, 2013 – Croatia joins the European Union as its 28th member.

April 1, 2014 – The European Union launches military operations to restore stability to the Central African Republic.

March 2015 – Iceland withdraws its request to be considered as a candidate for membership.

March 18, 2016 – The European Union and Turkey reach an agreement on how to deal with a flood of Syrian refugees. The agreement stipulates that all migrants entering Greece from Turkey will be returned to Turkey. For every Syrian returned to Turkey from Greece, another Syrian will be resettled to the European Union.
June 23, 2016 – The United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union. It will take at least two years to sort out the exit.
March 16, 2017 – Britain’s exit from the European Union moves another step closer after the legislation enabling the country’s departure is given royal assent by Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen’s signature means that British Prime Minister Theresa May is now able to move forward and trigger Article 50, allowing formal talks to begin between Downing Street and the EU’s 27 member states on the terms of the divorce, nicknamed “Brexit.”
September 5, 2018 – The European Union adopts the European Travel Information and Authorization System, an additional security check for travelers who do not normally need a visa to enter the Schengen Area. The security check will come into effect in 2021.
January 31, 2020 – Britain formally leaves the European Union, becoming the first ever nation to leave the EU.

Presidencies of the Council of the European Union through 2021

Croatia: January-June 2020
Germany: July-December 2020
Portugal: January-June 2021
Slovenia: July-December 2021

Current Members

(Founding members in bold)
Austria
Belgium
Bulgaria
Croatia
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Ireland
Italy
Latvia
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Netherlands
Poland
Portugal
Romania
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden

Candidate Countries

Albania
Macedonia
Montenegro
Serbia
Turkey

Applicant Countries

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Kosovo