Wait! What even is the European Union?!

The European Union (EU) is essentially a club, made up of 28 countries. From all across Europe, including the UK (despite the best efforts of a Mr Nigel Farage). Its origins can be traced back to soon after the Second World War.

Referendum? Euro-Crisis? Immigration?

Wait! What even is the European Union?! The European Union (EU) is essentially a club, made up of 28 countries. From all across Europe, including the UK (despite the best efforts of a Mr Nigel Farage). Its origins can be traced back to soon after the Second World War: A new club, with a mission to preserve peace, encourage trade, and help rebuild after the war.

Goodness. How do I join?

All of these ideals were put into a handy document, The Treaty of Rome. Since then, the number of countries joining this club has grown dramatically. Starting with just 6 members, many countries joined throughout the 20th Century, with the UK signing up in 1973.

This century, a number of former communist countries, and others, have joined. Others hope to join in the future (we’re the popular table!). To join, a country must tick several boxes;

  • Having free and fair elections,
  • Upholding strong human rights, and…
  • … a market economy able to trade and compete.

I see. What’s all the fuss about borders and funny-money then?

Over time, the aims of the EU have grown steadily, first only working on economic issues such as trade, with tricks like ensuring products made in one country could not be given an extra tax (tariff) when sold in another. This new way of trading is called ‘the single market’. So I’m not paying a penny more for my French Fries!

However, the EU soon became a political club too. Members began to make decisions as a wider club, and making decisions together when most beneficial. For example, protecting the environment with pollution reduction targets. Most recently, the EU has worked more on ‘the single market’ idea. Creating the Schengen Area (Schengen was where they signed up). This has seen the borders between countries removed, so just about anybody can move freely around the EU (you don’t have to be part of the ‘Schengen Area’, some say ‘no thanks’, like the UK). Furthermore, the currency – the Euro (no, not Monopoly money) – came about in 2002, with most countries (again, the UK said ‘no thanks’) using it as their currency. Together creating a club within a club – called the Eurozone.

So, what keeps this show on the road?

These countries (and some bankers) like to have meetings to make sure everything is going swell – (shit name alert) they’re called the Eurogroup. Where do we come into all of this? Well, it has a parliament. A European Parliament (original name I know). They say either ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ to any new policies put forward, and we vote the parliament in every 5 years.

To make sure everyone agrees with new policies, the governments across all the member countries send somebody along to meetings (if it’s about making sure turnips are disease free, we all send the farming minister along). That’s called the European Council. Fun stuff. Now who puts forward these new policies? A group of experts called the European Commission. Proposing policies that they think will work in the EU’s best interest. They’re picked by the leader of each member country (so David Cameron picks for the UK).

And that’s about it really. Fantastique! Should the UK even be part of this club? Is the ‘Euro’ doomed to failure? Is immigration a concern? You might still be a long way off having an answer (join the club). But, now knowing what the EU is, you can at least stand a chance of pretending you do. Bon Chance!

LLoyd Hatton
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