EU description

A history of the EU treaties

When French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed integrating western Europe’s coal and steel industries in 1950, his ideas were set out in the Treaty of Paris the following year, and the precursor to the EU — the European Coal and Steel Community — was born. Since then, the EU has regularly updated and added to the treaties to ensure effective policy and decision-making.

  • The Treaty of Paris, establishing the European Coal and Steel Community, was signed in Paris on 18 April 1951 and entered into force in 1952. It expired in 2002. 
  • The Treaties of Rome, establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), were signed in Rome on 25 March 1957 and came into force in 1958. 

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How does it work?

How does the EU works 

The EU is a unique economic and political partnership between 28 European countries that together cover much of the continent. 

The EU was created in the aftermath of the Second World War. The first steps were to foster economic cooperation: the idea being that countries who trade with one another become economically interdependent and so more likely to avoid conflict. The result was the European Economic Community (EEC), created in 1958, and initially increasing economic cooperation between six countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Since then, a huge single market has been created and continues to develop towards its full potential.

From economic to political union 

What began as a purely economic union has evolved into an organisation spanning policy areas, from development aid to environment. A name change from the EEC to the European Union (EU) in 1993 reflected this. 

The EU is based on the rule of law: everything that it does is founded on treaties, voluntarily and democratically agreed by all member countries. These binding agreements set out the EU's goals in its many areas of activity.

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EU symbols 

The EU is recognisable by several symbols, the most well-known being the circle of yellow stars on a blue background. This site introduces other symbols such as the European anthem and motto.

The European flag 

The 12 stars in a circle symbolise the ideals of unity, solidarity and harmony among the peoples of Europe.

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The EU motto

"United in diversity" is the motto of the European Union.

It signifies how Europeans have come together, in the form of the EU, to work for peace and prosperity, while at the same time being enriched by the continent's many different cultures, traditions and languages.


Living in the EU

Each EU country is unique. This means that gross domestic product (GDP) and population growth – for example – can be very different from one country to the next. Each country also has its own approach to key policy areas such as education.

Size and population

The EU covers over 4 million km² and has 503 million inhabitants — the world’s third largest population after China and India. By surface area, France is the biggest EU country and Malta the smallest.

Europe’s population is increasing through a combination of natural growth ( more people are born each year than die) and net migration (more people settle in the EU than leave it).At the same time, the population of Europe is ageing as life expectancy increases and fewer children are born.

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