european union

The European Union: Questions and Answers
Kristin Archick
Specialist in European Affairs
January 13, 2015Congressional Research Service
RS21372 The European Union: Questions and AnswersSummary
The European Union (EU) is a political and economic partnership that represents a unique form
of cooperation among sovereign countries. The Union is the latest stage in a process of
integration begun after World War II, initially by six Western European countries, to foster
interdependence and make another war in Europe unthinkable. Today, the EU is composed of 28
member states, including most of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and has helped to
promote peace, stability, and economic prosperity throughout the European continent.
The EU has been built through a series of binding treaties, and over the years, EU member states
have sought to harmonize laws and adopt common policies on an increasing number of economic,
social, and political issues. EU member states share a customs union; a single market in which
goods, people, and capital move freely; a common trade policy; and a common agricultural
policy. Nineteen EU member states use a common currency (the euro). In addition, the EU has
been developing a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), which includes a Common
Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), and pursuing cooperation in the area of Justice and Home
Affairs (JHA) to forge common internal security measures.
EU member states work together through common institutions to set policy and to promote their
collective interests. Key EU institutions include the European Council, composed of EU Heads of
State or Government, which acts as the strategic guide and driving force for EU policy; the
European Commission, which upholds the common interest of the Union as a whole and
functions as the EU’s executive; the Council of the European Union (also known as the Council
of Ministers), which represents the…

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