The European Union (EU) is the result of a cooperation and integration process that begun in 1951 between six countries (Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands). Fifty years and five accessions waves later (1973: Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom; 1981: Greece; 1986: Spain and Portugal; 1995: Austria, Finland and Sweden; 2004: Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia, Malta, and Cyprus), the EU joins at present twenty five Member States and is now preparing for the next enlargement (Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Turkey).
The EU task is to organize the relationships between Member States and their peoples, in a manner demonstrating consistency and solidarity. The aims to be achieved are important:
- to promote economic and social progress (the completion of the internal market as from 1993, the establishment of a single currency in 1999);
- to assert an European identity on the international scene (European humanitarian aid to third countries, common foreign and security policy, intervention regarding international crisis management, common positions within international organizations);
- to introduce an European citizenship (complementing, not replacing, national citizenship and conferring civil and political rights on all European citizens);
- to create an area of freedom, security and justice (relating to the internal market operation and specifically to the free movement of persons);
- to maintain the acquis communautaire and build on it (legal texts adopted by European institutions, as well as the founding treaties).
The smooth functioning of the EU is based in five institutions: the European Parliament (elected by the peoples of the Member States), the Council (that represents the governments of Member States), the Commission (the executive body with the right to initiate draft legislation), the Court of Justice (that ensures the respect for Community law) and the Court of Auditors (that checks the budget management). These five institutions are supported by several bodies: the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions (advisory bodies representing the views of different categories of economic and social life, as well as EU regions), the European Ombudsman (who analyzes applications of citizens that consider that they have been harmed by an act of "maladministration" at EU level), the European Investment Bank (the European Union's financial institution) and the European Central Bank (responsible for the monetary policy of the euro zone).
- Central Bank http://www.ecb.int/
- European Investment Bank http://www.eib.org/
- Economic and Social Committee http://europa.eu/about-eu/institutions-bodies/eesc/index_en.htm
- Committee of the Regions https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/institutions-bodies/european-committee-regions_en
- European Investment Fund http://www.eif.org/
- European Parliament https://www.europarl.europa.eu/portal/en
- Court of Auditors http://europa.eu/about-eu/institutions-bodies/court-auditors/index_en.htm
- Court of Justice http://europa.eu/about-eu/institutions-bodies/court-justice/index_en.htm
- Commission http://europa.eu/about-eu/institutions-bodies/european-commission/index_en.htm
- Council http://europa.eu/about-eu/institutions-bodies/council-eu/index_en.htm
- The European Ombudsman https://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/home
- Candidate countries https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/countries_en