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European Union facts for kids

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European Union
Circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background
Motto: "In Varietate Concordia" (Latin)
"United in Diversity"
Anthem: "Ode to Joy" (instrumental)
Globe projection with the European Union in green
Administrative centre Brussels
Largest city Paris
Official languages
Official scripts
Demonym(s) European
Type Political and economic union
Member states
Government Supranational and intergovernmental
Ursula von der Leyen
David Sassoli
Charles Michel
1 January 1958
• Single European Act
1 July 1987
1 November 1993
1 December 2009
• Last polity admitted
1 July 2013
31 January 2020
• Total
4,233,262 km2 (1,634,472 sq mi) (7th)
• Water (%)
• 2020 estimate
Increase 447,206,135
• Density
106/km2 (274.5/sq mi)
GDP (PPP) 2020 estimate
• Total
Increase $20.366 trillion
• Per capita
GDP (nominal) 2020 estimate
• Total
Increase $16.033 trillion
• Per capita
Gini (2018)  30.9
HDI (2017) Increase 0.899
very high
Currency Euro (EUR; ; in eurozone) and
Time zone UTC to UTC+2 (WET, CET, EET)
• Summer (DST)
(Summer Time in Europe)
Note: with the exception of the Canary Islands and Madeira, the outermost regions observe different time zones not shown.
Date format (CE)
Date and time notation in Europe
Internet TLD .eu

The European Union (abbreviation: EU) is a confederation of 27 member countries in Europe established by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992-1993. The EU grew out of the European Economic Community (EEC) which was established by the Treaties of Rome in 1957. It has created a common economic area with Europe-wide laws allowing the citizens of EU countries to move and trade in other EU countries almost the same as they do in their own. Nineteen of these countries also share the same type of money: the euro.

The Treaty of Lisbon is the most recent treaty that says how the Union is run. Every member state signed to say that they each agreed with what it says. Most importantly, it says which jobs (’powers’) the Union should do for the members and which jobs they should do themselves. The members decide how the Union should act by voting for or against proposals.

The objective of the EU is to bring its member states closer together with respect of human rights and democracy. It does this with a common style of passport, common rules about fair trading with each other, common agreements about law enforcement, and other agreements. Most members share a common currency (the euro) and most allow people to travel from one country to another without having to show a passport.


Quai d'Orsay
Quai d'Orsay (Paris). Robert Schuman gave the speech starting the plan for a European Coal and Steel Community in 1950

After World War II, the countries in Europe wanted to live peacefully together and help one another's economies. Instead of fighting each other for coal and steel, the first member countries (West) Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg created one European Coal and Steel Community in 1952.

In 1957 in the Italian city of Rome, the member countries signed another treaty and made the European Economic Community. Now it was a community for coal, steel and for trade. Later it changed the name to the European Community.

In 1993, with the Treaty of Maastricht it changed its name to the European Union. Now the member countries work together not only in politics and economy (coal, steel and trade), but also in money, justice (laws), and foreign affairs. With the Schengen Agreement, 22 member countries of the EU opened their borders to each other, so people can now travel from one country to the other without a passport or identity card. Now already 16 member countries have replaced their national currencies with the euro. 10 new countries became members of the EU in 2004, 2 more became members in 2007, and 1 more in 2013. Today there are 27 member countries altogether.

Free movement

A person who is a citizen of the European Union can live and work in any of the 27 member states without needing a work permit or visa. For example, a French person can move to Greece to work there, or just to live there, and he or she does not need permission from an authority in Greece.

In the same way, products made in one member country can be sold in any other member country without any special permissions or extra taxes. For this reason, the members agree rules on product safety - they want to know that a product made in another country will be as safe as it would be if it had been made in their own.

Main institutions

Council of the European Union

Organs of the European Union
Political system of the European Union. The union has seven organs (in blue).

The Council of the European Union is the main decision-making group. The cabinet ministers of the member countries meet (Ministers for Foreign affairs, for Agriculture, for Justice, etc.) and discuss issues that are important to them.

Before the Treaty of Lisbon (written in 2007, implemented in 2008) each member state takes a turn at being President of the Council for six months. For example, from January 2007 until July 2007, Germany held the presidency. The six months before that, Finland held the presidency. Now the President of the European Union chairs the council summits. The President of the Council is the organiser and manager and is voted into office for a duration of two and a half years. He or she does not have the power to make decisions about the European Union like the President of the United States does for that country.

Member countries with a large population (Germany, France, United Kingdom, etc.) have more votes than countries with small populations (Luxembourg, Malta, etc.) but a decision cannot be made if enough countries vote against the decision.

Twice a year, the heads of government (Prime Ministers) and/or the heads of state (Presidents) meet to talk about the main issues and make decisions on different issues. This meeting is different and not as formal. It is known as a European Council.

Note: This is not the same thing as the Council of Europe, which is not part of the European Union.

European Commission

The European Commission runs the day-to-day running of the EU and writes laws, like a government. Laws written by the Commission are discussed and changed by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.

The Commission has one President and 27 Commissioners, selected by the European Council. The Commission President is appointed by the European Council with the approval of the European Parliament.

The Commission operates like a cabinet government. There is one Commissioner per member state, though Commissioners are bound to represent the interests of the EU as a whole rather than their home state.

European Parliament

EP Strasbourg hemicycle l-gal
The Parliament is the only directly elected body

The Parliament has a total of 785 members (called Members of the European Parliament, or MEP). They are elected in their countries every five years by the citizens of the European Union member countries. The Parliament can approve, reject or change proposed laws. It can also sack the European Commission. In that case, the entire commission would have to give up their jobs.


There are many discussions in the EU about how it should develop and change in the future.

The main reasons why European countries came together are political and economic:

Member States

In 1951, six countries made the European Coal and Steel Community, a basic version of what the EU is now. These six then went further and in 1957 they made the European Economic Community and the European Coal and Steel Community. The UK and others decided not to join, and then when the UK changed its mind it was stopped from joining by French President Charles de Gaulle. When he was no longer President, the UK and others started to join. Today there are 27 members but the idea that more should join is not seen as a good one by everyone.

EU map brown
The member states of the European Union highlighted in light brown.
Founders in 1957
Joined in 1973
Joined in 1981
Left in 1985
Joined in 1986
Joined in 1995
Joined in 2004
Joined in 2007
Joined in 2013

Left in 2020

Serbia, Montenegro, the Republic of Macedonia, Turkey and Iceland are "candidate countries"; they are being considered for membership. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are expected to follow.

However, since there have been many political problems happening in Turkey recently, especially with President Erdogan's arresting of tens of thousands of political rivals since the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, it is unlikely that it would be allowed to part of the EU anytime soon because EU members believe that the current Turkish government is not respecting human rights, rule of law, or democracy.


United in diversity (or together with many types of people in Simple English), is the motto of the European Union.

The motto in other languages:

  • Bulgarian: Обединен в многообразието
  • Croatian: Ujedinjeni u različitosti
  • Czech: Jednotná v rozmanitosti
  • Danish: Forenet i mangfoldighed
  • Dutch: In verscheidenheid verenigd
  • Estonian: Ühinenud mitmekesisuses
  • Finnish: Moninaisuudessaan yhtenäinen
  • French: Unie dans la diversité
  • German: In Vielfalt geeint
  • Greek: Ενωμένοι στην πολυμορφία
  • Hungarian: Egység a sokféleségben
  • Irish: Ní neart go cur le chéile
  • Italian: Uniti nella diversità
  • Latvian: Vienota dažādībā
  • Lithuanian: Suvienijusi įvairovę
  • Maltese: Magħquda fid-diversità


On June 23, 2016, the UK held a referendum on whether it should stay in the EU or leave it. The majority [52% to 48%] favoured leaving. Britain leaving the EU is commonly known as Brexit.

The government of the UK triggered "Article 50" of the Treaty of European Union (the Treaty of Lisbon) on 29 March 2017. This began negotiations with fellow members of the EU on the terms of exit. The timetable for these negotiations is two years, which meant that the UK would remain a member of the EU until at least March 2019. However this deadline was later extended to October 31st 2019 at the request of the British Government. The United Kingdom left the European Union on the 31. of January 2020 at 23:00 Greenwich Mean Time.

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See also

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