The European Union (EU) is a union of 27 European states, which shares an internal single market and EU law applies.
The EU was through the Maastricht Treaty, which was signed in 1992 and came into force in 1993.
27 European states are so-called member states of the EU. They are the following (March 2022):
- Belgium (founder);
- France (founder);
- Germany (founder);
- Italy (founder);
- Luxembourg (founder);
- Netherlands (founder);
- Denmark (since 1973);
- Ireland (since 1973);
- Greece (since 1981);
- Portugal (since 1986);
- Spain (since 1986);
- Austria (since 1995);
- Finland (since 1995);
- Sweden (since 1995);
- Hungary (since 2004);
- Cyprus (since 2004);
- Czechia (since 2004);
- Estonia (since 2004);
- Latvia (since 2004);
- Lithuania (since 2004);
- Malta (since 2004);
- Poland (since 2004);
- Slovakia (since 2004);
- Slovenia (since 2004);
- Bulgaria (since 2007);
- Romania (since 2007); and
- Croatia (since 2013).
Furthermore, the United Kingdom joined the EU in 1973 but left it on 31 January 2020. However, Northern Ireland continues to participate in the European Single Market under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement.
The EU has an internal single market and a common system of laws. Furthermore, their policies guarantee the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within the EU. They are also responsible for some common policies on agriculture, fishery and trade.
The institutions of the European Union are the primary decision-making bodies. There are three legislative branches.
- European Parliament, consisting of elected members;
- European Council, consisting of Heads of State or Government; and
- Council of the European Union, consisting of member state ministers.
The European Commission is responsible for proposing legislation and enforcing EU law. Commissioners are appointed by the European Council and the European Parliament.
When it comes to the auditing of the EU:s finances, the Court of Auditors is responsible. They are appointed by the Council of the European Union.
- The European Central Bank (ECB) is the central bank of the Eurozone. The ECB has several decision-making bodies, where some of the members are appointed by the European Council. The European Parliament is also consulted in the appointment of some members.
Lastly, the Court of Justice of the European Union is ultimately responsible for the application and interpretation of EU law. The court is divided into a Court of Justice and a General Court. Judges are elected by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe from lists proposed by the member states.
In addition to the EU, there is also the European Economic Area (EEA), where certain EU law also applies. This includes Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
There are several more communities and agreements that affect the EU and its citizens. This includes, for example, the Schengen area, the Common Travel Area and the Council of Europe.
In the UK, a UK version of GDPR has been implemented – the Data Act. This domestic law has the same key principles, rights and obligations. However, the UK has free reign on changing this legislation.