What is the European Union?

Learn here how a country being a member of the EU can impact your travel.

The European Union

The union is a remarkable historic achievement. For centuries the monarchs of Europe went at war to defend and acquire more territory. It wasn’t until 1648 when leaders signed the Treaty of Westphalia, recognizing the legitimate sovereignty of the regional neighbors.

Today, when countries join the European Union, they are succeeding some of that sovereignty to a supranational organization.

The EU was formed in 1993 when the Maastricht Treaty was signed by 12 member states. The roots of the EU grew from an earlier, smaller group called the European Coal and Steal Community, which formed to oversee the industrialization of Western Europe after WWII.

Today, 27 member countries are a part of the agreement. The United Kingdom is notably the first and only country to leave the European Union after joining. The goals of the EU are to promote peace, safeguard human rights, and promote economic and social cohesion among member states.

The Schengen Area

This encompasses most of mainland Europe, as well as a handful of islands. Those in yellow are countries that will soon join the Schengen Area (ie: Croatia). The light blue dots are city states that also participate (ie: Vatican City).

The grey dot is Andorra, which has not joined. Notice that these city states are little grey dots on the EU map, meaning they are not officially European Union countries.

What does this agreement do? This is what allows travelers and commerce to move freely within the internal borders of the area. This means you can drive from Germany to France without stopping at a border control. This is also allowed many Europeans to work across borders.

While it has vastly improved the efficiency of the European economy, it has also been a source of criticism. Immigration policy has been under higher scrutiny as xenophobic fears increase, especially after the Syrian refugee crisis.

The Eurozone

This area encompasses the 19 EU countries that use a common currency, the Euro. If you compare this map to those above, you’ll see some countries are members of The EU, but not the Eurozone (ie: Sweden). Some are members of the Schengen Zone, but not the EU nor the Eurozone (ie: Switzerland). Some countries in Europe are party to none of the groups (ie: Albania).

Why is this the case? It really depends on each country’s historical and present economic and political situation. While the Maastricht Treaty obliges countries to join the Eurozone once they meet certain economic well being thresholds, several countries have joined the EU, but have later opted out of switching currencies.

What are the pink countries on the map? These are countries that have unilaterally adopted the Euro as their currency (ie: Montenegro and Kosovo). If you compare this with the other maps, you’ll notice they are not part of the European Union nor the Schengen Area. They use the Euro without official approval.

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Santa Barbara, California