9.10 The European Union

7 min readdecember 22, 2022

Sharii Liang

Sharii Liang

Milo Chang

Milo Chang

AP European History 🇪🇺

335 resources
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European countries had always been extremely different in both language and culture. For centuries, they had competed with one another to be the pinnacle of society. After WWII, however, there was a general push to put nationalism aside and form strong ties in politics and economics. The belief was that stronger integration between European nations would foster cooperation and interdependence, reducing the likelihood of another war because it would be too costly to all of the nations involved. These unions would grow in size as it became what we know today as the European Union.

One Continent, Many Nations

The European Union started out in 1952 as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), a coalition of six European countries regulating industrial production. It was meant to spur post-war economic recovery before developing into the European Economic Community (EEC or Common Market) and then the European Union (EU).
Member states of the EU allow the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people between EU countries and adopt common tariffs against non-EU countries.
As of 2022, there are 27 countries in the EU, while a few countries are either in the process of securing membership or have special relationships with the EU.
  • The total population of the EU is over 447 million people, making it the second-largest market in the world. The EU covers an area of over 1.6 million square miles, making it the third-largest region in the world by land area.
  • The EU is made up of member states with diverse cultures, languages, and histories, and it has a rich and varied landscape, including mountain ranges, forests, rivers, and coastlines.

Structure of the EU

The EU has a complex structure that includes a number of different institutions and bodies that work together to make and implement decisions for the member states.
The main institutions of the EU are:
  1. The European Parliament - The parliamentary body directly elected by citizens of the EU, consisting of 705 Members of the European Parliament.
  2. The Council of the European Union - The main decision-making body of the EU, consisting of the governments of the member states. It is also known as the "Council of Ministers."
  3. The European Commission - The executive branch of the EU, responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, and managing the day-to-day business of the EU. It is made up of 27 commissioners, one from each member state.
  4. The European Court of Justice - The highest court in the EU, responsible for interpreting EU law and ensuring its uniform application across the member states.
In addition to these main institutions, there are a number of other bodies and agencies that play important roles in the functioning of the EU, including the European Central Bank, the European Court of Auditors, the European Investment Bank, and the European Ombudsman.
The EU also has a number of bodies that deal with specific policy areas, such as the European Environment Agency, the European Food Safety Authority, and the European Medicines Agency.
The political structure of the European Union means that some policies proposed and implemented by EU institutions can supersede national legislation within individual member states. For example, since the European Union has the exclusive authority to set tariffs against non-EU countries, no single member state in the EU can set its own tariffs. EU member states have given up their ability to set their own trade policy.

Challenges to the EU

The question of whether the European Union is able to survive in the 21st century is still ongoing. Monetary integration through adopting the euro as a common currency has been blamed for financial and economic turmoil in member states. Shifting politics in Europe have upended the assumption that EU member states would maintain their commitment to democratic ideals. A refugee crisis has fueled tensions between member states and strained resources and infrastructure. As a result, voices that question European integration have gained increasing influence.

Euro Crisis

The Euro crisis was a period of financial and economic turmoil that affected many European countries, particularly those in the eurozone, which is a monetary union of 19 of the 27 EU member states that use the euro as their currency.
The crisis, which began in late 2009, was triggered by the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 and was exacerbated by a number of factors, including high levels of government debt, unsustainable budget deficits, and economic imbalances within the eurozone.
The crisis had a number of significant impacts on the affected countries, including high levels of unemployment, financial market instability, and declining living standards. It also had significant implications for the EU as a whole, as it called into question the viability of the eurozone and the stability of the EU.
The crisis was addressed through a number of measures, including bailouts of heavily indebted countries by the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as structural reforms to improve competitiveness and reduce budget deficits. Despite these measures, the crisis continues to have ongoing effects on the affected countries and the EU as a whole.

Refugee Crisis

Since 2015, there has been an influx of large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers into the EU. The crisis was triggered by a number of factors, including armed conflicts and political instability in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the ongoing civil war in Syria.
The refugee crisis has had a number of significant impacts on the EU, including strain on resources and infrastructure, as well as tensions between member states over how to manage and distribute the refugees. It has also raised concerns about security and the potential for terrorist attacks, as well as social and cultural integration.
To address the crisis, the EU has implemented a number of measures, including the establishment of a common European asylum system, the creation of a mechanism for the relocation of refugees within the EU, and the establishment of a "hotspot" approach to manage the influx of refugees in certain member states.
The EU has also provided financial assistance to countries outside of the EU to help them manage the refugee crisis and has worked with the United Nations and other international organizations to address the root causes of the crisis.
Despite these efforts, the refugee crisis remains a complex and ongoing challenge for the EU.

Diverging Values

In recent years, there have been concerns about democratic backsliding in Hungary and Poland, two member states of the European Union.
  • Democratic backsliding refers to the erosion of the institutions and practices that are essential to democracy, such as the rule of law, independent judiciaries, and media freedom.
  • In Hungary, the government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been accused of restricting the independence of the judiciary, curtailing media freedom, and cracking down on civil society organizations. The EU has raised concerns about these developments and has launched an Article 7 procedure, which is a mechanism that can be used to address serious breaches of EU values. In September of 2022, the EU Parliament declared that Hungary could "no longer be considered a full democracy."
  • In Poland, the government led by the Law and Justice Party has also been accused of undermining the independence of the judiciary and restricting media freedom. The EU has also raised concerns about these developments and has launched an Article 7 procedure against Poland as well.
Both Hungary and Poland have denied that they are backsliding on democracy and have defended their actions as being necessary to protect their national sovereignty.
The EU has continued to engage with both countries and has sought to address its concerns through dialogue and negotiations. However, the situation remains complex and ongoing, and the EU continues to monitor the situation closely.


Euroskepticism refers to a critical or skeptical attitude towards the European Union and the integration of European countries.
  • It can manifest itself in a variety of forms, including opposition to further integration, support for national sovereignty and independence, and skepticism about the benefits of EU membership.
  • Euroskepticism is not a monolithic concept and can be driven by a range of factors, including concerns about loss of national identity, loss of control over domestic policy, and economic costs.
Euroskepticism is a common phenomenon in many EU member states and has been on the rise in recent years, particularly since the Euro crisis and the refugee crisis. It has also been fueled by a number of political developments, including the United Kingdom's decision to leave the EU in 2020 (Brexit).
Euroskepticism has led to the emergence of Euroskeptic parties and movements in many EU member states, and it has also shaped the political landscape and influenced the debate over the future direction of the EU. Political parties that question European integration have grown their influence in a number of EU member states, from France and Germany to the Netherlands and Poland.
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