When the Second World War ended last century, Europe's leaders decided to work together to resolve their problems. They wanted to put an end to fighting once and for all, so that people could rebuild their lives and create new and better ways to support themselves and trade with each other.
One way to do this, the leaders thought, was to control how much coal and steel each country could receive. This was important because coal was needed to power the factories which made all the things that people needed, including steel for machines, houses, roads and buildings. Coal and steel are also necessary when producing war machines like guns and tanks, so with these countries all deciding together what to do with Europe's coal and steel, no single nation could build these weapons without the other nations knowing about it.
The leaders also hoped that countries which depended on each other like this would have no reason to fight because the economy would be stronger across the region and people would have good jobs, food and security. And do you know what? They were right. Over 60 years have passed and Europe's wars are now things you read in your history books.
The EU has come a long way. There are now 28 Member States in the European Union. It's a bit like in a school class. As in a good community, the stronger ones help the weaker ones. And as in a class where some children like maths and others prefer music, some EU countries have interests that are different to others. To live together peacefully, everybody must accept everybody else as they are. Each country lives according to its own traditions, language and culture. This approach is summed up nicely in the EU's motto: 'United in diversity'.
Despite this diversity, EU countries have common goals:
- They want all EU countries to prosper and improve living conditions. The EU already boasts the world's largest economic area.
- They want peace and security in Europe and in the world. Instead of fighting each other with weapons, they would rather sit around a table and talk things through.
- They want all EU citizens to enjoy the same fundamental rights and liberties, to live without discrimination and to enjoy equal opportunities.
In this respect, maybe you already know that the EU has its own Parliament, where people can democratically elect whoever they like best? And you might have seen your prime minister on the news, meeting in Brussels with his or her colleagues from other countries. Together, they form the European Council and take important decisions.
European laws are made by the European Parliament (751 directly elected members) and the Council (which is made up of ministers from each EU country). The European Commission proposes new laws and takes care to see that they are respected.
Many EU countries now use the same money, the euro, which makes it easier for everyone to travel around Europe without always having to change their money from one currency to another. And in the same way, EU citizens may travel without border controls, may study and work in other EU countries, and buy goods and services all over the EU.
But the EU is not only about security, money and economics. It also promotes ways to improve the environment. It supports research and actions which can lead to breakthroughs in science and technology. The EU also regulates how products should be made and packaged, so we know the things we buy are always good quality, no matter where they come from.
There is so much that the EU does to keep you and your family happy, healthy and safe.
Five interesting facts
- There are 28 Member States in the European Union and 19 currently use the euro as their currency.
- The euro coins have one common side and one side with a national emblem from the country that has issued the coin.
- The EU celebrates its birthday on 9 May. On that date in 1950, a French minister called Robert Schuman proposed the ideas behind what is now the EU.
- The Single Market means people, products and services move freely between EU countries.
- The EU has its own Charter of Fundamental Rights.