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The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of 27 member states, located primarily in Europe. It was established by the Treaty of Maastricht on 1 November 1993 upon the foundations of the pre-existing European Economic Community. With almost 500 million citizens, the EU combined generates an estimated 30% share (US$16.8 trillion in 2007) of the nominal gross world product.
The EU has developed a single market through a standardized system of laws which apply in all member states, guaranteeing the freedom of movement of people, goods, services and capital. It maintains a common trade policy, agricultural and fisheries policies, and a regional development policy. Sixteen member states have adopted a common currency, the euro. It has developed a role in foreign policy, representing its members in the World Trade Organisation, at G8 summits, and at the United Nations. Twenty-one EU countries are members of NATO. The EU has developed a role in justice and home affairs, including the abolition of passport controls between many member states under the Schengen Agreement, which incorporates also non-EU states.
The EU operates through a hybrid system of intergovernmentalism and supranationalism. In certain areas it depends upon agreement between the member states. However, it also has supranational bodies, able to make decisions without unanimity between all national governments. Important institutions and bodies of the EU include the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the European Council, the European Court of Justice and the European Central Bank. EU citizens elect the Parliament every five years.
The EU traces its origins to the European Coal and Steel Community formed among six countries in 1951 and the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Since then the union has grown in size through the accession of new countries, and new policy areas have been added to the remit of the EU institutions.
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