The European Union is a 28-member political, economic and monetary union, primarily located in Europe.1 Its objective is the creation of an economic and monetary union through the convergence of its member countries' economic and monetary policies and the creation of a single, shared currency, the Euro. As a political union, the European union has a role representing its member states in international relations. It has conducted some diplomatic missions, and is represented at the United Nations, the WTO, the G8 and the G20. However, many see the Europeans' role as a political union up for debate, suggesting that the EUs core purpose should be solely a trading bloc.
The legislature of the European Union is bicameral, composed of an upper house called The Council of the European Union, and a lower house called the European Parliament. The two houses have co-decision making procedures where legislative acts must be jointly adopted. The power to initiate any laws, however, is held by the European Commission (the executive body, composed of one member from each state). The Commision is composed of members nominated by individual states, but who are supposed to look out for the interests of the EU as a whole. The Council is composed of members from national ministers (or similar) from each nation whose portfolios contain the topic area to be discussed. The European Parliament is composed of 751 directly elected members.2
As an economic union, the EU has developed a single common market between its member states through a standardized system of laws and free trade agreements (member state laws must converge on this standard). EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital, and maintain common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries, and regional development. Regional development is an important component of the economic union, because failures in particular economies pose a risk to the economic and monetary union as a whole.
As a monetary union, the euro-zone shares a common currency, the euro, and is controlled by the European Central Bank. Several EU countries opt out of the eurozone, most notably the United Kingdom. Recently, the eurozone crisis has raised questions about the viability of a single currency. The eurozone economies suffered through six quarters of shrinking GDP, with modest growth in the second quarter of 2013. Bank undercapitalization and government debts and deficits are criticized as threatening the underpinnings the monetary union, even with new austerity measures. Economies like Greece, Spain, Portugal - and even Italy, Finland and the Netherlands - are facing weakened economies.
Other concerns exist about the growth of the European Union. For example, Turkey's application for accession in the European Union is highly opposed, especially by those who view the EU as a political union, not merely a trade bloc (only 3% of Turkey is in Europe). The Economist suggests this is "queasiness over letting a big, powerful and prickly Muslim country" into the union.3 Similarly, five of the EU members do not recognize Kosovo as a country, making Kosovo's desire to represent itself at international forums difficult. If these countries lift their objections, Kosovo might be allowed to join the EU.4
1. List of EU Countries. Retrieved from http://europa.eu/about-eu/countries/index_en.htm
2. European Parliament. Retrieved from http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/glossary/european_parliament_en.htm
3. Many Turks have given up, but progress towards the EU inches forward. February 2013. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21572244-many-turks-have-given-up-progress-towards-eu-inches-forward-tiny-thaw
4. Inching closer to the European Union, but now with new economic worries. February 2012. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/21548289