What is the European Union?

The European Union is a unique economic and political partnership between 28 democratic European countries. The aims of the EU are peace, prosperity and freedom for its 498 million citizens in a fairer, safer world.

So far the EU has led to or created frontier-free travel and trade, the euro (the single European currency), safer food and a greener environment, better living standards in poorer regions, joint action on crime and terror, cheaper phone calls, millions of opportunities to study abroad and much more besides.

How does it work?

To make these things happen, EU countries set up bodies to run the EU and adopt its legislation. The main ones are:

European Parliament

The European Parliament represents the people of Europe and shares legislative power equally with the Council of the European Union. This means it is empowered to adopt European laws (directives, regulations, etc). It can accept, amend or reject the content of European legislation.  

Council of the European Union

Representing national governments, also informally known as the EU Council, this is where national ministers from each EU country meet to adopt laws and coordinate policies. The Council and Parliament share the final say on new EU laws proposed by the Commission. 

European Commission

The European Commission represents the interests of the EU as a whole. It proposes new legislation to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, and it ensures that EU law is correctly applied by member countries.  

The term 'Commission' refers to both the 28 Commissioners and the wider institution itself.  

Before making proposals, the Commission consults widely so that stakeholders' views can be taken into account. In general, an assessment of the potential economic, social and environmental impact of a given piece of legislation act is published along with the proposal itself.  

The principles of subsidiary and proportionality mean that the EU may legislate only where action is more effective at EU level than at national, regional or local level, and then no more than necessary to attain the agreed objectives.  

Once EU legislation has been adopted, the Commission ensures that it is correctly applied by the EU member countries.