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Brief Introduction of European Union (EU)

The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of 27 member states which are located primarily in Europe. Its capital is de facto Brussels.  The EU operates through a system of supranational independent institutions and intergovernmental negotiated decisions by the member states. Important institutions of the EU include the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, the European Council, the Court of Justice of the European Union, and the European Central Bank. The European Parliament is elected every five years by EU citizens.
The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC), formed by the Inner Six countries in 1951 and 1958 respectively. In the intervening years the community and its successors have grown in size by the accession of new member states and in power by the addition of policy areas to its remit. The Maastricht Treaty established the European Union under its current name in 1993. The latest amendment to the constitutional basis of the EU, the Treaty of Lisbon, came into force in 2009.
The EU has developed a single market through a standardised system of laws which apply in all member states. Within the Schengen Area (which includes 22 EU and 4 non-EU states) passport controls have been abolished. EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital, enact legislation in justice and home affairs, and maintain common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. A monetary union, the eurozone, was established in 1999 and is composed of 17 member states. Through the Common Foreign and Security Policy the EU has developed a role in external relations and defence. Permanent diplomatic missionshave been established around the world. The EU is represented at the United Nations, the WTO, the G8and the G-20.
With a combined population of over 500 million inhabitants, or 7.3% of the world population, the EU, in 2011, generated the largest nominal world gross domestic product (GDP) of 17.6 trillion US dollars, representing approximately 20% of the global GDP when measured in terms of purchasing power parity. The EU was the recipient of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize.

Economy of the European Union
The economy of the European Union generates a GDP of over €12.629 trillion (US$17.578 trillion in 2011) according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), making it the largest economy in the world. The European Union (EU) economy consists of an Internal Market and the EU is represented as a unified entity in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Currency
The official currency of the European Union is the euro used in all its documents and policies. The Stability and Growth Pact sets out the fiscal criteria to maintain for stability and (economic) convergence. The euro is also the most widely used currency in the EU, which is in use in 17 member states known as the Eurozone.
All other member states, apart from Denmark and the United Kingdom, which have special opt-outs, have committed to changing over to the euro once they have fulfilled the requirements needed to do so. Also, Sweden can effectively opt out by choosing when or whether to join the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, which is the preliminary step towards joining. The remaining states are committed to join the Euro through their Treaties of Accession.

Economies of member states
Economic performance varies from state to state. The Growth and Stability Pact governs fiscal policy with the European Union. It applies to all member states, with specific rules which apply to the eurozone members that stipulate that each state's deficit must not exceed 3% of GDP and its public debt must not exceed 60% of GDP. However, many larger members have consistently run deficits substantially in excess of 3%, and the eurozone as a whole has a debt percentage exceeding 60%.

Economic growth
The EU's share of Gross world product (GWP) is stable at around one fifth.
The twelve new member states of the European Union have enjoyed a higher average percentage growth rate than their elder members of the EU. Slovakia has the highest GDP growth in the period 2005-2011 among all countries of the European Union. Notably theBaltic states have achieved massive GDP growth, with Latvia topping 11%, close to China, the world leader at 9% on average for the past 25 years (though these gains have been in great part cancelled by the late-2000's recession).
Reasons for this massive growth include government commitments to stable monetary policy, export-oriented trade policies, low flat-tax rates and the utilisation of relatively cheap labour. For the last year (2011), Estonia had the highest GDP growth from all the states in EU (7,6%). The current map of EU growth is one of huge regional variation, with the larger economies suffering from stagnant growth and the new nations enjoying sustained, robust economic growth.
Although EU27 GDP is on the increase, the percentage of Gross world product is decreasing due to the emergence of economic powers such as China, India and Brazil. In the medium to long term, the EU will be looking forward to increase GDP growth in Italy and the UK in order to stabilise growth in European Union states. This is to ensure sustained economic prosperity.

Trade
The European Union is the largest exporter in the worldand as of 2008 the largest importer of goods and services. Internal trade between the member states is aided by the removal of barriers to trade such as tariffs and border controls. In the eurozone, trade is helped by not having any currency differences to deal with amongst most members.
The European Union Association Agreement does something similar for a much larger range of countries, partly as a so-called soft approach ('a carrot instead of a stick') to influence the politics in those countries. The European Union represents all its members at the World Trade Organization (WTO), and acts on behalf of member states in any disputes. When the EU negotiates trade related agreement outside the WTO framework, the subsequent agreement must be approved by each individual EU member.

Unemployment
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in the European Union (EU27) in March 2009 was 8.3% compared to 6.7% in March 2008. The Eurozone (EA16) unemployment figure for January 2009 was 8.2% compared to 7.3% in January 2008. The unemployment rate (EU25) had previously declined in prior years from 8.9% in March 2005 to 8.4% in March 2006 to 7.3% in March 2007.
The rate varies widely by member state. There has been a steep upturn in the unemployment rate since 2008 due to the worldwide credit crunch and following recession. The countries within the EU which were most affected were Spain, Ireland and the Baltic countries with the unemployment rate doubling or in case of the Baltic countries nearly tripling. By comparison in March 2009 the United States had an unemployment rate of 8.6% (2008: 5.1; 2007: 4.4; 2006: 4.7) which was higher than the EU-27's unemployment rate but lower than the EU-16 Eurozone rate of 8.9%. Japan's unemployment rate remained comparatively steady at 4.4% (2008: 3.9; 2007: 4.0; 2006: 4.1).

Industries
The services sector is by far the most important sector in the European Union, making up 69.4% of GDP, compared to the manufacturing industry with 28.4% of GDP and agriculture with only 2.3% of GDP.

Agriculture
The agricultural sector is supported by subsidies from the European Union in the form of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This currently represents 40–50% of the EU's total spending. It guarantees a minimum price for farmers in the EU. This is criticised as a form of protectionism, inhibiting trade, and damaging developing countries; one of the most vocal opponents is the UK, the third largest economy within the bloc, which has repeatedly refused to give up the annual UK rebate unless the CAP undergoes significant reform; France, the biggest benefactor of the CAP and the bloc's second largest economy, is its most vocal proponent.

Tourism
The European Union is a major tourist destination, attracting visitors from outside of the Union and citizens travelling inside it. Internal tourism is made more convenient for the citizens of some EU member states by the Schengen treaty and the Euro. All citizens of the European Union are entitled to travel to any member state without the need of a visa.
France is the world's number one tourist destination for international visitors, followed by Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom at 2nd, 5th and 6th spots respectively. It is worth noting however a significant proportion of international visitors to EU countries are from other member states.