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1.1 The European Union Member States

The European Union (EU) comprises 27 Member States.[1] The EU can be said to have its beginnings in a speech made in 1950 by the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman. He proposed integrating the coal and steel industries of Western Europe, resulting, in 1951, in the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The ECSC was set up with six members: Belgium, West Germany, Luxembourg, France, Italy and the Netherlands. A body referred to as the “High Authority” was granted the power to take decisions concerning the coal and steel industry in these countries.

In 1957, the six aforementioned countries signed the Treaties of Rome, creating the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) and the European Economic Community (EEC). This, in turn, resulted in the Member States pledging to remove trade barriers and to form a Common Market. In 1967, the institutions of the ECSC, the EURATOM and the EEC were merged, forming the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.

Economic and political integration between the Member States of the EU has led to these countries taking joint decisions in several fields. A common policy has been developed in trade with third countries, as well as in consumer affairs, competition, environment, agriculture, energy and transport.

The Single Market was formally completed at the end of 1992; it has taken the Member States several years to transform the Common Market into a genuine Single Market where the intention is that Goods, Services, Persons and Capital are able to move freely (the “Four Freedoms”). During the 1990s, passport and customs controls were abolished at most of the EU’s internal borders. Despite formal completion, the Commission proposes legislation several times each year for continued harmonisation of laws in both goods and services, aiming constantly to achieve a smoothly functioning Internal Market and remove all intra-Community barriers to trade.

The European Union was created only in November 1993, i.e., when the Treaty of Maastricht on European Union came into force. Following the Treaty of Maastricht, the much longer established European Community, or EC, comprised only one of the three pillars that constituted the European Union. The second pillar comprised the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), and the third pillar comprised Justice and Home Affairs (JHA).

This form of organisation of the EU was again modified on 1 December 2009, when the Lisbon Treaty came into effect. The Lisbon Treaty merged the three pillars into one single entity, called the European Union, which has a distinct legal personality.

In short, while the first full customs union was originally known as the European Economic Community, established by the Treaty of Rome in 1957, this later changed to the European Community, which was the first pillar of the European Union, until the Treaty of Lisbon created one single legal entity encompassing all three pillars. It is the law of the former European Community pillar, now simply referred to as the “European Union”, which occupies this Business Guide, as it is the most relevant aspect for international and intra-Community commerce.

 

 


[1] These are as follows: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Content provided by Hong Kong Trade Development Council
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