The European Union (EU) is a politico-economic union of 27 member states that are located primarily in Europe. It operates through a hybrid system of supranational and intergovernmental decision-making.
The EU has developed an internal single market through a standardized system of laws that apply in all member states. Within the Schengen Area (not all EU countries), passport controls have been abolished. EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. Laws and policies are increasingly standardized also on other areas. The monetary union was established in 1999 and came into full force in 2002. Many EU countries use the euro as their legal tender.
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 and introduced European citizenship. The latest major amendment to the constitutional basis of the EU, the Treaty of Lisbon, came into force in 2009.
The EU has gradually increased the number of member countries, but in 2016 a referendum in the United Kingdom resulted in an overall vote to leave the EU (Brexit). The UK government started the withdrawal process in 2017, and formally left the EU on 31 January 2020.
The EU has been supported by various supporters of globalization. One example is the controversial Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi, who founded the influential Paneuropean Union unification organization and who advocated extensive race mixing with Africans. Critics of globalization have often viewed the EU skeptically.
One example of criticisms is the EU being used to force various politically correct policies on countries having some less politically correct ones. This applies in particular to the countries not willing to accept mass immigration.
Criticisms have also included a large, expensive, complicated, and not needed bureaucracy; corruption; lobbying by and inefficient subsidiaries to special interest groups (such as the agricultural sector, which at one point received 70% of the EU budget); and lack of democracy and transparency.
The large foreign aid that wealthier EU countries pay to poorer EU countries has been criticized for reasons such inefficiency, having contributed to financial bubbles, and being used as a tool to enforce politically correct policies on the poorer countries.
The single currency has been criticized for as unsuitable for areas still having largely different and separate financial/economic systems and to have contributed to financial/economic crises.
A common justification for the EU is in order to prevent wars. However, there are many of examples of civil wars occurring in countries that were far more politically and economically integrated than the EU is. See also the democratic peace theory.
Companies have been accused of using the EU common market for unfair competition by avoiding taxes and regulations, which has been argued to have caused entire sectors in some countries to disappear or be greatly threatened regarding their future, reduced tax revenues, deteriorating work conditions, and environmental damages.
The advantages and disadvantages of free trade more generally is a controversial topic as discussed in the article on this. Regardless, the EU is not necessary in order to have free trade, since this can be accomplished by non-EU free trade organizations and agreements.
A particularly controversial aspect has been the principle of "free movement of people" that has contributed to large movements of groups such as gypsies, "asylum seekers", and criminals within Europe. This applies in particular to those EU countries that are part of the Schengen Area and that thus have abolished passport and any other types of border control at their mutual borders. Criminals can often use the "free movement of people" but still mostly separate law enforcement systems in the different countries to their advantage in various ways. "Asylum seekers" can often easily move to the countries giving the highest benefits, if they manage to enter the EU, rather than stay in the country closest to their supposed country of origin.
If Turkey is given some forms of access without border controls to the EU, or even EU membership (as has often been proposed), then the "free movement of people" will include the 80 million inhabitants of Turkey. In addition, Turkey's long border with Asian countries is difficult to guard and easily crossed by people and smugglers (such as immigrant and "refugee" smugglers) wanting to enter illegally.
Also movements of groups such as Eastern Europeans to Western Europe have caused controversies for reasons such as competition on jobs and wages.
Some forms of EU criticisms have been criticized as actually being more "politically correct" versions of less politically correct views. Thus, rather than criticizing immigration by non-Europeans and risk being accused of "racism", it may be safer to criticize the EU and immigration by Europeans. In the UK, the decline in popularity of the British National Party was accompanied by an increase in popularity of the UK Independence Party.