Fast Facts about the EU
The idea of a union of European countries began in the late 1940s when some of Europe's leaders began to believe the only path to peace in the region was to tie Germany and France together economically. This idea grew until, in 1951, a set of six countries agreed to integrate their steel and coal industries by forming the European Coal and Steel Community. As years passed more countries were added to the union.
The twenty-eight member countries of the EU, as of August 2013, are Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom, Estonia, Greece, Belgium, France, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Ireland, Croatia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Latvia and Italy.
World markets welcomed the launch of a brand new currency for the EU, the euro, on January 1, 1999. All but a few EU members (e.g. United Kingdom, etc.) use the Euro as their unit of exchange between members. Although the EU has gotten rid of trade barriers and adopted a currency that is common to all members, it is still in the process of trying to converge living standards among member countries. One of the Union's primary objectives regarding the rest members outside the union is to increase its trade stance within the world.
As a whole, the European Union has the largest GDP or purchasing power in the world. Ranked second on the list is the United States, followed by China, India and Japan. The EU is also ranked number one in the world in terms of goods exported and imported.
The language most used in the EU is German, with about 18% of the people able to speak it. The most used foreign language is English, with roughly 38% of the population able to converse in it. The most commonly practiced religions are Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Muslim and Jewish.