Beginning narrowly in 1951 as the European Coal and Steel Community, the foundational rules of what is now the European Union were agreed in the Treaty of Rome. In 1957, the treaty was signed by Belgium, France, Holland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and (West) Germany. This established the European Economic Community, which changed its name to the EU in 1993.
Its membership grew steadily over the years, to include 28 countries by 2016. However that year Britain voted to Brexit the EU, and left , reducing the membership to 27. Those remaining mostly regard the EU as a significant positive for their country.
Its stated goal is for member nations increasingly to act as one to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within its internal market, enact legislation in justice and home affairs and maintain common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. EU member states have a combined population of 447m, occupying a combined land area of 4.2m kilometres.
In 2012, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”