In the 1940s and 1950s, Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Walter Hallstein, and other visionaries of the early twentieth century took the first steps toward building an economic trading bloc in Europe. Their purpose was to bring unity, prosperity, and peace to the continent. Beginning with a few trade agreements in the 1950s among the original core countries of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, this trading bloc became a common market and a customs union designated the European Economic Community (EEC) with sixteen member countries.
By the 1990s, the EC had evolved into the European Union (EU). The EU is an organization that operates specific institutions common to all member countries (Member States). The EU is founded on treaties that have been approved by all Member States. An action cannot be taken unless authorized by one of the treaties. As of 2013, the EU has 27 Member States: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
In those areas designated to the EU, the member nations have delegated their individual sovereign powers to the EU, allowing the EU to make decisions of joint interest to all the nations. While the Union continues to operate as a single economic market for free trade among the Member States, it expands on the original purpose of economic harmony by increasing political and cultural ties among the Member States. For example, the EU provides for use of a single currency in all Member States and freedom of movement by nationals within the EU.