The European Union (EU) is a supranational organization made up of 27 European member states that have chosen to cooperate in developing various social, political, and economic policies.† Although the EU in its current incarnation was officially established in 1993 with the Treaty of Maastricht, its seeds were planted in 1953 when the European Coal and Steel Community, consisting of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, was created for the purpose of regulating certain industries. Over time, as more countries joined and priorities shifted, the EU developed as the organizational structure for broader European integration. It is currently composed of two separate but intertwined communities: the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and the European Economic Community (EEC).
Headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, the EU currently has a population of close to half a billion and an economy approximately the size of that of the United States. Its member states, in order of accession, include: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Cyprus, The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania, and Croatia. As of this writing, several countries are pursuing membership, although no timetable has yet been set.
† As of this writing, Switzerland and Norway are not EU members.
The EU is made up of multiple bodies and institutions. The most important are listed below, along with a summary of their functions
Because of its complex and unique structure, the EU produces a vast number of documents that fulfill differing roles in its executive, legislative, and judicial processes. Understanding what the main types of documents are can greatly aid the researcher both in locating specific documents and in figuring out where other relevant documents might be stored.
Note that these are only some of the documents that are produced by the various institutions of the EU. The EU is a large and complicated network of various bodies, institutions, and committees, each of which produces a plethora of documents such as working papers, policy statements, etc. However, those listed above are the most likely to come up in researching a given issue.