For more than half a century the countries of the European Union have been living together in peace.
There are now 500 million people in 27 Member States living in a vast area of security, stability and prosperity.
EU citizens are today free to study, work and live anywhere in the European Union. This has not always been the case. Such freedoms have been introduced by laws made at European level.
Through a process of cooperation, debate and law-making the biggest single market in the world is being created. This gives consumers wider choice, lower prices and rights which can be enforced anywhere in the EU.
Some people feel that the EU interferes with British affairs that should be none of its business. Others argue however that it makes sense to respond to political and economic problems of an international nature through co-operation at EU level.
Many problems, such as threats to the environment, do not stop at national borders and therefore require international solutions. The European Union is about the Member States doing things together in order to be more effective.
The European Parliament
The real power to make European laws lies with the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. Parliament also approves the budget of the European Union.
It is the only directly elected EU institution, and is currently made up of 754 Members who are elected by people in the Member States every five years under a system of proportional representation.
All European laws are passed by your MEP and your Minister in the Council of Ministers. Parliament meets in Brussels and Strasbourg.
The Council of Ministers
One Minister from each Member State - which Minister it is depends on the subject being discussed. For example, environment Ministers meet to pass laws on controlling pollution. The Council of Ministers meets in Brussels and Luxembourg.
The European Council
Made up of the Heads of State or Government and the President of the European Commission. It sets the overall agenda for EU policies. The European Council meets in Brussels four times a year.
Not to be confused with:
The Council of Europe, which is not part of the EU, was founded in 1949 to promote cultural diversity, democratisation and human rights. It is based in Strasbourg.
The European Commission
Proposes European laws and ensures that policies are enforced.
European Commissioners are appointed for a five-year term, one from each of the 27 Member States. They swear to put the interests of the EU as a whole above the interests of their country. Parliament monitors the Commission's activities, and can bring a motion of censure to dismiss it. The European Commission is based in Brussels.
The Court of Justice of the European Communities
Makes sure countries comply with EU law and settles disputes over how EU treaties and legislation are interpreted. It is based in Luxembourg.
Not to be confused with:
The European Court of Human Rights , which is not part of the EU and is based in Strasbourg.
The International Court of Justice in The Hague, which is the main judicial organ of the United Nations.