Portal:European Union

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The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of 28 member states that are primarily located in Europe. The EU operates through a system of supranational independent institutions and intergovernmental negotiated decisions by the member states. Institutions of the EU include the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, the European Council, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank, the Court of Auditors, and the European Parliament. The European Parliament is elected every five years by EU citizens.

The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC), formed by the Inner Six countries in 1951 and 1958, respectively. In the intervening years, the community and its successors have grown in size by the accession of new member states and in power by the addition of policy areas to its remit. The Maastricht Treaty established the European Union under its current name in 1993. The latest major amendment to the constitutional basis of the EU, the Treaty of Lisbon, came into force in 2009.

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The euro (currency sign: ; currency code: EUR) is the official currency of the European Union (EU). Eighteen member states have adopted it, known collectively as the Eurozone (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain). The currency is also used in five further countries with formal agreements and six other countries without such agreements. Hence it is the single currency for over 320 million Europeans. Including areas using currencies pegged to the euro, the euro directly affects close to 500 million people worldwide. With more than €610 billion in circulation as of December 2006 (equivalent to US$802 billion at the exchange rates at the time), the euro is the currency with the highest combined value of cash in circulation in the world, having surpassed the U.S. dollar (USD). Taking official estimates of 2007 GDP, the Eurozone is the largest economy in the world by March 2008 after the USD/EUR exchange rate surpassed 1.56.

The euro was introduced to world financial markets as an accounting currency in 1999 and launched as physical coins and banknotes on 1 January 2002. It replaced the former European Currency Unit (ECU) at a ratio of 1:1. The euro is managed and administered by the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank (ECB) and the Eurosystem (composed of the central banks of the euro zone countries). As an independent central bank, the ECB has sole authority to set monetary policy. The Eurosystem participates in the printing, minting and distribution of notes and coins in all member states, and the operation of the Eurozone payment systems.

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Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands, lies on the banks of two bodies of water, the IJ bay and the Amstel river. Founded in the late 12th century as a small fishing village on the banks of the Amstel, it is now the largest city in the country and is a financial and cultural centre. As of August 1, 2006, the population of the city proper is 741,329; the population of the official Greater Amsterdam area is approximately 1.5 million, but the real agglomeration is estimated at 2 to 2.5 million. Amsterdam is also one of the core urban centres of the greater metropolitan area called "Randstad" (Ring City) which encompasses other Dutch cities and has a population of over 7.5 million.

Amsterdam has one of the largest historic city centres in Europe, dating largely from the 17th century. At this time, a series of concentric, semi-circular canals ("grachten") were dug around the old city centre. Along the canals houses and warehouses were built. The canals still define Amsterdam's layout and appearance today. Amsterdam is famous for its free-spirited liberalism, diversity and tolerance.

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Photo credit: Behn
Glacier of Argentière, near Argentière, in the valley of Chamonix, French Alps.
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