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European Union Lesson for Kids: Definition, History & Facts

Instructor: Nick Rogers
The European Union is a collection of countries that work together to pursue common goals. In this lesson, you will learn the fascinating history of how it all began, how things have developed, and what their goals are moving forward.

The Early Years (1950 - 1970)

The second world war devastated many countries around the world. In order to help each other recover, six European countries formed the European Community. The first countries to sign up were France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. At the time, many people worked to make steel and mine coal, and these countries agreed that if they could work together, then they could recover much more quickly.

Working together was a great success. When countries coordinate their efforts, they can all benefit, and that is exactly what happened in the early years of the European Economic Community. Sometimes when a good is produced in one country and shipped to another one, the businesses have to pay a fee when they cross the border. These charges are called tariffs. The countries in the early European Union agreed to stop charging these tariffs when products moved across their borders. This helped businesses in each country to sell things to people in the other countries more easily.

After the war, people were also very worried about atomic weapons. These kinds of weapons are very destructive, and the countries in the European community agreed that they should monitor their development. In 1958, they formed Euratom, which is short for the European Atomic Energy Community. The purpose of this organization was to monitor the development of these dangerous weapons and cooperate on limiting their spread.

The Middle Years (1970-2000)

Throughout the next 30 years, several new countries entered the European union. In 1973, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark joined the expanding community of European countries. As the group of countries involved expanded, the power of the group did too. When one country was having trouble, the other ones were able to help out. For example, if times are hard in one country, its money may become less valuable. The European community did its best to make sure that exchange rates (the value of one country's money in another country) did not get out of control.

By the 1980s, 12 different countries had become members of the European Community. Some of these included Greece, Spain, and Portugal. The benefits of cooperation made it very desirable for new countries to join. Smaller countries were able to save money and expand their economies—things were going very well.

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