How the European Union grew over time

By January 17th 2019

The European Union has not always consisted of the 28 member states that you find today

As Brexit is now on the horizon in March 2019 and debates are currently under way in Parliament on how to exit the European Union, we thought we might look at how we got here, from a geographic point of view.

The EU has increased in size by new countries that have joined in the last 60 years, from the post-war beginnings of 6 initial members, through to the 28 members we know today. Take a look at the map below to see how they joined over time or read about it below.

European Union Membership Change over time

The First 6

The first 6 countries forming the EU were Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Following the founding of the Council of Europe in 1949 by the Treaty of London which focused primarily on human rights and democracy, these six nations decided to go further by forming the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952.

By 1957, the 6 had signed the Treaty of Rome, one of two treaties forming the constitutional basis of the European Union.

The First Enlargement

In 1973 the first 6 nations were joined by Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom bringing the membership to 9.

The second enlargement

In 1981 Greece joins the EU, taking total membership to 10 nations.

The Third Enlargement

In 1986, Spain and Portugal become members.

The Fourth Enlargement

In 1993, the Maastricht Treaty was made effective, establishing the early framework for a common currency, the Euro. This was still in early planning at the time.  In 1995, the members were joined by Sweden, Austria and Finland in 1995, bringing the total number to 15. Membership in the EU now covered most of Western Europe.

The Fifth and largest Enlargement

The 15 members were joined by Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, bringing total membership to 25.

The Sixth enlargement

Bulgaria and Romania join the EU bringing membership to 27.

The Seventh enlargement

Croatia became the 28th member of the EU in 2013. As of November 2018 Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey are candidate countries to join the European Union.

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