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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 European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was a six-nation international organisation serving to unify Western Europe during the Cold War and creating the foundation for European democracy and the modern-day developments of the European Union. The ECSC was the first organisation to be based on the principles of supranationalism.

The ECSC was first proposed by French foreign minister Robert Schuman on 9 May 1950 as a way to prevent further war between France and Germany. He declared his aim was to 'make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible.' The means to do so, Europe's first supranational Community, was formally established in 1951 by the Treaty of Paris, signed not only by France and West Germany, but also by Italy and the three Benelux states: Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Between these states the ECSC would create a common market for coal and steel. The ECSC was governed by a 'High Authority', checked by bodies representing governments, MPs and an independent judiciary.

The ECSC was joined by two other similar communities in 1957, with whom it shared its membership and some institutions. In 1969 all its institutions were merged with that of the European Economic Community (EEC, which later became part of the European Union), but it retained its own independent identity. However in 2002 the Treaty of Paris expired, and with no desire to renew the treaty, all the ECSC activities and resources were absorbed by the European Community. During its existence, the ECSC had succeeded in creating a common market but could not prevent the decline of the coal and steel industries. It did however set the ground for the future European Union.

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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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