Complexity of Europe: Understanding Ties Within Europe


When you look at this diagram, do you recognize what’s going on? Understanding the different layers of European organizations can be confusing – even for insiders.

With so many levels of integration between countries in Europe, it’s easy to lose track of where each one stands. But deciphering this Venn diagram can help us better understand the dimensions of integration in Europe and the role that Germany plays within that framework.

Let’s start with the European Union:  This 28-member democratic union is a guarantor of peace, prosperity and freedom in Europe. Twenty-eight states are working hand in hand to ensure close economic and political cooperation and to speak with one voice on issues ranging from environmental protection to development cooperation. The EU can look back at more than 60 years of integration and close cooperation in Europe among many states on different levels: The tragic history in the 20th century on the European continent was instrumental in the decision to enhance integration in Europe. It started off in 1951 with the Treaty of Paris that established the European Coal and Steel Community.  In the following decades, many other European organizations were created, shaping a network of collaboration across the continent that evolved into the modern-day EU. The six founding members of European Coal and Steel Community - Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France and Italy - are thus considered the organization's driving forces.

© picture alliance / chromorange dz Enlarge image (© picture alliance / chromorange dz) Another significant level of integration is the Eurozone, established in 1999: a 18-nation union that share a single currency, the euro. The Eurozone, which of course includes Germany, allows its members to print and use their own coins and banknotes. The European Central Bank, the main organ administering the monetary policy of the Eurozone, is tasked to maintain price stability and keep inflation under control among its member states.

Several other countries have also adopted the euro without joining the EU. These countries (the Vatican City State, Monaco, Andorra and San Marino) can produce limited quantities of euro coins, but are prohibited from issuing banknotes.  

Looking at the diagram, you’ll see another level of integration: the majority of countries in the EU are located in the so-called Schengen Area. This means they have opened their borders and abolished passport controls. So if you’re road-tripping through countries in this region, you won’t have to procure any additional visas.

The Schengen Area also includes the four members of the European Free Trade Association. These countries (Switzerland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland) decided against joining the EU and continue to exercise free trade agreements with other countries. The European Economic Area, on the other hand, encompasses most countries in the EU and the Schengen Area, allowing members to freely move their goods and services throughout the EU’s internal market.

© picture alliance Enlarge image (© picture alliance)

And then, there is the European Customs Union, a trade agreement that was established back in the 1950s and is now tied to the EU. But rather than only encompass members of the European Free Trade Association, this union involves the neighboring countries of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Turkey. The union ensures that no customs are imposed on goods traveling through member states, but also imposes a common external tariff. Similarly, the Central European Free Trade Agreement ensures free trade between the Balkan states.

Finally, unrelated to the EU but encompassing almost all European states is the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights organization. It promotes democracy, protects human rights and the rule of law among its 47 member states.  

Looking at these many layers of cooperation and integration, how do you assess Germany’s role in Europe? Located at the heart of the continent, it is one of Europe’s largest countries. It is the most populous and economically strongest country in the EU. In and with a united Europe, Germany has been able to evolve into what it is today: a firmly established democracy, an economic powerhouse, a country that stands up for human rights worldwide and is taking on the global challenges of the future in concert with its allies and partners. For Germany, integration into the European Union is not merely an option out of many: it is a fundamental pillar in Germany foreign policy.

Note: The diagram does not include Latvia, which introduced the euro as its currency on January 1, 2014. Click to read more.

International Organizations

Logo of the United Nations (c) picture alliance/ dpa-Report

German foreign policy is a policy for peace. This principle is a central part of all the activities of the Federal Foreign Office. Specific examples include Germany’s engagement in the United Nations and the OSCE, in the areas of global disarmament and crisis prevention.

Germany in the United Nations

Logo of the United Nations, (c) picture-alliance/akg-images

Since becoming a full member of the United Nations in 1973, Germany has worked hard to help promote the UN’s goals and values – peace, human rights, freedom, justice and development – with the aim of ensuring that they are respected and upheld around the world.

Germany Serving on UN Human Rights Council

Human Rights Council

Germany has begun its new term as a member of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations (UN). Protecting human rights is a key priority for German foreign policy, and the Human Rights Council is the leading UN organ for addressing these concerns.

The Council of Europe (COE)

Council of Europe Logo, (c) COE

Since its founding in 1949, the Council of Europe has been working to promote human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law. The Federal Government views the Council of Europe as leading the way in the creation and implementation of a common European judicial area and a European community of shared values. 

European Union (EU)

Flag of the European Union, (c) picture-alliance/Sven Simon

The European Union is the biggest political success story of the past 50 years. Peace and prosperity, freedom and security are achievements cherished by all EU citizens. Germany is a founding member of the organization and plays a very active role in shaping today's enlarged EU.