What is the European Union?

In 1951, six western European countries joined together in the European Coal and Steel Community. As more members joined, the organization grew in scope and soon became an organization that helped mend and meld the economies of Europe. In 1993, the European Community was renamed the European Union (EU). Today, there are 27 member states: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The European Union has a flag, an anthem, and in 1999 began using a single monetary unit (the "Euro") .

Where are the low countries?

Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg are known as the low countries because of their low elevation.

How do the Netherlands keep getting bigger?

For hundreds of years, the Dutch have been expanding the size of their country by building dikes and draining (and reclaiming) land. These lands, known as polders, have greatly expanded the size of the Netherlands and are now considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

A canal boat in Amsterdam, the Netherlands (photo by Paul A. Tucci).

A canal boat in Amsterdam, the Netherlands (photo by Paul A. Tucci).

What is Randstad?

The Randstad is a region of the Netherlands that includes the metropolitan areas of Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, and Utrech. The urban area of the Randstad holds nearly half the Netherlands' population.

What is The Hague?

The Hague is a city on the west coast of the Netherlands with an approximate population of 450,000. The Hague is the home of many international organizations, such as the International Court of Justice.

What are the two cultural groups that make up Belgium?

The Walloons in southern Belgium, called Walloonia, are descendants of the Celts and speak French. The Flemings in northern Belgium, called Flanders, are descendants of German Franks and speak Flemish, a language similar to Dutch. There is little unity within Belgium, for only 10 percent of Belgians are bilingual.

Who settled Denmark?

Surprisingly, Denmark was not settled by Europeans from the continent directly to its south, but was settled in the tenth century by Danes from Iceland and the Scandinavian Peninsula.

What's the difference between England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom?

Northeast of France lie two large islands; Great Britain to the east and Ireland to the west. On the island of Great Britain there are three regions: England in the southeast, Wales in the southwest, and Scotland in the north. The other island, Ireland, is divided into two political divisions: the region called Northern Ireland in the north and the country of Ireland in the south. The United Kingdom is a country that includes all three regions on the island of Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland) and the one northern region on the island of Ireland (Northern Ireland).

Is Scotland a country?

While Scotland does have limited self-rule, it is still part of the country of the United Kingdom. Scotland occupies the northern portion of the island of Great Britain.

What are the British Isles?

The British Isles are composed of the two large islands of Great Britain and Ireland (separated by St. George's Channel) and the many small islands nearby. The British Isles include two countries: the United Kingdom and Ireland.

What is the Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth, also known as the British Commonwealth, consists of the United Kingdom and the now-independent former countries of the British Empire. The Commonwealth is not a policy-making body but is solely a loose voluntary association between countries that were formerly under British control.

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