Not to be confused with Expanded Universe.
Entire books have been written on the European Union, the common thread in all of them being dispute on what it actually is and is becoming. So this will be a brief summary.
After the Second World War, the countries of Western Europe (Central and Eastern Europe were too busy becoming Commie Land) decided that to prevent another war, they would need to ensure common control of the vital industries (coal and steel) needed to fight a war and that Europe should be unified. In 1951, the European Coal and Steel Community was formed. One Thing Led to Another (not in that way) and in 1957, the European Community was formed with six members, or so the official story goes.
The EEC has changed considerably since then. It's undergone two changes in name and several enlargements of membership.
Today the EU has 28 members:
Belgium — one of the founder members. The most famous Belgian is a fictional detective, although a real tennis player and a rather nasty long-dead colonial king come close. Also home (along with France) to a comics industry that has found widespread success abroad. Tintin is probably the most prominent of these. Became a swear word in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which was co-opted by Neighbours of all shows. Famous for its chocolate, waffles and beer. Has a university library that got burnt down in both World Wars and got rebuilt both times.
Bulgaria — joined in 2007. They use the Cyrillic alphabet, but they're not covered in fiction much (except briefly in Harry Potter). In real life probably best known for its Black Sea resorts and cheap red wine, though it's becoming a popular skiing destination as well. Their football team had a run of form in the mid-90s and finished top-four in the World Cup.
Croatia — joined in 2013, it's the latest former Yugoslavian country to join the union.
Cyprus — joined in 2004 (well, half of it at any rate). The other half is run by a Turkey-backed government and has been for thirty years. Only Turkey officially recognises it. A reunification effort failed in 2004 after the Greek half (the one that joined the EU) rejected it. Has two British air bases which played an important role in the Gulf War.
The Czech Republic — also a 2004 entry. Formerly Commie Land, when it was part of Czechoslovakia. Prefers to think of itself as "Central Europe" than "Eastern Europe". Literary greats Franz Kafka, Milan Kundera, and Vaclav Havel (who became the country's first president) are from here, although Kafka might have looked at you funny if you called him Czech (he was a German-speaking Jew). Mostly famous for its beautiful capital, Prague.
Denmark — joined in 1972. Has a Queen. Was the centre of the Muhammad cartoons controversy in 2005. In 1969 it became the first country in the world to legalise hardcore pornography. This, combined with a more relaxed attitude to the sale, distribution and consumption of alcoholic beverages than its northern neighbors has made the country a popular regional destination for "hedonism tourism". Also the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen and Lego!
Estonia — formerly part of the Soviet Union, they really didn't enjoy it and were one of the first countries to break away. Joined in 2004 and was a pretty well off country ... before their economy crashed in the current global recession-crisis-thing. Known for its internet capabilities (it had been called the most wired country in Europe) No real tropes associated with Estonia — it's not covered in fiction much.
It was actually neighbouring Latvia that was hit the hardest during the crisis, but Estonia's misfortunes might be more noticeable because for a long time it was seen as the biggest post-Soviet success story. Now the Baltic Tiger seems to be sharing the fate of the Celtic one.
Finland — joined in 1995 and is frequently rated as one of the best countries in the world to live. Depicted as Norse By Norsewest, but maintains that it belongs to a different cultural tradition. The distinguishing characteristics of its own one are snow, alcohol and self-pity. Has a national inferiority complex, uses being full of rocks, trees and water as its main attraction, is relatively large and sparsely populated, too damn cold and too damn dark; is thus the local equivalent of Canada. Every one of its residents may or may not be switchblade-carrying black magicians according to the Danes. Famous exports include metal bands by the bucketful, including but not limited to Lordi, Nightwish, and Sonata Arctica. Notable contributions to the world include the Molotov Cocktail, the Sauna of Death and several great racing drivers. That's the country for me!
Germany — Being the most populous country in Europe (not counting Russia), it's diverse enough to have two separate tropes dedicated to it — Oktoberfest and Prussia (which has largely merged into the former). The Western part was a founder member of the EU, the Eastern part automatically joined on reunification, since it no longer existed. It has a female Chancellor (complete with Power Hair) and still uses until recently used conscription.
Greece — A 1981 joiner, having spent a while as a Banana Republic before that (from 1967 to 1974 the country was ruled under a military Junta). The origin place of the Olympic Games, the Classical architectural orders (see most government buildings in Europe and America — what do these columns remind you of?) and a lot of Western philosophy, a lot less interesting to a lot of people than what was there.
Hungary — Joined in 2004. Famous for goulash note actually, it's called gulyás, and you've probably only had The Theme Park Version and other things with paprika, as well as many notable academics. Rather good at water sports despite being landlocked (it has got two large rivers). Known for the 1956 uprising against the Soviets, which was brutally crushed. Its language is from a completely different linguistic group to most of the rest of Europe except, bizarrely, Finnish and Estoniannote This is explained (mostly) by their nomadic roots.
Ireland — Joined in 1972 with the UK. It's covered here in Irish Political System & Oireland. A considerable number of Americans, Britons and even most Icelanders have ancestors from here. Has the second highest proportion of redheads in the world (it's beaten by Scotland). Doesn't have any snakes. Has gone from being one of the poorest EU countries to one of the richest in the space of 15 years or so, but may be about to slide back. Got a lot of flak for rejecting the Lisbon Treaty (see below).
Italy — see Olive Garden for Italy tropes. Famous for its artistic and cultural contributions to history, and its cuisine (yes, pasta), as well as the home of Roman Catholicism (although the Vatican City is actually a separate country) and the Italian Mafia. Is not the Roman Empire, but has bits of it laying around. Founder member.
Latvia — Joined in 2004. Former state of the USSR (although it had been independent before that). Hasn't got any fighters in its airforce (couple of transport helicopters and Polish ultralight. And only one tank in the Army. And couple of gunboats. Why do we have armed forces, anyway?), so NATO has to defend their airspace.
Lithuania — Joined in 2004. Former Soviet republic from 1940 to 1991. Historically, had been part of Lithuania-Poland, a large state in Eastern Europe 400 years ago. The most famous fictional Lithuanians are Hannibal Lecter and Marko Ramius (from The Hunt for Red October), although they're actually only half-Lithuanian.
Luxembourg — Tiny principality (actually a Grand Duchy) that was the smallest founding member. Actually has the highest per capita GNP of any country in the world, but this is a statistical fluke caused by the fact that many people from outside the principality work inside it without being residents or having citizenship.
Malta — tiny island state that was a British colony from 1814 to 1964. The local language is actually a Semitic language—specifically, a derivative of colloquial Tunisian Arabic. However, nobody considers Malta an Arab country: Malta is Catholic and has long been under Italian influence (to the degree that the language has about as many Italian words as Arabic ones—kinda like how English is Germanic but has a mostly-French vocabulary). Has the George Cross on its flag, having been given it in 1942 for holding out against a Nazi siege.
The Netherlands — One of the six founding members. Amazingly for such a small country, a rich history of trade, discovery, colonization and last but not least slavery, most of which is forgotten today. Trope-wise the country can be reduced to Freestate Amsterdam, named after its capital, with its quaint architecture and less quaint red light district. A nest of ultraliberal, pot-smoking entrepreneurs who all speak perfect (if strongly accented) English.
Poland — In the present day most strongly associated with migrant construction workers and Catholicism, which is not really justified. And vodka. Played a crucial role in overthrowing Communism. A bit of an unfortunate Butt Monkey in the course of European history. Joined in 2004.
Portugal — Joined with Spain in 1986, after it too had overthrown a dictatorial regime. Famous for Porto wine, Fado and football players, although it once had quite a large empire and was the first naval-based world power. Also, they do not speak Spanish.
Romania — Home of Drăculea, Transylvania, and Carpathian plums. The overthrow of communism was anything but peaceful. Joined in 2007.
Slovenia — Part of the former Yugoslavia, it gained its independence in 10 days of fighting and escaped the worst of the Balkan Wars. It was the wealthiest country of the 2004 intake.
Spain — Once had a colonial empire, before losing it rather quickly in the 19th century. A restored monarchy since the collapse of the fascist government which was ruled by someone known to most Americans because of his long lasting death. (Yes, he's still dead.) Home to a lot of British ex-pats and certain islands are famous (or infamous) for their clubbing, although the huge amount of German ex-pats in said islands practically make it part of Germany. Joined in 1986. Famous authors George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway fought in its Civil War in the 1930s. (The Republicans lost.)
Sweden — Joined in 1995. See Norse By Norsewest, though less than 50% of the population are actually blond (with 25% having light brown hair.) Consistently rated as an ever so slightly better or worse place to live than Finland. The Swedish tolerance for sexual liberalism and porn has dropped significantly in recent years. Cleverly enough, prostitution is legal while purchasing the services of a prostitute is not. Known for reindeer, snow, neutrality and being confused with either Switzerland or Sudan.
Britain — properly, the United Kingdom — see British Political System. Joined in 1972. They wanted to join earlier, but France (specifically Charles de Gaulle) put the kibosh on that, one excuse being that Britain wasn't a part of Europe. Twice. Known for being Heterosexual Life-Partners with America and its former colonies (including a couple of minor wars they both fought in) and tea. Has quite easily the most antagonistic relationship with the Union.
A number of other countries are interested in joining, most notably Turkey. Others include Iceland, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia and Ukraine. Croatia is the most recent state to join.
There are also certain nations who have a detached relationship with the EU. Switzerland has a unique deal with the EU which the EU regrets allowing them to have. It is completely surrounded by the EU though, but its historic neutrality leads it to want to stay out. Norway is also not a member, but like Switzerland it is in EEA (European Economic Area) and EFTA (European Free Trade Area). The upshot of this is that these two countries have to implement EU regulations (mostly on product standards and trade), but don't have any say in how the regulations are made.
Scotland, if it decides to formally become a separate country from the rest of the UK in 2014, wants to have this status, but the EU isn't very positive about them automatically having said status.
The EU today is essentially a free trade and movement area (with a lot of common standards, including electricity at 230 V plus or minus 10%, although this isn’t really a variation from previous standards used and old toasters still work), but also covers a considerable number of other areas, such as social policy, the environment and increasingly foreign affairs. The mantra is “free movement of people, goods, capital and services”. You can emigrate and work freely within the Union (as well as vote in local and European elections wherever you live) – between certain countries, you don't even need a national ID. This group of countries are the “Schengen Countries” you might see referred to in airports – although it's worth noting that this is not specifically an EU thing, and some countries, notably Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, are in the Schengen area but not the EU; and vice—versa, Britain and Ireland are not.note Ireland wants to be in it, but to do so would mean that the British would either have to join – which they’ll never do – or create a physical border – which neither nation wants to do.
The net result of all this has been a large-scale increase in Central European maids turning up in fiction, at the expense of other nationalities. Less paperwork, basically.
This has also resulted in characters from non-EU states in Eastern Europe getting fake passports from states that are to work in the EU.
The EU's institutional structure is pretty complex, but its main bodies are the European Commission (nominated by the national governments and confirmed by the European Parliament, they draw up the policy and initiate legislation), the European Council (who are the heads of government of the 27 member states; they negotiate treaties and set broad goals), the Council of Ministers (made up of the ministers from each member state, they meet in policy-related groups, and are responsible for examining and making decisions on Commission proposals), the elected European Parliament (who pass, amend or reject proposed legislation along with the Council of Ministers, and do investigations) and the European Court of Justice (who can strike down national laws contrary to EU treaties and law). Which institutions take priority in decision making depends on the policy area, for example, in competition policy the Commission is influential, whereas in foreign policy the member states are the main actors. There was somewhat of a problem with working out who precisely is in charge, as Henry Kissinger (he's still alive, surprisingly) once commented.
The EU is currently trying to work out where to go next. Attempts to write a new constitution for the EU were categorically rejected by French and Dutch referenda, and the Treaty of Lisbon (said to be very similar to the constitution) was rejected by the Irish in 2008; they un-rejected it in September 2009.
The green light meant a restructuring of EU governance, leading to the creation of two additional top jobs, increasing the count to three:
The President of the European Commission — kind of a prime minister, holding the most executive power. Currently held by José Manuel Barroso.
The High Representative — kind of a foreign minister, the person Mr. Kissinger should call. Currently held by Baroness Catherine Ashton.
It should be noted, that many aspects of a united Europe actually have little or nothing to do with the European Union itself. There are several dozen organizations and treaties that unite European countries in some way or another. While many of these are connected to the EU, like the European currency, the free trade area, Schengen area and customs union, some like the European Space Agency or Eurovision and UEFA are not affiliated with the EU at all. They all have different sets of members and keep expanding and changing all the time, so it can be hard to keep track of who is part of what at any given moment. The main force which holds the confederation tight together is the reliance on an European budget which can provide funding for what is needed in member states' large scale projects, according to a very complex and convoluted regulation system.
A lot of the symbols commonly associated with the EU actually belong to different groups. The Flag with the circle of stars on a blue background for example originally belonged to the (larger) Council of Europe. The press, especially in Britain, is crap at telling them apart, and either simply calls them all "Europe", as though Britain isn't an important member of them, or, if the paper is anti-EU, usually simply blame the EU for unpopular decisions, even if it is only tangentially relevant or not involved at all.
In 2010 Russia decided to start it's own trade union in the form of the Customs Union, hoping to rival the EU. It began with just Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan as members, but started to raise the EU's ire after luring Armenia to join it in 2013 when the country would otherwise have had a free-trade deal with the EU. Things got worse when Russia pressured the Ukraine into suspending it's EU trade deal in favor of closer ties to Russia.
Stories set in the near future often contain a more unified EU.
After the war in The Third World War, the European Community expands to incorporate the former Warsaw Pact states. A system of "triple taxation" is proposed — taxes are divided into three: local taxes, a European-wide tax and taxes you pay to whatever nation you identify with. It is also decided that since Brussels is too central, two new cities will be built on the ruins of Birmingham and Minsk (destroyed by nuclear weapons), called Peace City West and Peace City East respectively.
In "The Devil You Know," Jim Hacker has managed to convince the rest of the departments to let him buy all the new word processors for the entire Civil Service and government, and just as he's about to award the massive order to a British company, an EEC directive comes in that forces him to reevaluate the policy. At the same time, a Cabinet reshuffle opens up the British seat on the European Commission, and Hacker (and even more so his wife) is tempted by the cushy perks that Commissioners get, despite the job being a career-ender in domestic politics.
In the Christmas Special "Party Games," Hacker secures the Premiership by delivering a tirade against an EEC directive that would force British sausages to be relabeled "high-fat offal tubes" instead of "sausages" on account of their use of fillers and lack of lean meat.note Britain is the country where a classic wartime joke had two Germans going like this: "These Britons make the best bread in the world!" "Ja, but why do they have to label them sausages?'' Unbeknownst to the public, he had previously secured a promise from Maurice, the (obviously-French) EEC Commissioner responsible for the directive, to allow British sausages to be labeled "British sausages" instead.
A vastly expanded EU is one of the Great Powers in Transhuman Space, and includes most of the European continent as well as the Atlantic provinces of Canada. It is depicted as the wealthiest and most progressive of the Great Powers, but not necessarily the most powerful.
A combined EU force features in Battlefield 2. It has Eurofighter Typhoons.
The Director of the European Union plays an important role in the expansion for Red Alert 3. This being an Alternate Universe, the EU is implied to be stronger though we don't get much info. We do, however, see a flag which is a combination of EU and NATO flags.
And he's evil, to boot.
European Union peacekeepers are one of the factions of Shattered Union, which revolves around the Second American Civil War. They begin the game occupying only one sector: the Shenandoah Valley containing the ruins of Washington, DC.
Conspiracy Theories: for a long time, while the EU only had twelve members, paranoid Americans of a fundamentalist religious bent considered this to be the Satanic conspiracy represented in the Book of Revelations by the twelve-headed monster emerging from the sea, which would be the Anti-Christ's most loyal supporter. The emergence of the EU was thus a God-given sign, for those with eyes to see, of the Armageddon and the End of Days. This theological nuance has gone out of fashion somewhat after the EU gradually expanded to twenty-eight members.
Others claim that it will be the last and final kingdom to rise and fall before the Kingdom of God in the End Times Prophecy - the EU is apparently a resurrected Roman Empire. Whilst some Eurofederalists have suggested incorporating Turkey and the North African nations into the EU (which would, like the Roman Empire make the entire Mediterranean enclosed by the EU), and still others have suggested moving the capital from Brussels to Rome, these are generally fringe or far-future positions.
A cynical observer would note that most of the American making these rather loopy prophecies are A: far-right Dominionists, and B: Protestant, which makes it natural that they might ascribe Satanic characteristics to a left-liberal (by American standards) confederation which includes many Catholics.