Euro/European Union

Internally, the EU has abolished trade barriers, adopted a common currency, and is striving toward convergence of living standards. Internationally, the EU aims to bolster Europe's trade position and its political and economic power. Because of the great differences in per capita income among member states (from $7,000 to $78,000) and in national attitudes toward issues like inflation, debt, and foreign trade, the EU faces difficulties in devising and enforcing common policies. Eleven established EU member states, under the auspices of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), introduced the euro as their common currency on 1 January 1999 (Greece did so two years later), but the UK and Denmark have 'opt-outs' that allow them to keep their national currencies, and Sweden has not taken the steps needed to participate. Between 2004 and 2007, the EU admitted 12 countries that are, in general, less advanced economically than the other 15. Of the 12 most recent member states, only Slovenia (1 January 2007), Cyprus and Malta (1 January 2008), Slovakia (1 January 2009), and Estonia (1 January 2011) have adopted the euro; the remaining states other than the UK and Denmark are legally required to adopt the currency upon meeting EU's fiscal and monetary convergence criteria. The EU has recovered from the global financial crisis faster than expected, with business investment growing by an estimated 2% in 2010, but with public investment and housing development lagging. Strong corporate profits should enable this recovery to continue in 2011. Nevertheless, significant risks to growth remain, including, high official debts and deficits, aging populations, over-regulation of non-financial businesses, and doubts about the sustainability of the EMU. In June 2010, prompted by the Greek financial crisis, the EU and the IMF set up a $1 trillion bailout fund to rescue any EMU member in danger of default, but it has not calmed market jitters that have diminished the value of the euro. Discussions are currently under way to create a permanent European Stabilization Mechanism (ESM) in 2013, when the existing European Financial Stability Facility expires.
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