Who said there’s one Europe? There’s six (a traveller guide)

european borders european union Aug 05, 2023
European countries

There’s more than one Europe for travellers to contend with.

We have to think about Customs, immigration, currency and (occasionally) laws. We all wish it was  simpler.                                                                                            

We can count a lot of European countries, depending on where the boundaries of the continent are drawn. One conventional divide is the Ural Mountains, Black Sea and the Bosphorus, which includes the western part of Russia but divides Istanbul. But Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are often counted.

The United Nations regards 44 states, from Iceland to Russia, as European.

But the various groupings below decide issues of common law, Customs and border security (including issues such as visa requirements, currency and trade.

It’s possible to briefly unpick the details and demystify the various Europes.

The European Union (EU) and its members

This is a political and economic union of 27 countries. EU citizens can move freely between countries to live, study or work. EU laws can be suggested by the European Commission, which is the civil service body. The laws are made by the European Parliament and judged by the EU Court of Justice.

The 27 EU countries are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czechia (the Czech Republic), Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. The UK left the EU in January 2020.

Monaco forms part of the EU for Customs purposes, Andorra partly so.

There are 24 official languages and almost 450 million citizens.

Theoretically a passport-free zone, EU countries faced the refugee crisis of 2015-16 and consecutive years of COVID-19 outbreaks by reinstituting some border checks and controls.

The EU website has lots of information in all official languages. A Short Guide to the EU is a good place to start. 

The eurozone (sometimes EZ) countries

A group of 20 countries uses the euro as daily currency: Austria, Belgium, Croatia (joined 2023), Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain. The European Central Bank governs EZ monetary policy.

Four so-called microstates – Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City – use the euro by formal agreement and Montenegro and Kosovo have also adopted it.

Six other countries are in line to join the zone. Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Sweden maintain separate currencies until they meet EZ requirements, although only Bulgaria looks likely to join.

Schengen area

A group of 23 EU countries and the four EFTA countries (below) are part of the Schengen Agreement. This governs movement of people in a passport-free zone. Croatia is the latest country to join.

This Europe has perhaps greatest implications for arriving travellers, because for many travellers it imposes an entry rule.

The list of 27 Schengen countries is: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Bulgaria and Romania were to begin integrating into the Schengen system in 2024. But some other countries recognise the Schengen visa

Schengen is the name of the village in Luxembourg where the 1985 agreement was made. 

European Free Trade Association (EFTA)

Four countries – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland – aim to extend free overseas trade and economic integration, but not political union or legislation. None is an EU member.  

European Economic Area (EEA)

A group of 30 countries forms an internal market that includes the EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. As an equation, it equals EU + EFTA – Switzerland. Switzerland is, however, part of the single market.

EEA covers the free movement of goods, services, people and capital – the so-called internal market. It does not include Customs matters or common currency.  

The odd ones out

The UK now stands alone in Europe, apart from its other alliances,  including NATO and its dependencies (below) and common travel area with Ireland. Citizens of Ireland, however, will be exempt from the ETIAS/EES system

Countries in eastern Europe or the Balkan region that are not member states of any of the above groups are: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Russia, Serbia and war-torn Ukraine.

The largely unrecognised Turkish-backed territory Northern Cyprus is not counted in the UN’s European list of countries, but maintains a border with its southern neighbour Cyprus.

Also outside, while being in the European orbit, are the UK dependencies Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and Gibraltar, as well as the Danish-administered Faroe (or Færoe) Islands.

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