This region of 743m people covers over 50 countries or largely self-governing entities. and an even greater number of languages and local dialects. At the heart of Europe is the European Union (EU) – which is more than simply a free trade area and operates with its own laws, Court of Justice and – as such – acts more like a federal state. Other economic entities operating in Europe include the Council of Europe – with a Human Rights Court in Strasbourg and the Commonwealth of Independent States Free Trade Area (CISFTA) covering several of the old Soviet Republics.

Many of the employment-related EU Directives and Regulations are based on conventions of the International Labour Organisation. But they contain significant gaps in provision – such as having no control over individual dismissal. However, although the EU Treaty does not give EU institutions powers in respect to pay (other than equal pay for men and women) this has not stopped them from introducing many pay-related measures such as the requirement to pay part-time workers at the same hourly rate as equivalent full-time workers and for posted workers to be paid in line with minimum pay or collectively bargained rates in countries to which workers are posted. The European Court of Justice has also refused to accept the anti-trust nature of labour wage cartels – such as the practice of imposing sectoral agreements in France over companies not party to the agreement. This makes the state a party to the practice of preventing new, rival companies undercutting established pay rates in order to gain a competitive advantage.

The departure of the UK from the EU in 2019 has dealt a severe blow to the European superstate model. However, there are many countries in Eastern Europe wishing to join the EU over the next few years. Whether it remains a united and viable entity will largely depend on how much the rise of undemocratic and right-wing parties will undermine its principles. Already immigration has become a major issue in Eastern Europe and Poland could face suspension over its latest judicial reforms.

Countries that have chosen never to be EU members, or do not yet qualify for EU membership.


The majority of EU member states, including Germany – the biggest national economy in Europe.

Micro countries that largely owe their existence to Europe’s long and complex history.

The only country to part company with the EU – at a huge economic cost.