Europe and the rest of the world

Northern Ireland, as part of the UK, belongs to the European Union (EU), NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), the United Nations (UN) and the Commonwealth. Find out more about these organisations.

The European Union (EU)

The EU is an economic and political partnership between 28 European countries. It covers over four million km² and has the world’s third largest population after China and India.

By surface area, France is the biggest EU country and Malta the smallest.

The Office of the Northern Ireland Executive in Brussels promotes Northern Ireland's interest within the EU.

Find out more about the EU, including member countries and how it works on the Europa website.

The Council of the EU

The Council is the EU institution where national ministers from each EU country meet to adopt laws and coordinate policies.

Presidency of the council rotates every six months from one member country to the next.

The European Parliament

The European Parliament is the only directly-elected EU body and one of the largest democratic assemblies in the world. Its Members (MEPs) are elected once every five years by voters from across the 28 Member States.

Northern Ireland has three MEPs.

The European Council

This isn’t the same as the Council of the EU. European Council meetings are summits where EU leaders meet to decide on broad political priorities and major initiatives. Typically, there are around four meetings a year, chaired by a permanent president.

The European Commission

The European Commission represents and upholds the interests of the EU as a whole. It drafts proposals for new European laws and manages the day-to-day business of implementing EU policies and spending EU funds.

The European Courts

The Court of Justice interprets EU law to make sure it is applied in the same way in all EU countries. It also settles legal disputes between EU governments and EU institutions. Individuals, companies or organisations can also bring cases before the Court if they feel their rights have been infringed by an EU institution.

The European Court of Auditors audits EU finances. Its role is to improve EU financial management and report on the use of public funds.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

NATO is a political and military alliance of 28 countries from Europe and North America. Its primary goals are the collective defence of its members and the maintenance of a democratic peace in the North Atlantic area.

All 28 allies have an equal say and decisions must be unanimous and consensual.

NATO’s most important decision-making body is the North Atlantic Council. Every member country sits on this.

The United Nations (UN)

The United Nations (UN) was formed in 1945, by the UK and 50 other countries, to maintain international peace and security, develop relations between nations and promote social progress, better living standards and human rights. Now, nearly every country in the world belongs to the UN - 193 member countries.

The UN General Assembly meets to talk about the world’s biggest problems and each member has one vote. Decisions on major things like peace and security, admitting new members and the UN budget need a two-thirds majority vote. Other issues just need a simple majority - the largest share of the votes.

The UN Security Council is responsible for maintaining peace and international security. It is the most important part of the UN and can meet at any time. It has 15 members, five of which are permanent:

  • China
  • France
  • the Russian Federation
  • the UK
  • the United States

The Secretariat does the support work to carry out decisions made by the General Assembly or the Security Council. At its head is the Secretary General, who serves for five years.

The Commonwealth

The Commonwealth is an association of sovereign nations who support each other and work together towards international goals. It is also a 'family' of peoples - with a common heritage in language, culture, law, education and democratic traditions, among other things,

The Commonwealth Games are held every four years. England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man all compete separately. 


Share this page


Your comments are anonymous and can’t be responded to - if you would like a reply, use the feedback form.

Your comments
Plain text only, 750 characters maximum. Don't include personal or financial information.