What is the difference between the European Union & United Nations?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The United Nations and the European Union are two very different political entities. While the two bodies have in common a desire born of the destruction of two world wars to avoid another such devastating conflict, they diverge greatly beyond that point.

The United Nations was a second major attempt...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The United Nations and the European Union are two very different political entities. While the two bodies have in common a desire born of the destruction of two world wars to avoid another such devastating conflict, they diverge greatly beyond that point.

The United Nations was a second major attempt by leaders of Europe and the United States to create an international organization that included all countries and would provide a forum for resolving conflicts between member states diplomatically. The first such attempt, the League of Nations, was a failure for a variety of reasons emanating from the post-World War I Treaty of Versailles and the refusal of the United States to become an active member (despite the advocacy of president Woodrow Wilson). The leaders of the United States and Great Britain, President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, envisioned an organization that would allow for face-to-face debates before the assembled diplomats representing all member nations. As World War II progressed, and with an eventual Allied victory presumed, Russia played an increasing role. By the war's end, China (the Nationalists, anyway, the Chinese Communist Party not yet having taken power) and France were provided seats at the table as the United Nation's main body for enforcing organizational edicts, the Security Council, was established. Those five nations—the United States, Great Britain, France, China, and the Soviet Union—were designated permanent seats on the Security Council, and only those five nations wield veto power over binding resolutions.

In contrast to the United Nations, the European Union was, and is, oriented solely toward European nations. Just as the United Nations was the culmination of a protracted effort at creating an international organization dedicated to the peaceful resolution of conflicts, the European Union also represented the fruits of many years of efforts at creating a bloc of like-minded (in effect, democratic) nations. It was hoped that the borders separating these nations would eventually cease to exist. This vision of a Europe undivided by borders stood in stark contrast to the United Nations, for which the independent nation-state remained the principal political entity. Trade and the free movement of peoples among member states within the European Union would, it was hoped, eliminate the incentives for armed conflict that had previously characterized European relations. This freedom of movement and trade represented another departure from the United Nations, although UN-sponsored international organizations to regulate the flow of goods and services between nations were attempted. In the end, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which eventually morphed into the World Trade Organization, became independent of the United Nations.

These, then, are the principal distinctions between the United Nations and the European Union. While the prevention of major conflicts was the underlying goal of both organizations, the similarities largely end there.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The European Union is composed of many European countries that work together on common economic and political goals. The European Union is similar to one large country when it comes to trade and tariff issues. Members of the European Union don’t have to pay a tariff when products move from one European Union country to another European Union country. Additionally, the euro is the currency used by many of the nations in the European Union.

The United Nations, based in New York, is an international organization that works toward many common goals, including keeping peace throughout the world and helping with humanitarian issues such famine, disease, and natural disasters. While the European Union is run by a parliamentary system, the United Nations develops resolutions that are voted on by the member nations to determine if actions will be taken. There are five countries that have complete veto power over any proposed actions. The United Nations is not interested in creating a worldwide currency or one worldwide economy.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The major difference between these two organizations (other than geography) is that the EU is essentially an attempt to create one big nation out of many nations in Europe while the UN is an organization that is trying to promote cooperation and peaceful relations (on a voluntary basis) between independent countries.

The EU is trying to create as much of a unified Europe as it can.  It has created a set of rules that govern all countries within it.  It has even created a single currency (the euro) that is used by many of its members.

The UN is not trying to create a world government.  It does not try to get China and the US, for example, have the same currency or the same laws about labor or food safety or anything like that.  Instead, it is simply an organization that gives various countries the chance to talk to one another so as to avoid conflict and generally improve the world.  In an attempt to do this, it does have bodies that try to do things like promoting economic development, but it is not trying to make all its members obey a single set of rules.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team