As the European Union is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it would be interesting to have an explanation of the E.U. which a 5 year-old would understand. Is there anybody who can give such an explanation/description?


5 Answers 5


A group of countries that come together to discuss policies that can help people in their countries for the better and find ways that the countries can help each other out.

That is quite basic (literally for a 5 year old) and quite naive but it sums up the EU in very simple terms.

  • I would add that they were together because an economical interest before a political interest. Dec 5, 2012 at 23:38
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    Well, help people in their countries and find ways the countries can help each other out is very broad and covers that it was for all national/international interests. As I said, I was aiming for simplicity as that was how I interpreted the question.
    – UKB
    Dec 5, 2012 at 23:41
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    @AlbertBonsanto Historically, it's the other way around, the economical aspects were supposed to foster political convergence, it's a political project through and through, that's one thing that sets it apart from countless trade agreements or cooperation efforts.
    – Relaxed
    Oct 9, 2015 at 11:10

Explanation of the European Union for a 5-year old:

Remember our trip to France during the summer holidays? Before the EU we used to have to wait to show our passports at the border before being allowed to cross over into another country. With the EU there is no passport control at the border, so we do not have to stop and wait. (Cue explanations about passports, countries and their borders.)

We also used to have to use a different kind of money in each country. With the EU we can just take our money across the border and it still works. (Cue explanation about money.)

These and other things make it much easier for people in different countries to be friends with each other, reducing the chances that countries will go to war. The EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize because they have been so effective at preventing war. (Cue explanation of war.)

When you are older you may be interested in studying or working abroad. This used to be very complicated, but because of the EU this is now very easy to do.

Simplified without losing the essence I think, and without simplifying to complete meaninglessness.

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    Remember the stories Pa and Grandpa tell about war? With the EU these won't happen anymore. Dec 2, 2018 at 11:26
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    @MartinSchröder that won't work - for a current day 5 year old, neither pa nor grandpa will have any warstories to share. Maybe great-grandpa, but probably not even him.
    – Erik
    Dec 2, 2018 at 11:33
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    This explains Schengen Zone and Eurozone respectively not the EU.
    – Bregalad
    Dec 3, 2018 at 8:33
  • @Bregalad, yes that is correct, but also the single market. I see no reason not to consider Schengen and Eurozone core to the EU even though some countries have negotiated a (temporary) opt-out.
    – hkBst
    Dec 3, 2018 at 9:04

I quote from 4 different books, and commence with the simplest explanation that moots the Nobel Peace Prize, as you did in your post.

European Union Governance and Policy Making: A Canadian Perspective (2018). p 1.

In 2012, the European Union (EU) won the Nobel Peace Prize. The EU, argued the prize committee, has contributed to “the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe” and has thus “helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace” ( Norwegian Nobel Committee, 2012 ). The Nobel Peace Prize was an unexpected recognition for an achievement that is indeed monumental. EU member states have collaborated since the early 1950s, overcoming historical disputes and avoiding wars among them, whereas the preceding centuries had been plagued by violent conflicts and destruction. The EU has set up common institutions with substantial powers to make binding decisions and has created a large range of common policies that have helped to abolish barriers to economic exchange and people’s mobility between the member states. This process of establishing common institutions and policies, which brings European member states closer together, is called European integration.
      The process of European integration has fundamentally transformed the political systems, economies, and societies of Europe. Six west European countries (Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany) initiated the process. By 2013, the EU had grown to 28 member states. In addition to this geographic widening—the addition of more member states—the EU has also experienced a process of deepening, meaning that more and more powers have been shifted from the member states to the EU level. The EU now influences virtually all areas of policy-making. However, its powers vis-à-vis the member states are much more far-reaching in some areas (such as economic policy and trade) than in others (such as social policy or defence).

John McCormick. Understanding the European Union: A Concise Introduction (2017 7 edn). p xii.

This is a book about the European Union (EU), the world’s most advanced example of international cooperation. Its work has been behind the construction of one of the world’s wealthiest marketplaces, has been an antidote to the kind of hostile nationalism that has so often divided European society in the past, and has contributed to the longest spell of general peace in a part of the world once infamous for war and conflict. Its impact on the lives of Europeans and non-Europeans has been substantial: its laws and policies have replaced multiple sets of different national laws and policies, its members have removed most of their shared barriers to the free movement of people and capital, and its internal agreements have allowed the EU to promote European interests and values at a global level.

John McCormick. The European Union: Politics and Policies (6 ed 2017). p. 3.

The origins of the EU, and the motives behind European integration, are relatively clear. Frustrated and appalled by war and conflict, many Europeans argued over the centuries in favor of setting aside national differences in the collective interest. The first serious thoughts about a peaceful and union came after the horrors of World War I, but the concept matured following the devastation of World War II, when the most serious Europeanists spoke of replacing national governments with a European federation. They dreamed of integrating European economies and removing controls on the movement of people, money, goods, and services; they were driven by the desire to promote peace and to build a single European market that could compete with the United States.

Mark Corner PhD on Karl Barth - University of Durham (1978). BA and MA in History - Cambridge University (1976). The European Union: An Introduction (2014). pp. 1-3.

The key to understanding the European Union lies in recognising that it is not like anything else. Because it is always difficult to recognise and accept that something is different, the tendency is to see it instead as a disguised form of something familiar. Hence the quagga (a dangerous analogy, perhaps, seeing that this former inhabitant of South Africa, technically a subspecies of the plains zebra, is now extinct).The illustration in Figure 1 [I omitted this; any picture of a quagga suffices.] is a painting from the end of the eighteenth century of a quagga stallion in the menagerie of French King Louis XVI at Versailles. It is difficult to look at pictures of this creature and not to think that it should have made its mind up. Either it should have gone with the head and been a zebra, or it should have gone with the tail and been a horse. It is unsurprising that we think like this, because horses and zebras are all that we now know; the quagga looks odd because we never see one outside textbooks or computer screens.
      Because of its uniqueness, the European Union is forever getting the quagga treatment and being told that it should ‘sort itself out’ as a horse or a zebra. It has become a candle burning at both ends, with one side trying to drag it back to being a collection of properly independent nation-states, and the other side trying to pull it forward in order to make it a single nation-state. The two positions are more alike than each would like to admit. At one end of the spectrum there might be a group of British or Hungarian nationalists; but at the other end of the spectrum is a group of European nationalists, waiting to wave their gold and blue flags with all the ardour of an American patriot waving the Star-Spangled Banner.
      Both sides have the same problem – they cannot understand the nature of the European Union as a hybrid. They want to change it into what they are familiar with, and what they are both familiar with is the nation-state in its present form.
      For one side, the 28 nations presently inside the EU are like 28 people stuck in a lift. They are all suffering from the foetid air, one has fainted, another claims to prefer to be dead and still the lift hovers between the third and fourth floors until the welcome sound of a firefighter (perhaps Mr Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party) is heard cutting a way through to free them and give them back their ‘space’. They will then go back to being autonomous nationstates living (and arguably quarrelling and fighting) together in the ‘normal’ manner.
      From the other end of the spectrum comes the idea that a great nation-state in the making is being held up by extensive labour pains as it struggles to be born. A United States of Europe is to be created in the way that Italy and Germany were created in the nineteenth century. Those of this opinion would agree with the historian Benedetto Croce when he wrote:

[J]ust as, seventy years ago, a Neapolitan of the old kingdom or a Piedmontese of the sub-Alpine kingdom became Italians, not by denying that which they had been, but by elevating it and incorporating it into that new existence, so will the French, Germans and Italians and all the others elevate themselves to become Europeans and their thoughts will turn to Europe, and their hearts will beat for it, as they have done for their smaller fatherlands, which they will not have forgotten, but love the more.1

Croce anticipated a ‘greater Italy’ in the way that Count Coudenhove- Kalergi later anticipated a greater Austria-Hungary in his influential Paneuropa, published in 1923, but in doing so they simply sought to reproduce the nation-state on a grander scale. As Michelle Cini puts it: ‘If anything, the federalist rhetoric did little more than highlight the enduring qualities of the nation-state, in that it sought to replicate it on a European scale.’2
      The word ‘federalist’ (one of the most elusive words where discussions of the EU are concerned) may not be the correct one, but Cini’s point is a fair one. Both ends of the spectrum, whether ‘eurosceptic’ or ‘federalist’, are working with the same presupposition – that the present arrangement of nation-states is the only acceptable template. One side believes that the EU should become 28 autonomous nation-states; the other side believes that it should become one autonomous nation-state. Either way, they are both hooked on autonomous nation-states. But the EU is neither a knot that ought to unravel into a group of separate nation-states, nor a group of states in the process of turning themselves into the separate regions of a single nation-state. It is a body intended to deal with the limitations of the nation-state itself.

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    I doubt a 5 year old would understand half of the words and concepts in there. This might work for a 12 year old though. Feb 6, 2019 at 4:50
  • @DenisdeBernardy I added 2 more quotes: better?
    – user6241
    Jun 18, 2019 at 4:36
  • @DenisdeBernardy, John Stuart Mill at 5 maybe. The mode average 5 year old not a bit.
    – agc
    Jun 26, 2019 at 6:12

I wouldn't recommend explaining even a dumbed down version of the EU to anyone under 8 or 9 years old, because it requires explaining many other fundamental functions of governments and international commerce. You would pretty much need to spend all Summer break giving foundational lessons about how other things work (passports, FIAT currencies, regional development, commerce, etc.).

However, my attempt at a simple answer that you can indeed give to a 5-year-old would be...
Every country has a national government that makes the laws for that country and decides how the country spends its money. The European Union is another kind of government that represents many countries who agreed to participate in it. Each country picks someone to represent it, and the representatives get together and make laws together. The laws are designed to protect people, and to make it easier to do things like travel to other countries.

You might have to start by defining big words like participate and representative.


Right after the American Revolution, a bunch of sovereign countries like "Virginia," "Massachusetts," and "New York" all decided to be a federation of countries. They wouldn't charge taxes on each other, and they'd try to make laws that the individual countries could each adopt on their own. It was called "the Articles of Confederation" and the idea was that these independent countries would try to get along, but wouldn't give up any of their rights.

It lasted only a few years, then they gave up and decided that they needed a Constitution, and some central authority.

After WWII, a bunch of countries in Europe tried to do the same thing. They decided to try to agree on some laws without giving up any rights.

In 1990, they even went so far as to give up their own money, and all share the same kind of dollar bill, called a Euro. But, they never actually came up with one guy to call the shots. So, the Greeks and the Italians kept spending as much money as they wanted, and forced Germany to pay all their bills. And now, they are wondering why Germany is looking towards a tighter Constitution, and more central authority.

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    So, the Greeks and the Italians kept spending as much money as they wanted, and forced Germany to pay all their bills. ahahaha
    – ithisa
    Jul 6, 2013 at 2:14
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    (-1) That explanation of the euro crisis is not simplistic, it's downright wrong and misleading. Also, the euro is an important aspect of what the EU does (and a major failure) but focusing so much on the recent crisis makes no sense if the goal is to explain the EU succinctly to a 5-year old. Also, how is a parallel with the American Revolution (which is itself debatable) helpful for someone from Luxembourg (or any child beside, perhaps, Americans)?
    – Relaxed
    Oct 9, 2015 at 11:15
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    This does not answer the question.
    – hkBst
    Dec 2, 2018 at 7:44
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    Of course, everyone on the web is American sigh
    – owjburnham
    Dec 2, 2018 at 8:55

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