Created in 1994, the European Economic Area (EEA) combines the countries of the European Union (EU) and member countries of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) to facilitate participation in the European Market trade and movement without having to apply to be one of the EU member countries.
Countries that belong to the EEA include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom.
Countries that are EEA member countries but NOT part of the European Union include Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and you should keep in mind that Switzerland, while a member of EFTA, is neither in the Eu or in the EEA. Finland, Sweden, and Austria did not join the European Economic Area until 1995; Bulgaria and Romania in 2007; Iceland in 2013; and Croatia in early 2014.
What the EEA Does: Member Benefits
The European Economic Area is a free trade zone between the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Trade agreement details stipulated by the EEA include liberties on product, person, service, and money movement between countries.
In 1992, member states of the EFTA (except Switzerland) and members of the EU entered into this agreement and by doing so expanded the European internal market to Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway. At the time of its founding, 31 countries were members of the EEA, totaling approximately 372 million people involved and generating an estimated 7.5 trillion dollars (USD) in its first year alone.
Today, the European Economic Area hands its organization to several divisions, including legislative, executive, judicial, and consultation, all of which include representatives from several member states of the EEA.
What the EEA Means for Citizens
Citizens of member countries in the European Economic Area can enjoy certain privileges not afforded to non-EEA countries.
According to the EFTA website, "The free movement of persons is one of the core rights guaranteed in the European Economic Area (EEA)...It is perhaps the most important right for individuals, as it gives citizens of the 31 EEA countries the opportunity to live, work, establish business and study in any of these countries."
Essentially, citizens of any member country are allowed to travel freely to other member countries, whether for short-term visits or permanent relocations. However, these residents still retain their citizenship to their country of origin and cannot apply for citizenship of their new residence.
Additionally, EEA regulations also govern professional qualifications and social security coordination to support this free movement of people between member countries. As both are necessary to maintaining individual countries' economies and governments, these regulations are fundamental to effectively allow for free movement of people.