In the news · Learning · Mnemonics · Trivia

Euro 2016, the EU, and some mnemonics

Today is the day of the EU Referendum. The UK electorate is voting on whether to remain in the EU or to leave. Yesterday evening the group stage of the 2016 European Football Championships (Euro 2016 for short) came to an end. We now know the 16 teams who will play in the knock-out rounds of that tournament. This time tomorrow we will know the result of the Referendum.

Millions of words have been written and spoken about the Referendum. I will keep my opinions to myself for now, but one of the many good things about a Blog Post is the option to come back and edit these words in the future. Maybe, when the result is known, I will write about it but on Referendum Day itself I will reflect on the 28 EU Member States, the 24 countries that made it to the Euro 2016 and the 16 countries that are left. This will deal with facts, not interpretation.

Can you name all 28 EU Member States? Over the years I have tried to memorize the list and failed. Is Slovenia a member? What about Romania, Albania and Poland? (Answer: Of those four states only Albania is not a member of the EU.) Here are some mnemonics that might help to fix the names in your mind, similar to an earlier piece about memorizing all 50 US States and their Capitals. Unlike the 50 US States it isn’t an alphabetical list, it’s one based on history and geography, and because it’s about lists and mnemonics I have categorized this piece as “Trivia”. (This does not mean that the subject matter is trivial.)

The first 9 Member States are easy for me to remember through European history and geography. BeNeLux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) joined the big three post-war states (Italy, France and West Germany) to form the union. They are the Founder Members. (East and West Germany were unified in the 1990s, so we now refer to Germany rather than West Germany.) Then, in 1973, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark joined. Greece, Spain and Portugal joined in the 1980s. Those first 12 Member States are the easiest ones for me to remember. (Back then Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union [USSR] were individual entities, for football, and for so much more.)

In the 1990s Finland and Sweden joined (and Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the USSR broke up into smaller entities).

Using this historical approach we have accounted for the first 14 Member States and reached the year 2000.

After this I find it a bit tricky to remember who joined when, and will use culture and geography rather than chronology to list the next 14 countries.

  • Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia (the Baltic States) are the only former Soviet Union countries in the EU (that takes us to 17 countries, 11 to go).
  • Cyprus and Malta are the only Mediterranean island nations (that takes us to 19).
  • Slovakia and the Czech Republic (the two parts of the former Czechoslovakia), are in the EU (21 down, 7 to go).
  • Austria and Hungary (which were part of the same empire at the outbreak of World War One) are both Members (that leaves us with 5 more to name).
  • Croatia and Slovenia are the only countries from the former Yugoslavia currently in the EU. Finally Romania, Bulgaria and Poland complete the list of 28 countries.

So, in summary, based on the list above: BeNeLux / Italy France Germany / UK Ireland Denmark / Greece Spain Portugal / Finland Sweden / Latvia Lithuania Estonia / Cyprus Malta / Slovakia Czech Republic / Austria Hungary / Croatia Slovenia / Romania Bulgaria Poland.

[For the record, this is the list alphabetically, in groups of 3, but I have never got my head around it this way: Austria Belgium Bulgaria / Croatia Cyprus Czech Republic / Denmark Estonia Finland / France Germany Greece / Hungary Ireland Italy / Latvia Lithuania Luxembourg / Malta Netherlands Poland / Portugal Romania Slovakia / Slovenia Spain Sweden / United Kingdom.]

One thing that has made the list harder for me is remembering which countries are not in the EU. Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are not members. Nor are Albania, Turkey or any of the former Soviet Union or Yugoslav states apart from those mentioned above (3 for the Soviet Union and 2 for former Yugoslavia).

However, all of these countries compete in international football tournaments (the World Cup and European Championships), which takes me back to Euro 2016. Like the EU itself this competition has grown dramatically since the 1990s. It has expanded even more than the EU and its history helps me with the chronology of how European nation states have changed in the last 25 years. When Sweden hosted the tournament in 1992 only 8 teams qualified for the group stage. One of them was Yugoslavia, but the country was at war and breaking up, and barred from competing. Yugoslavia was replaced, just before the competition began, by Denmark, who went on to win it. The USSR qualified but competed as the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), which did not include Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia. Within 6 years Croatia, a former Yugoslav Republic, would finish 3rd in the Football World Cup. 1992 was also the first time that the newly unified Germany appeared in a football competition (West Germany had won the 1990 World Cup).

24 teams made it to the group stage of this year’s competition – 3 times the number that appeared in 1992. (The number of countries in the EU has not trebled since 1992. If it had, there would be 36 Member States rather than 28.)

England, Wales and Northern Ireland, all constituent parts of the United Kingdom, play as separate teams in international football competitions, so this one EU Member State has contributed 3 teams to that total of 24. I have spent much of the last month memorizing the 6 groups of 4 teams, and my 9-year-old daughter (who has become very interested in football over the last year) has been filling in the scores on the wall chart in the kitchen. That’s what football tournaments are for.

For the record, 6 non-EU teams made it to the group stage: Russia, Ukraine, Albania, Turkey, Iceland and Switzerland. Of these only the last two have made it to the last 16 of the tournament. That also means that 4 EU Member States have failed to make it to the last 16: Czech Republic, Austria, Sweden and Romania. We were guaranteed to lose at least 2 Member States before the last 16. From the way that the group stage has finished we are also guaranteed to have a team in the final that has never won a major football competition before. All previous winners (of World Cups and European Championships) are on one side of the draw. I awoke this morning feeling surprisingly excited about the rest of the competition, partly because of Ireland’s dramatic win over Italy last night. How will we all feel tomorrow morning, waking up to learn the result of the EU Referendum?


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