THE UNITED KINGDOM
Located in Western Europe, between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, just to the northwest of France, the United Kingdom is made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It should be noted that Northern Ireland is to be found on the northern one-sixth of the island of Ireland.
In 1603, Scotland came under the British Crown, and in 1707, England and Scotland agreed to unite as Great Britain. Ireland had been conquered by the early 17th century, and the 1801 British Act of Union established the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1922, 26 counties of Ireland gained independence from London, with the other six counties remaining in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, and the Northern Ireland Assembly were established in 1999. The latter was suspended until May 2007 due to wrangling over the peace process, but devolution was fully completed in March 2010.
At the beginning of the 20th century the British Empire had been the foremost global power, stretching over one-fourth of the earth's surface. But World War I significantly weakened the United Kingdom, and the years following World War II saw the demise of the empire with many colonies gaining independence. Nevertheless, the country remains a major world economic and military power, with considerable political and cultural influence around the world. As the world's first industrialized country, the economy of the United Kingdom is one of the largest in the world as well as one of the strongest in Europe, and is considered to be a leading trading power and financial center.
It should also be noted that the United Kingdom has historically played a leading role in developing parliamentary democracy and in advancing literature and science. The country has a long history as a major player in international affairs and fulfills an important role in the European Union, the United Nations and NATO. The United Kingdom is also an active member of the European Union, although it chose to remain outside the Economic and Monetary Union. The government has said a series of economic criteria must be met before the issue can be put to a referendum.