The European Union affects the lives of Europeans in many and varied ways, yet, in spite of its reach, it often appears a constrained political system - struggling for internal consensus, reliant on the agreement of national governments, and hampered by the scepticism of electorates. These issues have become even more acute in the wake of the global economic and eurozone crises. This new text provides a concise and up-to-date introduction to the nature of the European Union, giving an account of its evolution and structure that makes sense of its current challenges. The text analyses the EU's institutional structure and decision-making procedures, and highlights the manifold conflicts as well as the sophisticated mechanisms for consensus-building among the core institutions. It explains the ways in which the EU differs from other forms of political order, and how this leads to political processes that are characterized by cooperation and conflict. In providing this context, the author invites readers to a critical assessment of the functioning of the European Union, and of the implications of this for its democratic legitimacy and future prospects.