The country’s official name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It comprises four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In addition to English, there are other official languages, including Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Cornish.
The UK has a population of some 63 million, including numerous immigrants from its former colonies, living on a total area of 243,820 square kilometres. Its capital city is London. The UK joined the European Community in 1973 together with Denmark and Ireland during the first round of enlargement. The UK is a member of Nato. As it has not signed the Schengen Agreement, it continues to carry out border controls.
The United Kingdom is a parliamentary monarchy, with a cabinet government which is collectively responsible to the Parliament. It has no codified constitution. The Crown primarily has representative and formal powers, while the head of government has a strong position in the cabinet and politics as a whole.
Queen Elizabeth II has been head of state since 1952. She is also the leader of the Commonwealth of Nations and the worldwide head of the Anglican Church. The current prime minister, David Cameron, is head of a coalition government composed of members of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. The Labour Party and other smaller parties are currently in opposition.
The British Parliament has two chambers: The lower house, the House of Commons, has 650 Members of Parliament (MPs) who are elected by a majority voting system (“first past the post”); the upper house, the House of Lords, currently has 790 members (called “peers”), who have comparatively few powers. Twelve members of the House of Lords, who are called the "Law Lords", made up the country’s highest appeal court until 2009.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party holds the absolute majority in the House of Commons (331 out of a total of 650 seats). The following parties are currently in opposition: the Labour Party, the UK Independence Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, the Green Party, the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, Plaid Cymru in Wales and Sinn Féin in Northern-Ireland.
Administrative structure: The United Kingdom is divided into England (36 districts, 25 counties and London), Scotland (32 unitary local authorities), Wales (22 unitary authorities) and Northern Ireland (26 local councils).
In 2012 gross domestic product (GDP) in the UK totalled 1,899 billion euros; per capita GDP was 30,000 euros. The services industry is responsible for 78 per cent of GDP, with the financial sector having a key role to play. The country has a strong international competitive position in high-tech industries such as telecommunications, information technologies, biotechnology, the pharmaceutical and chemicals industry, vehicle construction, armaments and electrical engineering. The manufacturing industry accounts for only 15 per cent of GDP.
British foreign trade has been in deficit for decades in the goods trade, and this deficit is not entirely compensated by surpluses in the trade balance for services. In 2012 the trade deficit totalled 36 billion pounds sterling.
The United Kingdom has been a member of the Group of Seven since the first summit in 1975. It has hosted meetings on six occasions: in London in 1977, 1984 and 1991, in Birmingham in 1998, in Gleneagles in 2005 and in Lough Erne in 2013.