The European Economic Area (EEA) came into being on January 1, 1994 following an agreement between the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Union (EU). It was designed to allow EFTA countries to participate in the European Single Market without having to join the EU.
In an obligatory referendum, Switzerland's citizens chose not to participate in the EEA. Instead, the Swiss are linked to the European Union by bilateral agreements , with a different content than that of the EEA agreement.
So, the current members, contracting parties, are three of the four EFTA states - Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, without Switzerland - the European Union and the 25 EU Member States.
The EEA is based on 4 "freedoms"; the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital between the EEA countries.
The non EU members of the EEA have agreed to enact legislation similar to that passed in the EU in the areas of Social Policy, Consumer Protection, Environment, Company Law and Statistics.
A Joint Committee consisting of the non EU members plus the European Commission (representing the EU) has the function of extending relevant EU Law to the non EU members.
An EEA Council meets twice yearly to govern the overall relationship between the EEA members.
Rather than setting up pan-EEA institutions, the activities of the non-EU members of the EEA are regulated by the EFTA Surveillance Authority and the EFTA Court, which parallel the work of the EU's European Commission and European Court of Justice. See EFTA for further information.