History of the European Union

History of the European Union
History of the European Union
EU enlargement between 1958 and 2007
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The European Union is a geo-political entity covering a large portion of the European continent. It is founded upon numerous treaties and has undergone expansions that have taken it from 6 member states to 27, a majority of states in Europe.

As distinct from ideas of federation, confederation or customs union the main development in Europe depends on a supranational foundation to make war unthinkable and materially impossible[1][2] and reinforce democracy[3] enunciated by Robert Schuman and other leaders in the Europe Declaration. The principle was at the heart of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in the Treaty of Paris (1951), following the "Schuman Declaration" and the later the Treaties of Rome establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC). Both the ECSC and EEC were later incorporated into the European Union while the EAEC maintains a distinct legal identity despite sharing members and institutions.


Pre-1945: idea of Europe

Europa regina in Sebastian Münster's "Cosmographia", 1570.

Large areas of Europe had previously been unified by empires built on force, such as the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Frankish Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, the First French Empire and Nazi Germany. A peaceful means of some consolidation of European territories used to be provided by dynastic unions; less common were country-level unions, such as the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Austro-Hungarian Empire.[4]

Largely due to the devastating effects of war many people turned to the idea of some form of unified Europe, notably William Penn, Abbot Charles de Saint-Pierre, Victor Hugo, Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi and Giuseppe Mazzini. Such ideas became greater in Western Europe following World War I, with the massive loss of life it entailed, but it was not until after World War II that real steps were taken in Western Europe.

An example of an organization formed to promote the association of states between the wars to promote the idea of European Union is the Pan-Europa movement.

1945–1957: peace forged from cold steel

After two devastating world wars, the political climate favoured an international unity that could preserve peace in Europe effectively. (bombed Hamburg in 1943)

World War II from 1939 to 1945 saw a human and economic cost which hit Europe hardest. It demonstrated the horrors of war and also of extremism, through the holocaust and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for example. Once again, there was a desire to ensure it could never happen again, particularly with the war giving the world nuclear weapons. The countries of Western Europe failed to maintain their Great power status leaving two rival ideologically opposed superpowers.[5]

To ensure Germany could never threaten the peace again, its heavy industry was partly dismantled (See: Industrial plans for Germany) and its main coal-producing regions were detached (Saarland, Silesia), or put under international control (Ruhr area).[6] (See: Monnet plan)

With statements such as Winston Churchill's 1946 call for a "United States of Europe" becoming louder, in 1949 the Council of Europe was established as the first pan-European organisation. In the year following, on 9 May 1950, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed a community to integrate the coal and steel industries of Europe - these being the two elements necessary to make weapons of war. (See: Schuman declaration).

On the basis of that speech, France, Italy, the Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) together with West Germany signed the Treaty of Paris (1951) creating the European Coal and Steel Community the following year; this took over the role of the International Authority for the Ruhr[1] and lifted some restrictions on German industrial productivity. It gave birth to the first institutions, such as the High Authority (now the European Commission) and the Common Assembly (now the European Parliament). The first presidents of those institutions were Jean Monnet and Paul-Henri Spaak respectively.

The attempt to turn the Saar protectorate into a "European territory" was rejected by a referendum in 1955. The Saar was to have been governed by a statute supervised by a European Commissioner reporting to the Council of Ministers of the Western European Union.

After failed attempts at creating defence (European Defence Community) and political communities (European Political Community), leaders met at the Messina Conference and established the Spaak Committee which produced the Spaak report. The report was accepted at the Venice Conference (29 and 30 May 1956) where the decision was taken to organize an Intergovernmental Conference. The Intergovernmental Conference on the Common Market and Euratom focused on economic unity, leading to the Treaties of Rome being signed in 1957 which established the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) among the members.[7]

1958–1972: three communities

The two new communities were created separately from ECSC, although they shared the same courts and the Common Assembly. The executives of the new communities were called Commissions, as opposed to the "High Authority". The EEC was headed by Walter Hallstein (Hallstein Commission) and Euratom was headed by Louis Armand (Armand Commission) and then Etienne Hirsch. Euratom would integrate sectors in nuclear energy while the EEC would develop a customs union between members.[7][8][9]

Throughout the 1960s tensions began to show with France seeking to limit supranational power and rejecting the membership of the United Kingdom. However, in 1965 an agreement was reached to merge the three communities under a single set of institutions, and hence the Merger Treaty was signed in Brussels and came into force on 1 July 1967 creating the European Communities.[10] Jean Rey presided over the first merged Commission (Rey Commission).

1973–1993: enlargement to Delors

De Gaulle's veto delayed the first enlargement.

After much negotiation, and following a change in the French Presidency, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom (with Gibraltar) eventually joined the European Communities on 1 January 1973. This was the first of several enlargements which become a major policy area of the Union (see: Enlargement of the European Union).[11]

In 1979, the European Parliament held its first direct elections by universal suffrage. 410 members were elected, who then elected the first female President of the European Parliament, Simone Veil.[12]

A further enlargement took place in 1981 with Greece joining on 1 January, six years after applying. In 1985, Greenland voted to leave the Community after gaining home rule from Denmark (See also: EU territories). Spain and Portugal joined (having applied in 1977) on 1 January 1986 in the third enlargement.[13]

The Iron Curtain's fall enabled the accession of the DDR (Berlin Wall).

Recently appointed Commission President Jacques Delors (Delors Commission) presided over the adoption of the European flag by the Communities in 1986. In the first major revision of the treaties since the Merger Treaty, leaders signed the Single European Act in February 1986. The text dealt with institutional reform, including extension of community powers - in particular in regarding foreign policy. It was a major component in completing the single market and came into force on 1 July 1987.[14]

In 1987 Turkey formally applied to join the Community and began the longest application process for any country. In 1989, following upheavals in Eastern Europe, the Berlin Wall fell, along with the Iron curtain. Germany reunified and the door to enlargement to the former eastern bloc was opened (See also: Copenhagen Criteria).[15]

With a wave of new enlargements on the way, the Maastricht Treaty was signed on 7 February 1992 which established the European Union when it came into force the following year.

1993–2004: creation

On 1 November 1993, under the third Delors Commission, the Maastricht Treaty became effective, creating the European Union with its pillar system including foreign and home affairs alongside the European Community.[16][17] The 1994 European elections were held resulting in the Socialist group maintaining their position as the largest party in Parliament. The Council proposed Jacques Santer as Commission President but was seen as a second choice candidate, undermining his position. Parliament narrowly approved Santer but his commission gained greater support being approved by 416 votes to 103, Santer had use his new powers under Maastricht to flex greater control over his choice of Commissioners. They took office on 23 January 1995.[18]

On 30 March 1994, accession negotiations concluded with Austria, Sweden and Finland. Meanwhile Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein in the European Economic Area (entered into force on 1 January 1994), which allowed European Free Trade Association states to enter the Single European Market. The following year, the Schengen Agreement would come into force between seven members, expanding to include nearly all others by the end of 1996. The 1990s also saw the further development of the euro. The 1 January 1994 saw the second stage of EMU begin with the establishment of the European Monetary Institute and at the break of 1999 the euro as a currency was launched and the European Central Bank was established. On 1 January 2002 notes and coins were put into circulation, replacing the old currencies entirely.

During the 90s, the development EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) was given a strong impetus by the conflicts in the Balkans. The EU failed to react during the beginning of the conflict, and UN peacekeepers from the Netherlands failed to prevent the Srebrenica massacre (July 1995) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the largest mass murder in Europe since the second world war. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) finally had to intervene in the war, forcing the combatants to the negotiation table. The early foreign policy experience of the EU led to it being emphasised in the Treaty of Amsterdam (which created the High Representative).[19]

However, any success was overshadowed by the budget crisis in March 1999. The Parliament refused to approve the Commission's 1996 community's budget on grounds of financial mismanagement, fraud and nepotism. With Parliament ready to throw them out, the entire Santer Commission resigned.[20][21] The post-Delors mood of euroscepticism became entrenched with the Council and Parliament constantly challenging the Commission's position in coming years.[22]

In the following elections, the Socialists lost their decades old majority to the new People's Party and the incoming Prodi Commission was quick to establish the new anti-fraud body OLAF.[23] Under the new powers of the Amsterdam Treaty, Prodi was described by some as the 'First Prime Minister of Europe'.[24] On 4 June, Javier Solana was appointed Secretary General of the Council and the strengthened High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy admitted the intervention in Kosovo - Solana was also seen by some as Europe's first Foreign Minister.[25] The Nice Treaty was signed on 26 February 2001 and came into force on 1 February 2003 which made the final preparations before the 2004 enlargement to 10 new members.

2004–present: recent history

President Barroso

On the 10–13 June 2004, the 25 member states participated in the largest trans-national election in history (with the second largest democratic electorate in the world). The result of the sixth Parliamentary election was a second victory for the European People's Party-European Democrats group. It also saw the lowest voter turnout of 45.5%, the second time it had fallen below 50%.[26] On 22 July 2004, José Manuel Barroso was approved by the new Parliament as the next Commission President. However his new team of 25 Commissioners faced a tougher road. With Parliament raising objections to a number of his candidates he was forced to withdraw his selection and try once more. The Prodi Commission had to extend their mandate to the 22 November after the new line up of Commissioners was finally approved.[27]

A proposed constitutional treaty was signed by plenipotentiaries from EU member states on 28 October 2004. The document was ratified in most member states, including two positive referendums. The referendums that were held in France and the Netherlands failed however, killing off the treaty. The European Council agreed that the constitution proposal would be abandoned, but most of its changes would be retained in an amending treaty. On 13 December 2007 the treaty was signed, containing opt-outs for the more eurosceptic members and no state-like elements. The Lisbon treaty finally came into force on 1 December 2009. It created the post of President of the European Council and significantly expanded the post of High Representative. After much debate about what kind of person should be President, the European Council agreed on a low-key personality and chose Herman Van Rompuy while foreign policy-novice Catherine Ashton became High Representative.

New member states in blue

The 2009 elections again saw a victory for the European People's Party, despite losing the British Conservatives who formed a smaller eurosceptic grouping with other anti-federalist right wing parties. Parliament's presidency was once again divided between the People's Party and the Socialists, with Jerzy Buzek elected as the first eastern European to become President of the European Parliament. Barroso was nominated by the Council for a second term and received backing from EPP who had declared him as their candidate before the elections. However the Socialists and Greens led the opposition against him despite not agreeing on an opposing candidate. Parliament finally approved Barroso II, though once more several months behind schedule.

In 2007, the fifth enlargement completed with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria on 1 January 2007. Also, in 2007 Slovenia adopted the euro,[28] Malta and Cyprus in 2008[29] and Slovakia in 2009. However trouble developed with existing members as the eurozone entered its first recession in 2008.[30] Members cooperated and the ECB intervened to help restore economic growth and the euro was seen as a safe haven, particularly by those outside such as Iceland.[31][32][33]

However, with the risk of a default in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and other members in late 2009-10, eurozone leaders agreed to provisions for loans to member states who could not raise funds. Accusations that this was a u-turn on the EU treaties, which rule out any bail out of a euro member in order to encourage them to manage their finances better, were countered by the argument that these were loans, not grants, and that neither the EU nor other Member States assumed any liabilities for the debts of the aided countries. With Greece struggling to restore its finances, other member states also at risk and the repercussions this would have on the rest of the eurozone economy, a loan mechanism was agreed. The crisis also spurred consensus for further economic integration and a range of proposals such as a European Monetary Fund or federal treasury.[34][35][36]

See also

Wider European history post-1945


  1. ^ Full text of the Schuman Declaration
  2. ^ Schuman's Speech in Strasbourg, May 1949
  3. ^ Schuman's speeches to the United Nations in 1948 and 1949
  4. ^ CIA World Factbook European Union section
  5. ^ Europe in ruins in the aftermath of the Second World War ena.lu
  6. ^ * French proposal regarding the detachment of German industrial regions September 8, 1945
    France, Germany and the Struggle for the War-making Natural Resources of the RhinelandLetter from Konrad Adenauer to Robert Schuman (26 July 1949) Warning him of the consequences of the dismantling policy. (requires Flash Player)
    Letter from Ernest Bevin to Robert Schuman (30 October 1949) British and French foreign ministers. Bevin argues that they need to reconsider the Allies' dismantling policy in the occupied zones (requires Flash Player)
  7. ^ a b A peaceful Europe - the beginnings of cooperation europa.eu
  8. ^ A European Atomic Energy Community ena.lu
  9. ^ A European Customs Union ena.lu
  10. ^ Merging the executives ena.lu
  11. ^ The first enlargement ena.lu
  12. ^ The new European Parliament ena.lu
  13. ^ Negotiations for enlargement ena.lu
  14. ^ Single European Act ena.lu
  15. ^ The fall of the Berlin Wall ena.lu
  16. ^ 1993 europa.eu
  17. ^ Characteristics of the Treaty on European Union ena.lu
  18. ^ "The crisis of the Santer Commission". European NAvigator. http://www.ena.lu?lang=2&doc=14959. Retrieved 2007-10-07. 
  19. ^ The Treaty of Amsterdam ena.lu
  20. ^ Ringer, Nils F. (February 2003). "The Santer Commission Resignation Crisis" (PDF). University of Pittsburgh. http://aei.pitt.edu/2919/01/156.pdf. Retrieved 2007-10-07. 
  21. ^ Hoskyns, Catherine; Michael Newman (2000). Democratizing the European Union: Issues for the twenty-first Century (Perspectives on Democratization. Manchester University Press. pp. 106–7. ISBN 978-0719056666. 
  22. ^ Topan, Angelina (2002-09-30). "The resignation of the Santer-Commission: the impact of 'trust' and 'reputation'". European Integration online Papers. http://eiop.or.at/eiop/texte/2002-014.htm. Retrieved 2007-10-07. 
  23. ^ "EU Budget Fraud". politics.co.uk. http://www.politics.co.uk/issue-briefs/europe/eu-budget/eu-budget-fraud/eu-budget-fraud-$366701.htm. Retrieved 2007-10-07. [dead link]
  24. ^ Prodi to Have Wide, New Powers as Head of the European Commission iht.com 16 April 1999
  25. ^ Javier Solana/Spain: Europe's First Foreign Minister? businessweek.com
  26. ^ Vote EU 2004 news.bbc.co.uk
  27. ^ The new commission - some initial thoughts bmbrussels.b
  28. ^ "Slovenia clear to adopt the euro". British Broadcasting Corporation. 16 June 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/5086546.stm. Retrieved 18 January 2009. 
  29. ^ "Cyprus and Malta set to join Eurozone in 2008". euractiv.com. 16 May 2007. http://www.euractiv.com/en/enlargement/cyprus-malta-set-join-eurozone-2008/article-163836?Ref=RSS. Retrieved 19 January 2009. [dead link]
  30. ^ EU data confirms eurozone's first recession, EUbusiness.com, January 8, 2009
  31. ^ "European leaders agree crisis rescue at summit — EUbusiness.com - business, legal and economic news and information from the European Union". Eubusiness.com. http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/1223856121.86. Retrieved 2009-01-02. [dead link]
  32. ^ Oakley, David and Ralph Atkins (17 September 2009) Eurozone shows its strength in a crisis, Financial Times
  33. ^ Iceland to be fast-tracked into the EU, the Guardian
  34. ^ Willis, Andrew (25 March 2010) Eurozone leaders agree on Franco-German bail-out mechanism, EU Observer
  35. ^ Eurozone overhaul Die Zeit on Presseurop, 12 February 2010
  36. ^ Plans emerge for 'European Monetary Fund' EU Observer

External links

  • History of the EU Official Europa website
  • CLIOH-WORLD CLIOH-WORLD: Network of Universities supported by the European Commission (LLP-Erasmus) for the researching, teaching and learning of the history of the EU, including History of EU Integration, EU-Turkey dialogue, and linking to world history.
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Paris Treaty
Modified Brussels Treaty
Rome treaties
Merger Treaty
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Maastricht Treaty
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Three pillars of the European Union:  
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European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM)
European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) Treaty expired in 2002 European Union (EU)
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  Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters (PJCC)
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