The history of the European
Union has been marked by periods of rapid change followed by periods of
European integration has been an unpredictable process.
The European project was an
attempt to overcome the nationalist conflicts of the first half of the
twentieth century, especially the rivalry between Germany and France that had
contributed to both world wars. After
1945, there was a strong will to ensure that war between Germany and France
could never again occur. This led to a
series of schemes that culminated in the establishment of the European Economic
Community (EEC) in 1957, which eventually became the EU. Led in the early 1950s by Frenchmen Robert
Schuman and Jean Monnet, the initial plan was for a European Coal and Steel
Community (ECSC) that would make France, Germany, Italy the Netherlands, Belgium and
Luxembourg co-operate by forcing them to share their coal and steel resources
in the rebuilding of western Europe after the war. This created the organisational model of a Commission, Council
and Parliament that was adopted by the EEC.
The EEC was established under
the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Primarily, the EEC aimed to extend the principle behind the ECSC to other areas of trade by creating a customs union. However, it also had more political ambitions for European integration - described at the start of the treaty as creating 'an ever closer union between
the peoples of Europe'.
Yet this mixture of economic
and political union was not the only option open to European countries in the
1950s. Britain, Switzerland, Austria
and the Scandinavian countries were at this time engaged in the European Free
Trade Area (EFTA): a looser organisation based on a zone of free trade
without an external tariff barrier.
The early years of the EEC
were principally focused upon developing the customs union. During this period, a huge economic boom, led
by a dynamic West Germany, created much greater prosperity in western Europe
and drove forward the liberalisation of the EEC economy. In 1963, Britain made its first attempt to
join, but was rebuffed by the French President Charles De Gaulle. De Gaulle dominated the European Community
in the 1960s, fuelling conflict between those who wanted to push forward a
political union and those, like himself, who wanted to maintain their national identities.
By the 1970s, when Britain,
Ireland and Denmark finally joined the EEC, the project had slowed down
considerably. Although the 1970s saw
the first proposals for monetary union, the EEC of nine states found it more difficult to reach agreement than the original six had.
It was not until the mid-1980s,
at the time when Spain, Greece and Portugal joined, that the pace of European
integration really picked up again with the agreement of the Single European Act (1986). This laid down a timetable for the completion of the single market while looking towards creating monetary
union and driving forward the agenda for political union.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in
1989 and the reunification of Germany in 1990 provided a huge boost to this
process. In 1992, the Maastricht Treaty
transformed the European Community - turning it into the European Union (EU),
giving it new roles in the areas of foreign and domestic policy, and setting a
timetable for the creation of the Euro.
Subsequently, the treaties of Amsterdam (1997) and Nice (2001) expanded
A Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, drafted in 2004, was rejected in referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005. The 'constitutional project' was then revived in the form of the Lisbon Treaty, which was signed by the leaders of EU nations in 2007. The treaty was hugely controversial because it was very similar to the failed constitution. The treaty was rejected by Ireland in a referendum in 2008, however Ireland eventually ratified the treaty following a second referendum in October 2009. The Lisbon Treaty finally came into force in December 2009.
'The solidarity between the two countries established by joint
production will show that war between France and Germany becomes not only
unthinkable, but materially impossible.'
'Our community is not a coal and steel producers
association. It is the beginning of
Europe.' Jean Monnet, 1970
'Creating a single European State bound by one
constitution is the decisive task of our time.' Joschka Fischer, German Foreign Minister 1998-2005
Customs Union: a group of economies with no internal barriers to
trade and a common external tariff.
Free Trade: international
trade when there is no restriction on the import or export of goods.