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History of the European Union

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The European Union Flag

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The European Union

The European Union (EU) was created by the Maastricht Treaty on November 1st 1993. It is a political and economic union between European countries which makes its own policies concerning the members’ economies, societies, laws and to some extent security. To some, the EU is an overblown bureaucracy which drains money and compromises the power of sovereign states. For others, the EU is the best way to meet challenges smaller nations might struggle with – such as economic growth or negotiations with larger nations – and worth surrendering some sovereignty to achieve. Despite many years of integration, opposition remains strong, but states have acted pragmatically, at times, to create the union.

List of Countries within the European Union

Origins of the EU

The European Union was not created in one go by the Maastricht Treaty, but was the result of gradual integration since 1945, an evolution when one level of union has been seen to work, giving confidence and impetus for a next level. In this way the EU can be said to have been formed by the demands of its member nations.

The end of the Second World War left Europe divided between the communist, Soviet dominated, eastern bloc, and the largely democratic western nations. There were fears over what direction a rebuilt Germany would take, and in the west thoughts of a federal European union re-emerged, hoping to bind Germany into pan-European democratic institutions to the extent that it, and any other allied European nation, both wouldn’t be able to start a new war, and would resist the expansion of the communist east.

The First Union: the ECSC

Europe’s post war nations weren’t just after peace, they were also after solutions to economic problems, such as raw materials being in one country and the industry to process them in another. War had left Europe exhausted, with industry greatly damaged and their defences possibly unable to stop Russia. In order to solve this six neighbouring countries agreed in The Treaty of Paris to form an area of free trade for several key resources including coal, steel and iron ore, chosen for their key role in industry and the military. This body was called the European Coal and Steel Community and involved Germany, Belgium, France, Holland, Italy and Luxembourg. It began on 23 July 1952 and ended on 23 July 2002, replaced by further unions.

France had suggested the ECSC to control Germany and to rebuild industry; Germany wanted to become an equal player in Europe again and rebuild its reputation, as did Italy; the Benelux nations hoped for growth and didn’t want to be left behind. France, afraid Britain would try and quash the plan, didn’t include them in initial discussions, and Britain stayed out, wary of giving up any power and content with the economic potential offered by the Commonwealth.

Also created, in order to manage the ECSC, were a group of ‘supranational’ (a level of governance above the nation state) bodies: a Council of Ministers, a Common Assembly, a High Authority and a Court of Justice, all to legislate, develop ideas and resolve disputes. It was from these key bodies that the later EU would emerge, a process which some of the ECSC’s creators had envisaged, as they explicitly stated the creation of a federal Europe as their long term goal.

The European Economic Community

A false step was taken in the mid 1950s when a proposed ‘European Defence Community’ among the ESSC’s six states was drawn up: it called for a joint army to be controlled by a new supranational Defence Minister. The initiative had to be rejected after France’s National Assembly voted it down.

However, the success of the ECSC led to the member nations signing two new treaties in 1957, both called the treaty of Rome. This created two new bodies: the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) which was to pool knowledge of atomic energy, and the European Economic Community. This EEC created a common market among the member nations, with no tariffs or impediments to the flow of labour and goods. It aimed to continue economic growth and avoid the protectionist policies of pre-war Europe. By 1970 trade within the common market had increased fivefold. There was also the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to boost member’s farming and an end to monopolies. The CAP, which wasn’t based on a common market, but on government subsidies to support local farmers, has become one of most controversial EU policies.

Like the ECSC, the EEC created several supranational bodies: a Council of Ministers to make decisions, a Common Assembly (called the European Parliament from 1962) to give advice, a court which could overrule member states and a commission to put the policy into affect. The 1965 Brussels Treaty merged the commissions of the EEC, ECSC and Euratom to create a joint and permanent civil service.

Development

In the late 1960s a power struggle established the need for unanimous agreements on key decisions, effectively giving member states a veto. It has been argued that this slowed union by two decades. Over the 70s and 80s the membership of the EEC expanded, allowing Denmark, Ireland and the UK in 1973, Greece in 1981 and Portugal and Spain in 1986. Britain had changed its mind after seeing its economic growth lag behind the EEC, and after America indicated it would support Britain as a rival voice in the EEC to France and Germany. However, Britain’s first two applications were vetoed by France. Ireland and Denmark, heavily dependent upon the UK economy, followed it in to keep pace and attempt to develop themselves away from Britain. Norway applied at the same time, but withdrew after a referendum said ‘no’. Meanwhile member states began to see European integration as a way to balance the influence of both Russia and now America.
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