European Union History
SOURCE: Europa, portal site of the European Union

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1945 - 1959

A peaceful Europe - the beginnings of cooperation

World War II bombersThe European Union is set up with the aim of ending the frequent and bloody wars between neighbours, which culminated in the Second World War.

The historical roots of the European Union lie in the Second World War. Europeans are determined to prevent such killing and destruction ever happening again. Soon after the war, Europe is split into East and West as the 40-year-long Cold War begins. West European nations create the Council of Europe in 1949. It is a first step towards cooperation between them, but six countries want to go further.

The Robert Schuman declaration, 9 May 19509 May 1950 - French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman presents a plan for deeper cooperation. Later, every 9 May is celebrated as 'Europe Day'. As of 1950, the European Coal and Steel Community begins to unite European countries economically and politically in order to secure lasting peace.

The six founders are Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

The 1950s are dominated by a cold war between east and west. Protests in Hungary against the Communist regime are put down by Soviet tanks in 1956; while the following year, 1957, the Soviet Union takes the lead in the space race, when it launches the first man-made space satellite, Sputnik 1.

Founding fathers:

The following men are regarded by many as the principal architects of European integration following the end of the Second World War.

Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967)

Konrad Adenauer photographThe first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, who stood at the head of the newly-formed state from 1949-63, changed more than any other the face of post-war German and European history.

Like many politicians of his generation, Adenauer had already realised following the First World War that lasting peace could only be achieved through a united Europe. His experiences during the Third Reich - he was removed from office as the mayor of Cologne by the Nazis - served to confirm this opinion.

In only six years from 1949-55, Adenauer realised far-reaching foreign policy goals to bind Germany within the western alliance: membership of the Council of Europe (1951), foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community (1952), and Germany's entry into NATO (1955).

A cornerstone of Adenauer's foreign policy was the reconciliation with France. Together with French president Charles de Gaulle, a turning point in history was achieved: in 1963 the one-time arch-enemies Germany and France signed a treaty of friendship which became one of the milestones on the road to European integration.

Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Sir Winston Churchill photograph, from Wikipedia commonsChurchill, a former army officer, war reporter and British Prime Minister (1940-45 and 1951-55), was one of the first to call for the creation of a 'United States of Europe'.Following the experience of the Second World War, he was convinced that only a united Europe could guarantee peace. His aim was to eliminate the European ills of nationalism and war-mongering once and for all.

He formulated his conclusions drawn from the lessons of history in his famous 'Speech to the academic youth' held at the University of Zurich in 1946: "There is a remedy which ... would in a few years make all Europe ... free and ... happy. It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe."

Thus the driving force behind the anti-Hitler coalition became an active fighter in Europe's cause.

Sir Winston Churchill also made a name for himself as a painter and writer; in 1953 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Alcide de Gasperi (1881-1954)

Alcide de Gasperi photograph From 1945 up until 1953, Alcide de Gasperi, in his roles as Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, forged the path of Italy's internal and external policies in the post-war years.

He was born in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige (South Tyrol) which had, until 1918, belonged to Austria. Like other exceptional statesmen of his time, he campaigned actively for European unity. His experiences of fascism and war - he was imprisoned between 1926 and 1929 before finding asylum in the Vatican - led to his conviction that only the union of Europe could prevent their recurrence.

Time and again he promoted initiatives for the fusion of Western Europe, working on the realisation of the Marshall Plan and creating close economic ties with other European countries, in particular France. Furthermore, he supported the Schumann Plan for the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community, and helped develop the idea of the common European defence policy.

Walter Hallstein (1901-1982)

Walter Hallstein photograph Walter Hallstein was the first president of the European Commission from 1958 to 1969, a committed European and a decisive proponent of European integration.

In his opinion, the most important prerequisite for a successful political integration of Europe was the creation of common economic institutions. As president of the European Commission, Hallstein worked towards a rapid realisation of the Common Market. His energetic enthusiasm and his powers of persuasion furthered the cause of integration even beyond the period of his presidency. However, the speed of unification during the so-called Hallstein Period was legendary.

The one-time Secretary of State in the German Foreign Ministry originally attained international recognition through the Hallstein Doctrine of the 1950s, which shaped German foreign policy for years to come, and had at its core the linking of the young democracy into Western Europe.

Hallstein was also at one time professor of law at the universities of Rostock and Frankfurt.

Jean Monnet (1888-1979)

Jean Monnet photograph The French economic advisor and politician Jean Monnet dedicated himself to the cause of European integration. He was the inspiration behind the "Schuman Plan", which foresaw the merger of West European heavy industry.

Monnet was from the region of Cognac in France. When he left school at 16 he travelled internationally as a cognac dealer, later also as a banker. During both World Wars he held high positions involved with the coordination of industrial production in France and United Kingdom.

As top advisor of the French government, he was the main inspiration behind the famous "Schuman declaration" of 9 May 1950, which led to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community and, as such, is considered to be the birth of the European Union. Between 1952-55 he was the first president of its executive body.

It would, however, be unjust to limit Monnet's influence to the economic sphere. His famous and much-quoted phrase was "We unite people, not states". Today's EU programmes for cultural and educational exchange follow in this tradition.

Robert Schuman (1886-1963)

Robert Schuman photograph The politician Robert Schuman, a qualified lawyer and French foreign minister between 1948 and 1952, is regarded as one of the founding fathers of European unity.

Originating from the French-German border region of Alsace, despite, or maybe as a result of his experiences in Nazi Germany, he recognised that only a lasting reconciliation with Germany could form the basis for a united Europe. Deported to Germany in 1940, he joined the French Resistance upon fleeing two years later. In spite of this he showed no resentment, when following the war he became foreign minister.

In cooperation with Jean Monnet he drew up the internationally renowned Schuman Plan, which he published on 9 May 1950, the date now regarded as the birth of the European Union. He proposed joint control of coal and steel production, the most important materials for the armaments industry. The basic idea was that whoever did not have control over coal and steel production would not be able to fight a war.

Schuman informed the German chancellor Adenauer of the plan; he immediately recognised the opportunity for a peaceful Europe and agreed. Shortly afterwards, the governments of Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands also reacted. The six states signed the agreement for the European Coal and Steel Community in Paris in April 1951. In this way, Europe began as a peace initiative.

Schuman also supported the formation of a common European defence policy, and was, from 1958-60, president of the European Parliament.

Paul Henri Spaak (1899-1972)

Paul Henri Spaak photograph A European statesman - the long political career of the Belgian Paul Henri Spaak can succinctly be described as thus.

Lying about his age, he was accepted into the Belgian Army during World War One, and consequently spent two years as a German prisoner of war. In the Second World War, now as foreign minister, he attempted in vain to preserve Belgium's neutrality. Together with the government he went into exile, first to Paris, and later to London.

After the liberation of Belgium, Spaak joined the government, and served both as Foreign Minister and as Prime Minister. Even during World War Two he had formulated plans for a merger of the Benelux countries, and directly after the war he campaigned for the unification of Europe, supporting the European Coal and Steel Community and a European defence community.

For Spaak, uniting countries through binding Treaty obligations were the most effective means of guaranteeing peace and stability. He was able to help achieve these aims as president of the first full meeting of the United Nations (1946) and as General Secretary of NATO (1957-61).

Spaak was a leading figure in formulating the content of the Treaty of Rome. At the so-called "Messina Conference" in 1955 the six participating governments appointed him as president of the working committee that prepared the Treaty.

Altiero Spinelli (1907-1986)

Altiero Spinelli photograph The Italian politician Altiero Spinelli was the leading figure behind the European Parliament's complete proposal for a Treaty on a federal European Union - the so-called Spinelli Plan. This was in 1982 adopted by an overwhelming majority in the parliament and provided an important inspiration for the strengthening of the EU Treaties in the 1980s and 90s.

As a 17 year old, Spinelli had joined the Communist Party, as a consequence of which he was imprisoned by the fascist regime between 1927 and 1943. At a conference of European resistance in early 1944 he was one of the initiators of a proposal for a European Manifest. At the end of the war, he founded the federal European movement in Italy.

In the role of advisor to personalities like de Gasperi, Spaak and Monnet, he worked for European unification. A trained juror, he also furthered the European cause in the academic field, and founded the Institute for International Matters in Rome.

As a member of the European Commission he took over the area of internal policy from 1970 to 1976. For three years he served as a Member of Parliament for the Italian Communist Party before being elected to the European Parliament in 1979.

Founding Member States: Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Signing of the Treaty of Rome, 25 March 1957 25 March 1957 - Building on the success of the Coal and Steel Treaty, the six countries expand cooperation to other economic sectors. They sign the Treaty of Rome, creating the European Economic Community (EEC), or 'common market'. The idea is for people, goods and services to move freely across borders.

18 April 1951 - Based on the Schuman plan, six countries sign a treaty to run their heavy industries - coal and steel - under a common management. In this way, none can on its own make the weapons of war to turn against the other, as in the past. The six are Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

See animated map of all EU enlargements European Union Enlargement

The 'Swinging Sixties' - a period of economic growth

The Beatles by Associated Press

The 1960s sees the emergence of 'youth culture', with groups such as The Beatles attracting huge crowds of teenage fans wherever they appear, helping to stimulate a cultural revolution and widening the generation gap. It is a good period for the economy, helped by the fact that EU countries stop charging custom duties when they trade with each other. They also agree joint control over food production, so that everybody now has enough to eat - and soon there is even surplus agricultural produce. May 1968 becomes famous for student riots in Paris, and many changes in society and behaviour become associated with the so-called '68 generation'.

In August 1961, the communist authorities in East Germany build a wall across Berlin to prevent their citizens from escaping to a freer life in the West. A few people still escape; others are shot by guards in the attempt.

30 July 1962 - The EU starts its 'common agricultural policy' giving the countries joint control over food production. Farmers are paid the same price for their produce. The EU grows enough food for its needs and farmers earn well. The unwanted side-effect is overproduction with mountains of surplus produce. Since the 1990s, priorities have been to cut surpluses and raise food quality.

20 July 1963 - The EU signs its first big international agreement - a deal to help 18 former colonies in Africa. By 2005, it has a special partnership with 78 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) regions. The EU is the world's biggest provider of development assistance to poorer countries. Its aid is linked to respect for human rights by recipients.

1 July 1968 - The six remove customs duties on goods imported from each other, allowing free cross-border trade for the first time. They also apply the same duties on their imports from outside countries. The world's biggest trading group is born. Trade among the six and between the EU and the rest of the world grows rapidly.

European Union Enlargement

A growing Community - the first Enlargement

24 April 1972 - The EU's first plan for a single currency dates from 1970. To maintain monetary stability, EU members decide to allow their currencies to fluctuate against each other only within narrow limits. This exchange rate mechanism (ERM), created in 1972, is a first step towards the introduction of the euro, 30 years later.

1 January 1973 - The six become nine when Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom formally enter the EU.

Following an Arab-Israeli war in October 1973, Middle East oil-producing nations impose big price increases and restrict sales to certain European countries. This creates economic problems throughout the EU.

The last right-wing dictatorships in Europe come to an end with the overthrow of the Salazar regime in Portugal in 1974 and the death of General Franco of Spain in 1975.

10 December 1974 - To show their solidarity, EU leaders set up the European Regional Development Fund. Its purpose is to transfer money from rich to poor regions to improve roads and communications, attract investment and create jobs. This type of activity later comes to account for one third of all EU spending. The EU regional policy starts to transfer huge sums to create jobs and infrastructure in poorer areas.

7-10 June 1979 - EU citizens directly elect the members of the European Parliament for the first time. Previously they were delegated by national parliaments. Members sit in pan-European political groups (Socialist, Conservative, Liberal, Greens, etc.) and not in national delegations. The European Parliament increases its influence in EU affairs.

The changing face of Europe - the fall of the Berlin Wall

The fall of the Berlin Wall In summer 1980, shipyard workers in the Polish city of Gdansk, led by Lech Walesa, strike for more rights. Other strikes follow across the country. In August, the government capitulates and Solidarnosc is created as an independent trade union. The government gradually reasserts its power and imposes martial law in December 1981, ending Poland's brief encounter with people power. But the seeds have been sown for later.

1 January 1981 - Membership of the EU reaches double figures when Greece joins. It has been eligible to join since its military regime was overthrown and democracy restored in 1974.

28 February 1984 - Computers and automation are changing the way we live and work. To stay in the forefront of innovation, the EU adopts the 'Esprit' programme in 1984 as the first of many research and development programmes it has since funded.

1 January 1986 - Spain and Portugal enter the EU, bringing membership to 12.

Red car crossing a customs post by EC

A Europe without frontiers

With the collapse of communism across central and eastern Europe, Europeans become closer neighbours.

In 1993 the Single Market is completed with the the 'four freedoms' of: movement of goods, services, people and money.

The 1990s is also the decade of two treaties, the 'Maastricht' Treaty on European Union in 1993 and the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999.

Treaty on European Union
7 February 1992 - The Treaty on European Union is signed in Maastricht. It is a major EU milestone, setting clear rules for the future single currency as well as for foreign and security policy and closer cooperation in justice and home affairs. Under the treaty, the name 'European Union' officially replaces 'European Community'.

People are concerned about how to protect the environment and also how Europeans can act together when it comes to security and defence matters.

1 January 1993 - The single market and its four freedoms are established: the free movement of goods, services, people and money is now reality. More than 200 laws have been agreed since 1986 covering tax policy, business regulations, professional qualifications and other barriers to open frontiers. The free movement of some services is delayed.

1 January 1995 - The EU gains three more new members, Austria, Finland and Sweden. The 15 members now cover almost the whole of western Europe.

In October 1990, Germany was unified and therefore former East Germany became part of the EU.

A small village in Luxembourg gives its name to the 'Schengen' agreements that gradually allow people to travel without having their passports checked at the borders.

26 March 1995 - The Schengen Agreement takes effect in seven countries - Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Portugal. Travellers of any nationality can travel between all these countries without any passport control at the frontiers. Other countries have since joined the passport-free Schengen area.

17 June 1997 - Signature of the Treaty of Amsterdam. It builds on the achievements of the treaty from Maastricht, laying down plans to reform EU institutions, to give Europe a stronger voice in the world, and to concentrate more resources on employment and the rights of citizens.

Millions of young people study in other countries with EU support.

Communication is made easier as more and more people start using mobile phones and the internet.

13 December 1997 - EU leaders agree to start the process of membership negotiations with 10 countries of central and eastern Europe: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. The Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta are also included.

Introduction of the Euro1 January 1999 - The euro is introduced in 11 countries (joined by Greece in 2001) for commercial and financial transactions only. Notes and coins will come later. The euro countries are Belgium, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and Finland. Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom decide to stay out for the time being.

In 2000, Treaty changes agreed in Nice open the way for enlargement by reforming EU voting rules.

2000 - today

A decade of further expansion

Hands holding euro coins by EC 1 January 2002 - Euro notes and coins arrive. Printing, minting and distributing them in 12 countries is a major logistical operation. More than 80 billion coins are involved. Notes are the same for all countries. Coins have one common face, giving the value, while the other carries a national emblem. All circulate freely. Using Finnish (or any other) euro coin to buy a Madrid metro ticket is something we take for granted.

11 September 2001 becomes synonymous with the 'War on Terror' after hijacked airliners are flown into buildings in New York and Washington. EU countries begin to work much more closely together to fight crime.

31 March 2003 - As part of its foreign and security policy, the EU takes on peace-keeping operations in the Balkans, firstly in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and then in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In both cases, EU-led forces replace NATO units. Internally, the EU agrees to create an area of freedom, security and justice for all citizens by 2010.

1 May 2004 - Eight countries of central and eastern Europe the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia - join the EU, finally ending the division of Europe decided by the Great Powers 60 years earlier at Yalta. Cyprus and Malta also become members.

The political divisions between east and west Europe are finally declared healed when no fewer than 10 new countries join the EU in 2004.

Many people think that it is time for Europe to have a constitution but what sort of constitution is by no means easy to agree, so the debate on the future of Europe rages on.

29 October 2004 - The 25 EU countries sign a Treaty establishing a European Constitution. It is designed to streamline democratic decision-making and management in an EU of 25 and more countries. It also creates the post of a European Foreign Minister. It has to be ratified by all 25 countries before it can come into force. When citizens in both France and the Netherlands voted 'No' to the Constitution in referendums in 2005, EU leaders declared a "period of reflection".

The Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to limit global warming and cut emissions of greenhouse gases, comes into force. The EU has consistently taken the lead in efforts to reduce the impact of climate change. The United States is not a party to the protocol.

1 January 2007 - Two more countries from eastern Europe, Bulgaria and Romania, now join the EU, brining the number of member states to 27 countries. Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey are also candidates for future membership.

13 December 2007 - The 27 EU countries sign the Treaty of Lisbon, which amends the previous Treaties. It is designed to make the EU more democratic, efficient and transparent, and thereby able to tackle global challenges such as climate change, security and sustainable development. Before the Treaty can come into force, it has to be ratified by each of the 27 Member States.

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NOTE: The information regarding European Union on this page is re-published from Europa, portal site of the European Union. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of European Union history information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about European Union history should be addressed to Europa, the portal site of the European Union.

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