After the Second World War (WWII), in 1945, Europe was destroyed. The United Nations founding Charter was signed in San Francisco that year. Many people believed that a more united Europe could be envisioned, and started to work on the first pro European movement as a new model for peace in the region. The concept of European unity was a barricade against the return of WWII nationalism. The idea was finally achieved and in 1949, the Council of Europe was founded in London by 10 countries at the first pan European assembly promoting democracy and human rights.
By that time, Europe was heavily affected by the Cold War, a long period of international tension (1945-1991) between the “Western Bloc” (with the leadership of the United States of America) and the “Eastern Bloc” (headed by the Soviet Union). The two superpowers had completely different political and economic approaches (capitalist democracy versus communism) dividing Europe in two areas of influence. Military alliances were formed: NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) for the West and the Warsaw Pact (Warsaw Treaty Organization) for the East.
France and Germany pushed to establish an economic alliance and in 1951 the European Coal and Steel Community was created in Paris by France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg. Driven by this attainment, the 6 countries decided to extend the economic deal to other economic sectors and in 1957 the Treaty of Rome was signed, creating the European Economic Community (EEC). It was also in 1957 that the Euratom Treaty was established by the European Atomic Energy Community. The initial purpose of the Treaty was to create a specialist market for nuclear power in Europe. The foundation of Europe was set.
The common European project was also open to other countries in order to build peace and prosperity in Europe. In the 1970s, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the common project. In the 1980s the European Economic Community (EEC) opened its doors to the emerging democracies of Southern Europe (Greece in 1981 and Spain and Portugal in 1986).
This enlargement of the EEC triggered political stability and economic development in Europe’s Mediterranean region. New policies to face regional inequalities were also created. Finally in 1992, the European Union (EU) was shaped (treaty signed in Maastricht) launching the single internal market.
The second big enlargement period of the EU was during the 90s and early 2000s. In 1995 Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the EU, and then in 2004 the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia) plus Malta and Cyprus as a result of profound social and economic reforms performed.
Rules were also set in 2001 (Treaty of Nice) for those countries, like Turkey, that wanted to join the EU. In December 2007, after the entrance of Bulgaria and Romania, the Treaty of Lisbon was accepted by all Member States (MS) and entered into force on 1 December 2009 after national ratification processes in the 27 Member States (https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/countries_en) being held. In 2013, the last country in joining the EU until today was Croatia, adding up to 28 MS. However, the EU went back to involve only 27 MS after Brexit, the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU and the European Atomic Energy Community at the end of 31 January 2020, and its transition period that lasted until 31 December 2020.
The EU has suffered a wave of different crises over the last decade. The economic and euro crisis, the Brexit crisis, the migration crisis, the COVID-19 crisis and the rise of Euroscepticism, have altogether altered the EU integration process and rule-based multilateralism, which may have shifted instead towards a de-facto speeds approach between MS, rather than an ever closer Union.
However, more than 50 years after its first steps, the EU is a unique global example of real integration of different states, a reality that includes 450 million people living in 27 countries. This dynamic integration has involved the establishment of supranational EU structures and the alignment of a wide array of policies among MS: economics, agriculture, energy, monetary, foreign policy and defence, and also in science, technology and innovation. European integration in a time of global challenges requires adaptation of the EU and consolidation of this endeavour for prosperity and peace.
You may learn from this short video how the EU was built: “Eureka: Building the European Union“.
– Flink, Tim (2016): Die Entsethung des Europäischen Forschungsrates, Marktimperative, Geostrategie, Frontier Research [The Institutionalisation of the European Research Council. On Market Imperatives, Geostrategy, and Frontier Research]. Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft, p. 61.
Additional information about the process of building the EU can be found on:
– Historical events in the European integration process (1945-2014), CVCE, University of Luxembourg (Link)
The material provided under this course is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.