European Union - History

History

After World War II, moves towards European integration were seen by many as an escape from the extreme forms of nationalism that had devastated the continent. The 1948 Hague Congress was a pivotal moment in European federal history, as it led to the creation of the European Movement and also of the College of Europe, a place where Europe's future leaders would live and study together. 1951 saw the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, which was declared to be "a first step in the federation of Europe", starting with the aim of eliminating the possibility of further wars between its member states by means of pooling the national heavy industries. The founding members of the Community were Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany. The originators and supporters of the Community include Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Paul-Henri Spaak, and Alcide De Gasperi.

In 1957, the six countries signed the Treaty of Rome, which extended the earlier cooperation within the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and created the European Economic Community, (EEC) establishing a customs union. They also signed another treaty on the same day creating the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for cooperation in developing nuclear energy. Both treaties came into force in 1958.

The EEC and Euratom 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 Étienne Hirsch. Euratom would integrate sectors in nuclear energy while the EEC would develop a customs union between members.

Throughout the 1960s tensions began to show with France seeking to limit supranational power. However, in 1965 an agreement was reached and hence in 1967 the Merger Treaty was signed in Brussels. It came into force on 1 July 1967 and created a single set of institutions for the three communities, which were collectively referred to as the European Communities (EC), although commonly just as the European Community. Jean Rey presided over the first merged Commission (Rey Commission).

In 1973 the Communities enlarged to include Denmark (including Greenland, which later left the Community in 1985), Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Norway had negotiated to join at the same time but Norwegian voters rejected membership in a referendum and so Norway remained outside. In 1979, the first direct, democratic elections to the European Parliament were held.

Greece joined in 1981, Portugal and Spain in 1986. In 1985, the Schengen Agreement led the way toward the creation of open borders without passport controls between most member states and some non-member states. In 1986, the European flag began to be used by the Community and the Single European Act was signed.

In 1990, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the former East Germany became part of the Community as part of a newly united Germany. With enlargement towards European formerly communist countries as well as Cyprus and Malta on the agenda, the Copenhagen criteria for candidate members to join the European Union were agreed.

The European Union was formally established when the Maastricht Treaty—whose main architects were Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand—came into force on 1 November 1993, and in 1995 Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the newly established EU. In 2002, euro notes and coins replaced national currencies in 12 of the member states. Since then, the eurozone has increased to encompass 17 countries. In 2004, the EU saw its biggest enlargement to date when Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia joined the Union.

On 1 January 2007, Romania and Bulgaria became the EU's members. In the same year Slovenia adopted the euro, followed in 2008 by Cyprus and Malta, by Slovakia in 2009 and by Estonia in 2011. In June 2009, the 2009 Parliament elections were held leading to a renewal of Barroso's Commission Presidency, and in July 2009 Iceland formally applied for EU membership.

On 1 December 2009, the Lisbon Treaty entered into force and reformed many aspects of the EU. In particular it changed the legal structure of the European Union, merging the EU three pillars system into a single legal entity provisioned with legal personality, and it created a permanent President of the European Council, the first of which is Herman Van Rompuy, and a strengthened High Representative, Catherine Ashton.

On 9 December 2011, Croatia signed the EU accession treaty. The EU accession referendum was held in Croatia on 22 January 2012, with the majority voting for Croatia's accession to the European Union making it the 28th member state as of July 2013.

The European Union received the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize for having "contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe." The Nobel Committee stated that "that dreadful suffering in World War II demonstrated the need for a new Europe today war between Germany and France is unthinkable. This shows how, through well-aimed efforts and by building up mutual confidence, historical enemies can become close partners."


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