History of the European Union

History of the European Union in Europe

Description of History of the European Union

The Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union describes history of the european union in the following terms: [1] Readers looking for a historical perspective of the Union can use the chronology table in Appendix 1 as a framework. For the early origins, see The ‘European idea’ and Founding Fathers. For the later history, see especially Common Agricultural Policy, Council of Ministers, EMU, Enlargement, European Commission, European Court of Justice, European Parliament, France, Germany and The UK and Europe (see more in this European encyclopedia). Of the entries on individuals, those on Churchill, Monnet, Adenauer, de Gaulle, Delors, Mitterrand, Thatcher and Kohl cover much of the Union’s historical evolution.

Overview of the History of the European Union

First step towards European integration: the ECSC

After the Second World War, Europe was completely devastated and relegated to second place in the international arena due to the rising power of the United States and the Soviet Union. In view of the growing rivalry between the two superpowers, several western European leaders came to the conclusion that lasting peace could be guaranteed only if their nations were to come together in both political and economic terms. Cooperation between states was seen as the best means to prevent armed conflicts.

In 1950, Robert Schumann, French Minister for Foreign Affairs, put forward the idea of a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). At that time, coal and steel productionwere the main war industries. Pooling these industries would prevent any new war between European neighbours. The ECSC was founded in 1951 by six countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Decision-making power was entrusted to the High Authority. With Jean Monnet at the helm, it thus became the first independent supranational authority in Europe.

European Communities

At the Messina Conference (1-2 June 1955), the ministers for foreign affairs of “the Six” acknowledged that the internal logic of the enterprise started in 1950 was commanding an expansion of the economic integration into other sectors.

In 1957, “the Six” signed the Treaties of Rome, establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or Euratom) and the European Economic Community (EEC). In this way, the Member States dismantled the trade barriers that separated them and formed a ‘common market’.

In 1967, the institutions of the three European Communities merged. From then on, there was only one Commission, one Council of Ministers and the Assembly (European Parliament). ‘The institutional triangle’, as it is known today, was established.

Successive enlargements

Attracted by its success, the European Communities were joined by Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom in 1973, followed by Greece in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986, Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995.

In May 2004, the European Union celebrated a historic event with its expansion into Central and Eastern Europe. Ten new countries joined the EU: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007, while Croatia and Turkey are also candidates.

Introduction to European Union History

The dream of a united Europe is almost as old as Europe itself. The early 9th-century empire of Charlemagne covered much of western Europe. In the early 1800s the French empire of Napoleon I encompassed most of the European continent. During World War II (1939-1945), German leader Adolf Hitler nearly succeeded in uniting Europe under Nazi domination (see National Socialism). All these efforts failed because they relied on forcibly subjugating other nations rather than fostering cooperation among them.

Attempts to create cooperative organizations fared little better until after World War II. Until then, nations strongly opposed all attempts to infringe on their powers and were unwilling to yield control over their policies. Early collaborative ventures were international or intergovernmental organizations that depended on the voluntary cooperation of their members; consequently, they had no direct powers of coercion to enforce their laws or regulations. Supranational organizations, on the other hand, require members to surrender at least a portion of their control over policy areas and can compel compliance with their mandates. After World War II, proposals for some kind of supranational organization in Europe became increasingly frequent.” (1)

Short History

The European Economic Community was established in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome, and became the European Community (EC) in 1967. The Treaty of Rome gave the Community a number of tasks including establishing a common market and progressively approximating the economic policies of the Member States. The United Kingdom joined the Community in 1973, and confirmed that decision in a UK-wide referendum in 1975.

In 1986, the Single European Act made further provision for the establishment of the common market, now referred to as the ‘internal market’, and defined as an area without internal frontiers, in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured. The Single Market Act also added a number of new policy areas to the Community’s competence, including, for example, a specific environmental competence. . The Maastricht Treaty followed in 1993. This treaty established the European Union, which had a three pillar structure, with the European Community being the first pillar, the common foreign and security policy the second pillar and justice and home affairs (covering immigration and asylum, civil judicial cooperation and police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters) the third pillar. Further changes were made by the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) and the Treaty of Nice (2000), including to the competences of the Union.

The EU entered a period of expansion, reaching 28 Member States by 2013. This prompted calls for a new Treaty. After long discussion, the Lisbon treaty was signed in 2007. This treaty renamed and amended the original treaties, collapsed the three pillar system into a single European Union, and incorporated the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the EU Treaties. [2]

Main Steps in the Evolution


Learn about the Treaty of Paris


Learn about the Treaties of Rome

Learn about the Single European Act.


The Treaty on European Union (Treaty of Maastricht)

This covers the following:

  • Overview of the Treaty of Maastricht
  • The Common Foreign and Security Policy
  • European Union citizenship
  • Economic and Monetary Union
  • Expansion of the jurisdiction of the European Union
  • Institutional reforms (in the European Parliament; and the Enforcement provisions)
  • The aftermath of the reaty on European Union

The Treaty of Amsterdam—Overview of the Treaty

This covers:

  • Fundamental rights
  • Extension of the jurisdiction of the European Union
  • Common Foreign and Security Policy
  • Police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters
  • Institutional reforms (in the European Parliament, the Commission, the Council and other European institutions)
  • Closer cooperation
  • The aftermath of the Treaty of Amsterdam


This covers:

  • Introduction to the Treaty of Nice
  • Institutional reforms (in the European Parliament, the Council, the Commission, the Courts and other institutional changes)

Changes to the decision-making process in the European Union

This covers:

  • Extension of the Co-Decision Procedure
  • Extension of qualied majority voting
  • Extension of simple majority voting
  • Extension of assent procedure
  • Changes to safeguard mechanism
  • International agreements

Jurisdiction of the European Union

This covers:

  • Common Foreign and Security Policy
  • Common Commercial Policy
  • Police and Judicial Cooperation in Criminal Matters
  • Social Policy
  • Industrial Policy
  • Personal Mobility Rights
  • Administrative Powers

Fundamental Rights: Enhanced Cooperation

This covers:

  • Scope of Enhanced Cooperation
  • Conditions for Enhanced Cooperation
  • Procedure for Enhanced Cooperation


Notas y References

  1. Based on the book “A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union from Aachen to Zollverein”, by Rodney Leach (Profile Books; London)
  2. Information about European Union History in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia

See Also

Guide to European Union History

More Topics about the European Union

European Economic Area, European Union, European Union History (including European Union Early Cooperation, Benelux Customs Union, European Coal and Steel Community, European Economic Community, European Community, Expansion of the EC, Single European Act, Creation of the European Union, Treaty on European Union, Amsterdam Treaty, Treaty of Nice, Treaty of Lisbon, Monetary Union and EU Growing Accountability), EU Pillar System, EU Major Bodies Structure, European Commission, Council of the European Union, European Parliament, European Court of Justice, Court of Auditors, European Central Bank, Economic and Social Committee, Committee of the Regions, European Union Policies, Common Agricultural Policy, Common Fisheries Policy, EU Economic Differences, European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund, Cohesion Fund, European Investment Bank, European Monetary System, Economic and Monetary Union, EU International Relations, EU Expansion, EU and Non-European Nations and European Union Future.

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