Often described as the world’s most powerful regional bloc, the European Union (EU) has long been the most developed model of regional integration. Over the years, it has gone through various crises, like the Eurozone Crisis and more recently the Brexit vote in United Kingdom, but every time it has emerged ever more stronger.
Here is a brief look at the history of the EU and causes of its being most successful.
After the Second World War, there was a new movement to create unity between Germany and France, which would ultimately lay the foundations for the European Union four decades later.
The idea of a “United States of Europe” was first proposed by Winston Churchill, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, in a speech made in Zurich in 1946. However, the move towards a supranational European organisation began on May 9, 1950 with the Schuman Declaration.
The European Union operates a single market which allows free movement of goods, capital, services and people between and among member states.
The EU’s Founding Fathers were a group of people having diverse backgrounds. Ranging from resistance fighters to lawyers, these people held the same ideals: a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe. Names of following people are of special import in this regard:
- Konrad Adenauer: First Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany;
- Joseph Bech: The 15th Prime Minister of Luxembourg;
- Johan Beyen: Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. He is famous for his ‘Beyen Plan’.
- Winston Churchill: Former army officer and British Prime Minister (1940-45 and 1951-55);
- Alcide De Gasperi: Former Italian Prime Minister
- Walter Hallstein: German politician and the first President of the European Commission;
- Sicco Mansholt: Former Minister of Agriculture, Fishing and Food Supply of the Netherlands;
- Jean Monnet: Former Deputy Secretary-General of the League of Nations
- Robert Schuman: Former Foreign Minister of France;
- Paul-Henri Spaak: Former Prime Minister of Belgium;
- Altiero Spinelli: Italian political theorist
The EU can trace its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC), formed in 1951 and 1958 respectively by the Inner Six countries—Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
The organisation was a forerunner of several other European Communities and what is now the European Union.
European Economic Community
The Treaties of Rome set up the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) that led to the creation of a ‘Common Market.’ The six member-nations of the EEC promised to reduce trade barriers and come out with common policies in areas such as transportation and agriculture. This eventually created a system that allowed labour and goods to move freely between the member-nations.
The executive branches of the three European organisations: ECSC, EEC, and EURATOM were merged when the Treaty of Brussels came into force on July 1, 1967. Till this point in time, the three organisations had their own executive branches commonly known as ‘commissions’ while sharing the Common Assembly, which became the European Parliament in 1962, and courts.
Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the European Union on 1 January 1973, raising the number of Member States to nine.
Elections to European Parliament
In 1979, the European Parliament conducted the first pan-European elections, where its citizens elected the Members of the European Parliament directly.
The Schengen Agreement
The Schengen Agreement was signed on 14 June 1985, near the town of Schengen, Luxembourg, by five of the ten member states of the then European Economic Community. This led to the creation of Europe’s Schengen Area, in which internal border checks were largely abolished. The Schengen Agreement and its implementing Convention were enacted on 26 March 1995
Greece joined the European Communities in 1981, followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986. The number of member states was raised to 12.
The Single European Act
In 1986, the Single European Act was signed; however, it came into force on July 1, 1987. This treaty provided the basis for a vast six-year programme aimed at sorting out the problems with the free flow of trade across EU borders and thus created the ‘Single Market’ which allowed the ‘four freedoms’: movement of goods, services, people and money.
The Treaty of Maastricht
The European Union was established under its current name following the Maastricht Treaty (a.k.a. the Treaty on European Union) that came into force on November 1, 1993. The Treaty gave more decision-making power to the European Parliament and created the European Union.
The Treaty also created new avenues for European cooperation in fields such as Justice and Home Affairs and a Common Foreign and Security Policy. It also set the framework for a common currency policy, which in 1995, was renamed as the Euro.
In 1995, the EU gained three more new members: Austria, Finland and Sweden elevating the number of member-states to 15.
The Treaty of Amsterdam
It came into force in 1999 and consolidated the numerous treaties which made up the EEC and EU. It also created room for greater transparency within the Union.
The largest enlargement of the European Union occurred on May 1, 2004. Ten countries: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia became its members taking the member-nations count to 25.
Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on January 1, 2007, followed by Croatia, which became its 28th member on July 1, 2013.
Funding of the EU
The EU budget is funded from sources including a percentage of each member country’s gross national income. Besides this, the EU obtains revenue also from import duties on products from outside the EU and a percentage of the value-added tax levied by each country.
The EU is recognisable by several symbols, the most well-known being the circle of yellow stars on a blue background.
1. The European Flag
The 12 stars in a circle symbolise the ideals of unity, solidarity and harmony among the peoples of Europe.
2. The European Anthem
The European anthem comes from the Ninth Symphony composed in 1823 by Ludwig Van Beethoven, when he set music to the Ode to Joy, Friedrich von Schiller’s lyrical verse from 1785. The anthem “symbolises not only the European Union but also Europe in a wider sense.” The anthem was adopted by the Council of Europe in 1972 and in 1985 it was adopted by EU leaders as the official anthem of the EU.
The anthem has no words; instead it relies on the universal language of music.
3. Europe Day
Europe Day is celebrated on May 9 because the ideas behind the European Union were first put forward on that date in 1950 by French foreign minister Robert Schuman.
4. The EU motto
“United in Diversity” is the motto of the European Union.
There are 3 main institutions involved in EU legislation:
a. European Parliament, which represents the EU’s citizens and is directly elected by them;
b. Council of the European Union, which represents the governments of the individual member countries. The Presidency of the Council is shared by the member states on a rotating basis.
c. European Commission, which represents the interests of the Union as a whole.
Multilingualism is central to the EU’s cultural diversity. The EU has the following 24 official languages:
1. Bulgarian 2. Croatian 3. Czech
4. Danish 5. Dutch 6. English
7. Estonian 8. Finnish 9. French
10. German 11. Greek 12. Hungarian
13. Irish 14. Italian 15. Latvian
16. Lithuanian 17. Maltese 18. Polish
19. Portuguese 20. Romanian 21. Slovak
22. Slovenian 23. Spanish 24. Swedish
Members of the European Parliament have the right to use any of the EU’s official languages when speaking in Parliament.
In 2002, the Euro came into force for member countries of the Eurozone. On the first year of its introduction, the Euro replaced the currency of 12 nations. Today, 19 members of the European Union have adopted the Euro as their official currency.
Treaty of Lisbon
The Treaty of Lisbon came into force on December 1, 2009 and created a permanent President of the European Council and increased the legislative powers of the European Parliament. This treaty amended the Treaty of Maastricht and the Treaty of Amsterdam that formed the constitutional basis for the EU. The Treaty of Lisbon made the European Central Bank and the European Council official institutions of the EU. The first President of the European Council was Herman Van Rompuy, the former Prime Minister of Belgium.
Withdrawal from EU
The Treaty of Lisbon amends the Treaty on European Union to explicitly recognize for the first time the member states’ right to withdraw from the Union. (Article 50, amended TEU)
– Any member state may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
– A member state which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.
Success of the EU
Since the early 1950s, the EU has been a pioneer in regional integration. The most important principles underlying the success of the EU project include:
– Visionary politicians, who conceived of a new form of politics based on the supranational “community method” rather than the traditional balance-of-power model.
– Leadership generated by the Franco-German axis. Despite many problems, Paris and Berlin have been and still remain the driving force behind European integration.
– The political will to share sovereignty and construct strong, legally-based, common institutions to oversee the integration project.
– A consensus approach combined with solidarity and tolerance. The EU approach is based on not isolating any member state if they have a major problem, hesitance to move forward with policies until the vast majority of member states are ready, and a willingness to provide significant financial transfers to help poorer member states catch up with the norm.