The first steps on the way to the EU
The initial idea: In order to ensure peace in the long term, a union of all European countries should come about – economically as well as politically. With the common and long-term goal: prosperity for all member countries.
In the course of its history, a complex entity has emerged with today’s European Union ( EU ): The EU is not a federation like the USA and also not an organization for cooperation between governments such as the UN .
Over the years, the member states have established their own bodies: the European Parliament , the Council, the European Commission , the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Auditors.
The member states hand over part of their state sovereignty to these bodies. This union of sovereign rights is also called “European integration”. In practical terms, this means that the member countries make democratic decisions on important issues that aim at the common European interest.
European integration is based on four founding treaties: the Treaty on the European Coal and Steel Community (1951), the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community (1957) and that of the European Atomic Energy Community (1957) and the Treaty on European Union, also known as the “Treaty von Maastricht “(1992).
The flag of the EU with a map of Europe in the background.The European community of states has developed over decades
Coal and steel management
In the first concrete steps towards an economic community, the first step was to put military strategic goods under a common authority. That should secure peace in the long term. Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux countries were in charge.
In a speech on May 9, 1950, Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister at the time, proposed that the coal and steel industries be managed jointly. Therefore, May 9, 1950 is considered the birthday of today’s EU . In addition, it has been celebrated as “Europe Day” since 1985.
Black and white photo of the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux countries who, after signing the treaty on the European Coal and Steel Community, formed a group picture on April 18, 1951.1951: Foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community
A year later, in April 1951, the same countries founded the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) – also known as the Montanunion. The aim of creating a common market for coal and steel products was also to integrate the still young Federal Republic of Germany into post-war Europe.
At the same time, separate institutions were created. The High Authority (later Commission) should have executive rights. A parliamentary assembly acted as a discussion body. A Council of Ministers acted legislatively. And a court monitored the interpretation of the contract. At that time, national sovereign rights were transferred to a supranational executive authority for the first time.
The Council of Ministers should coordinate the decisions of the High Authority with the economic policies in the individual countries. This created the so-called “Europe of 6”. The ECSC treaty formed the nucleus of today’s European Union.
From the Treaty of Rome to the EC
Coal and steel were just the beginning: at the Messina conference in 1955, the six ECSC countries agreed to expand their economic cooperation. In March 1957, they agreed to extend their cooperation to the entire economy and trade.
In Rome they sign the formation of the European Economic Community ( EEC ). The European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) was also founded. The countries thus agreed on an authority for the development of the nuclear industry .
The EEC was based organization at the European Coal and Steel Community. The High Authority as executive authority was now called the Commission, and the Council of Ministers was the legislature. The parliamentary assembly debated reports and was the link to the national parliaments.
The different locations for the different institutions also result from this time. The issue of the seat has long been an issue between the member states. The parliamentary assembly met in Strasbourg under the ECSC. The High Authority, the Council and the Court were in Luxembourg. Brussels was chosen as the seat for Council and Commission for EURATOM and EEC .
Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (left) in Rome: On March 24, 1957, he signs the contracts for the establishment of the European Economic Community and the Atomic Energy Community.1957: Signing of the Treaty of Rome
From an economic point of view, the signing of the Treaties of Rome now also means cooperation in agriculture, competition and foreign trade. In the long term, the six countries were already thinking of a customs union. They wanted to remove trade barriers and create a common external tariff. In addition, the EEC Treaty provided for the creation of a common market – with free movement of people, services and capital.
On July 1, 1967, the organs of the three communities (ECSC, EEC and EURATOM) were merged into the EC , the European Community. A joint council and a joint commission were set up for the EC . In 1968 it was possible to reduce tariffs between the member states and to create a common external tariff in several steps.
The first floor is growing
In the meantime, the Western European community had also become attractive to other countries: Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland joined the EC in 1973 . At the beginning of the 1970s, there was also a first attempt towards economic and monetary union, which initially failed.
The European Monetary System ( EWS) only came into force in 1979 . With the EMS , the states achieved stable exchange rates between the currencies involved. The European monetary system was the basis for the later economic and monetary union.
1979 was also the year of the European Parliament. For the first time, the EC citizens were able to directly vote for MEPs for Europe. And the circle of voters continued to grow a few years later: Greece joined the EC in 1981, Portugal and Spain in 1986 .
One spoke of “Europe of the 12”. These twelve member states took another important step on the way to the European Union in 1986: In the Single European Act, they set themselves the goal of a common internal market by 1993.
The years 1989 and 1990 changed Europe permanently. The end of the East-West conflict brought new perspectives and tasks to the European Community. Through reunification with the GDR , a former communist country became a member of the EC almost overnight . With the end of the Cold War , the foundations for an eastward expansion of the community were set in principle.
Many people stand on the Berlin Wall and hold hands. In the background: the Brandenburg Gate.The end of the Cold War changes the EC
Europe at the end of the 20th century
The EC had gained momentum in the early 1990s . The first stage of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) began in 1990. This started a process in three stages. It was supposed to bring the economic and monetary policies of the member states under one roof and ultimately lead to a common currency. In the first stage, capital movements between states were liberalized and central banks worked more closely together.
As planned, the EC internal market was completed on January 1, 1993. The EC was now an economic area without borders. Since then, the internal market has guaranteed the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. This also made the old idea of the EEC from the 1950s a reality.
The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 also came into force in 1993 and eventually established the European Union. Cooperation was agreed in other policy areas: in matters of the common foreign and security policy or in the area of justice and home affairs. In addition, the member states agreed to vote on consumer protection, environmental issues, health care and development aid.
The second stage of EMU began a year later. A common currency was approaching. For example, the member states undertook to keep prices and currency stable and to avoid excessive public deficits. At the same time, the establishment of a European Central Bank should be prepared. For this purpose, the European Monetary Institute was established in Frankfurt am Main.
The EU continued to grow in the mid-1990s : Finland , Sweden and Austria joined in 1995 . The Schengen Agreement entered into force in the same year. Among other things, this dealt with the treatment of asylum applications, the entry of foreigners, measures against drug trafficking and police cooperation. The so-called Schengen Information System should facilitate the fight against crime across borders.
Opening to the east
In 1997 the EU countries signed the Amsterdam Treaty, two years later it entered into force. It should prepare Europe for the 21st century and thus secure the further development of the EU . He also prescribed reforms of the EU institutions. For example, the European Parliament got more rights in codecision. The strengthening of the common foreign and security policy and closer cooperation in the area of justice and home affairs have also been redefined.
The euro already existed in cashless payments in 1999, since this year the third stage of economic and monetary union began. On January 1, 2002, the time had come. In the member states of the European Monetary Union, euro cash became the sole means of payment.
Two hands full of euro coinsThe euro has been in circulation since January 1, 2002
At the end of the 1990s, the European Council was already negotiating the next accession: in 1998 initially with Hungary, Poland , Estonia , the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Cyprus. 1999 also with Bulgaria, Latvia , Lithuania , Malta , Romania and Slovakia.
On May 1, 2004, ten new EU member states joined: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Poland, Malta and Cyprus. 2007 was followed by two other countries, Bulgaria and Romania, and Croatia has also been a member of the EU since 2013 . Candidate countries are currently (2020) Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. Other potential candidates are Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.
The EU in crisis
After the financial crisis that started in the United States in 2008 , Europe was also caught up in the vortex of the following economic crisis, which hit economically weaker countries such as Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Italy and Greece particularly hard. With the debt crisis in these countries, the pressure on the common currency euro also increased.
Billions of dollars in financial injections and rescue packages prevented state bankruptcies and the feared failure of the euro. But Greece, which is completely in debt, regularly ensures that Europe is in permanent crisis mode.
The government of Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party, in office since January 2015, is struggling with structural problems and the impending state bankruptcy. Since the middle of 2015 there has been constant discussion about “Grexit”, ie Greece’s exit from the euro zone.
From mid-2015, the dramatic financial situation took a back seat due to another problem – at least as far as public perception was concerned. The flow of Syrian refugees who fled to Europe via Turkey grew to several thousand a day. Germany suspended the so-called Dublin procedure and – for the time being – accepted unlimited refugees. At the same time, several Eastern European countries, above all Hungary, resisted accepting refugees.
Attempts by the EU to agree on binding admission rates across Europe failed. Instead, the first countries began to close their borders and rely on national solutions instead of a common European approach.
The so-called refugee crisis also helps to ensure that right-wing political movements across Europe are gaining more and more political weight. Parties that rely on national politics instead of European ideas.
This is already beginning to have serious repercussions in Great Britain: in June 2016, the British population voted by a narrow majority to leave the European Union. The right-wing populist Ukip party had been the driving force behind the referendum . As of January 31, 2020, Great Britain was no longer a member of the EU.