Peace through economics: a short history of the EU

At a time when the U.K. is deciding whether to stay in or out of the European Union, a look at the history of EU and it’s unfinished goal of being ‘United States of Europe.’

Updated - March 21, 2017 11:00 am IST

Published - June 23, 2016 08:11 pm IST

The idea of a “United States of Europe” was first proposed by Winston Churchill, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1946. However, the move towards a supranational European organisation began on May 9, 1950 with the Schuman Declaration.

Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister, set in motion the formation of a pan-European union by proposing a joint “High Authority” that would control coal and steel production in France and Germany. He proposed that the organisation would be open to other European countries as well. The Schuman Declaration was built upon the idea of Franco-German reconciliation to prevent the two nations from starting another World War.

European Coal and Steel Community

The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1951, set up the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the forerunner to the modern European Union. It consisted of the six nations: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. The idea behind this economic union was that war would be far less likely between countries that are economically interdependent. The ECSC eventually led to the creation of the European Economic Community in 1957.

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.

In 1957, Great Britain declined an invitation to join the EEC. In 1963, Great Britain tried to join the Common Market, but the then French President Charles de Gaulle, who believed the Britain “was not serious about European integration,” vetoed its application.

Merger Treaty

The executive branches of the three European organisations: ECSC, EEC, and EURATOM were merged when the Treaty 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. The Merger Treaty streamlined the European organisations as the European Communities with the creation of a single Commission and a single Council to serve the three communities.

First Enlargement

In 1973, the European Communities, which consisted of the original six members, was finally expanded to include Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom. In 1979, the European Parliament conducted the first pan-European elections, where its citizens elected the Members of the European Parliament directly. Greece joined the European Communities in 1981, followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986.

The Single European Act

The Single European Act came into force on July 1, 1987. It created a single European market and reformed its institutions to prepare for the accession of the Spain and Portugal to the European Communities. The Act also helped set into motion a vast six-year programme to reduce the restrictions on trade flow for European nations, setting up the single market. The Commission’s claim is the heart of the European project. It allows for the free movement of people, goods, and money.

The Treaty of Maastricht

Treaty of Maastricht or the Treaty on European Union came into force on November 1, 1993. This treaty gave more decision-making power to the European Parliament and created the European Union. The Treaty of Maastricht also created new avenues for European cooperation in fields such as Justice and Home Affairs and a Common Foreign and Security Policy. The Treaty of Maastricht also set the framework for a common currency policy, which in 1995, was renamed as the Euro.

The Schengen Agreement

Beginning in 1995, the Schengen Agreement came into force, allowing for a Europe without border controls for its member states.

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 Euro

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 Nice

In 2003, the Treaty of Nice came into force which streamlined the numerous mechanisms of EU governance as well as increased the number of seats in the European Parliament to 732, in the hope of an Eastern expansion.

Enlargement of the European 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 28 member on July 1, 2013.

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.

Nobel Peace Prize

On December 10, 2012, President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso and President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz picked up the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to the European Union. The European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to stabilise Europe and to turn the continent into one of peace.

Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission President

The European Parliament elected Jean-Claude Juncker as the President of the European Commission. This was the first time the President of the European Commission was elected by the European Parliament.

(Compiled by Keshav Padmanabhan)

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