Founding of the EU

At the end of the 1940s, in the wake of the immense suffering and destruction caused by two world wars, there was a great need to ensure a lasting peace on the European continent.

With this in mind the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, proposed to Germany that the important military industries of coal and steel be managed in a joint market under a higher-level authority. Together with Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, they founded the European Steel and Coal Community (ECSC) in 1951. The purpose, as set forth in the Schuman declaration of 9 May 1950, was to «make a war between France and Germany not only unthinkable, but also materially impossible». The ECSC in turn made it possible for Germany to return to the European stage on an equal footing. Apart from the ECSC, the Treaties of Rome in 1957 established the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) and the European Economic Community (EEC). The Merger Treaty of 1965 united the ECSC, the EEC, and EURATOM under a single institutional structure (Commission, Council of Ministers, European Parliament, European Court of Justice), together forming the European Communities.

The aim of the EC was to create an internal market with free movement of goods, people, services, and capital. Concurrently, it expanded territorially. In 1973 the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark joined the EC, followed by Greece in 1981 and Spain and Portugal in 1986. Integration gathered momentum again in the mid-1980s, with the Single European Act (SEA) of 1986 placing the entire area of the internal market under the rule of qualified majority voting, thereby creating the conditions for more efficient functioning.

Shortly thereafter, in 1989, a fundamental and unexpected change occurred on the continent: Hungary opened its borders to the West, and the Wall fell in divided Berlin. This was followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Following the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany, the European Union was created in 1992 by the Treaty of Maastricht, which also introduced the three-pillar structure, with the European Communities as the first pillar, adding the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) as the second pillar, and Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) as the third pillar, which enhanced cooperation in the area of law enforcement and home affairs. In the first pillar the decisions of the EC were mostly made according to the principle of qualified majority voting, whereas in the second and third pillars intergovernmental cooperation was the rule and decisions were reached unanimously.

Map of Europe with the countries of the Economic and Monetary Union
Economic and Monetary Union © DEA

The Treaty of Maastricht also initiated an Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). The euro was introduced as an accounting currency in 1999. From that date the European Central Bank operated a single monetary policy for the entire euro area. At the beginning of 2002 the euro was introduced as a cash currency and established itself – at least until the debt crisis of 2010 – as a strong and stable single currency. Today it is the official cur-rency in all «old» EU states except the United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden. Of the member states that have joined since 2004, the first country to meet the necessary convergence criteria was Slovenia, which en-tered the euro area in 2007. Cyprus and Malta joined in 2008, followed by Slovakia in 2009, Estonia in 2011, Latvia in 2014 and Lithuania in 2015. There are now 19 participating countries in the euro area. Within the framework of an intergovernmental «fiscal pact» signed in March 2012, the 25 EU members committed themselves to strengthening budgetary discipline and introducing a debt brake. Only the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic have remained outside the pact.

In 1995, Austria, Finland, and Sweden – all former members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) – joined the EU. This brought the total number of EU member states to 15. The Treaties of Amsterdam (1997) and Nice (2001) amended the Treaty of Maastricht with the aim of making the EU institutions work more efficiently, particularly in the run-up to eastern enlargement, which was how the  inclusion of numerous Central and Eastern European states was known. The treaties simplified the decision-making process within the EU by replacing the principle of unanimity with a qualified majority in many areas. The joint decision-making power of European Parliament was also considerably strengthened.

In light of the bloodshed in the Balkan wars, the European Council in Cologne in 1999 decided on a common European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). The EU thereby created the necessary resources to respond more effectively to future conflicts. In particular, the ESDP takes the form of civilian and military peacekeeping operations, also beyond the European continent. The EU has described itself as a global actor prepared to take on more responsibilities (see European Security Strategy 2003 «A Secure Europe in a Better World»).

With the Treaty of Lisbon and the abolishment of the three-pillar structure, out of a «European» Security and Defence Policy came a «Common» Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

In 2009, the Treaty on European Union (TEU) introduced the possibility for member states to withdraw from the EU – contained in Article 50 of the Treaty. On 23 June 2016, the majority of the United Kingdom electorate voted to leave the EU. On 29 March 2017 the United Kingdom (UK) notified the EU of its withdrawal from the EU, starting a two-year period during which a withdrawal agreement is negotiated. After this period or after the withdrawal agreement comes into force, the Treaties that govern membership no longer apply to the United Kingdom. However, this period can be extended by unanimous agreement of the European Council, with the consent of the United Kingdom and all member states. This has occurred three times, first on 29 March 2019 and then on 31 October 2019. The United Kingdom should now withdraw from the EU on 31 January 2020, at the latest. In case of an earlier ratification of the agreement, a withdrawal is also possible before that  date.

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