Lessons >>> Lesson 34
Europe was an arena of frequent and devastating wars for centuries. The European integration project was launched after the World War II as a way to prevent further conflicts between European countries and especially between the two chief belligerent nations - France and Germany. Several western European leaders came to the conclusion that the only way to establish a lasting peace was by bringing their nations together under a common, supranational institutional structure.
On 19 September 1946, the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave a speech at Zurich University (Switzerland) calling for a "kind of United States of Europe". It was considered by many people as the first step towards European integration in the postwar period.
The real process of foundation of the European Community, however, began on 9 May 1950 when French Minister of Foreign Affairs Robert Schuman made a declaration in the name of the French government. This declaration, inspired by the visionary ideas of Jean Monnet, proposed to integrate French and German coal and steel production under an organization that would be open to other European countries. The brilliant idea was that if Germany and France could control each others access and use of coal and steel neither of the two countries would ever be able to produce weapons and get ready for a new war.
Schuman's initiative, actually expressed much deeper aspirations such as "the foundation of a European federation, indispensable to the preservation of peace". German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer supported this proposal and in 1951 six founding countries - Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands - responded to Schuman's declaration and signed the Treaty of Paris establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The power to take decisions about the coal and steel industry in these countries was placed in the hands of an independent, supranational body called the "High Authority". In 1952, Jean Monnet became the first president of the High Authority.
On 25 March 1957, the six ECSC members signed the Treaties of Rome, creating the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). The purpose of the EEC was to form a "common market" among the six founding members, based on the "four freedoms": freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and people. Euratom was to pool the non-military nuclear resources of the states. The Treaty of Rome established the basic institutions and decision-making mechanisms still in place in today's European Union. In 1962 the countries of the EEC introduced a common policy on agriculture because they hoped to be selfsufficient with agricultural commodities.
The success of the European integration project during a period of steady economic growth in the 1960s set the stage for the first enlargement - the accession of the UK, Ireland and Denmark - in 1973. The benefits of economic convergence became more evident in the context of the 1970s energy crisis and financial turmoil, which led to the launch of the European Monetary System in 1979. In the same year, the first direct elections to the European Parliament (EP) took place. Previously, delegates from national parliaments had represented their country's legislative bodies at the EP in Strasbourg, France.
The Community further expanded southward with the accession of Greece (1981, the second enlargement), followed by Spain and Portugal (1986, the third enlargement). These accessions led the EEC to adopt "structural programs" in order to reduce economic and social disparities among its regions.
During the 1990s it became increasingly easy for people to move around in Europe, as passport and customs checks were abolished at most of the EU's internal borders. One consequence is greater mobility for EU citizens. Since 1987, for example, more than a million young Europeans have taken study courses abroad, with support from the EU.
In 1991 the governments of the 12 member states signed the Treaty on European Union (commonly called the Maastricht Treaty). The Maastricht Treaty transformed the EC into the EU. The amendments to the treaties have further deepened the strong ties between the EU's Member States, brought numerous changes in the institutional set-up of the Union, and extended its competences to new areas. The treaty introduced the three-pillar structure that exists today (the European Communities pillar, the Common Foreign and Security Policy or CFSP pillar, and the Justice and Home Affairs pillar).
The Maastricht Treaty also set out a timetable for economic and monetary union and the introduction of a single currency. The single currency - the euro - became a reality on 1 January 2002, when euro notes and coins replaced national currencies in twelve countries - Belgium, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and Finland.
On 1 May 2004 the fifth, and biggest ever, wave of enlargement took place, with the accession of ten new countries: Cyprus (Greek part), the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia.
The sixth enlargement occurred on 1 January 2007 when Bulgaria and Romania officially joined the European Union and it has grown to 27 member states. The newest members raise the EU's population by 30 million to 490 million.
To ensure that the enlarged EU can continue functioning efficiently, it needs a more streamlined system for taking decisions. That is why the Treaty of Nice lays down new rules governing the size of the EU institutions and the way they work. It came into force on 1 February 2003. It will be replaced, in 2006, by the new EU Constitution - if all EU countries approve this.
The countries that make up the European Union (its "Member States") pool their sovereignty in order to gain a strength and world influence none of them would have on its own. Pooling sovereignty means, in practice, that Member States delegate some of their decision-making powers to shared institutions they have created, so that decisions on specific matters of joint interest can be taken at European level.
Economic and political integration between the member states of the European Union means that these countries have to take joint decisions on many matters. In the early days the focus was on a common commercial policy for coal and steel and a common agricultural policy. Other policies were added as time went by, and as the need arose.
Today the EU also deals with many other subjects of direct importance for citizens' everyday lives, such as citizens' fundamental rights; ensuring freedom, security and justice; job creation; regional development; making globalisation work for everyone, etc. Also, some key policy aims have changed in the light of changing circumstances. For example, the aim of the agricultural policy is no longer to produce as much food as cheaply as possible but to support farming methods that produce healthy, high-quality food and protect the environment. The need for environmental protection is now taken into account across the whole range of EU policies.
European integration has delivered more than half a century of peace, stability, and economic prosperity. It has helped to built a common market, raise standards of living, and strengthened the EU's voice in the world.
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