The History of the EU

The idea of a United Europe was once the dream of philosophers and progressives. Victor Hugo envisioned a peaceful “United States of Europe” that would take its inspiration from humanitarian ideals. This vision offered new hope for the European Continent following the devastation in the wake of the Second World War.

Those who stood up to totalitarianism during the war were committed to putting an end to grudges and rivalries between states and to forging lasting peace among erstwhile enemies. Between 1945 and 1950, a group of brave state heads including Konrad Adenauer, Winston Churchill, Alcide de Gasperi and Robert Schuman set out to persuade their peoples to take the leap into a new age. At the outset, Robert Schuman (The French Foreign Minister) drew on two ideas put forth by Jean Monnet and proposed that a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) be established on 9 May 1950. A common market was to be established to allocate powers concerning the production of coal and steel in countries that were previously at war with one another. In a practical but also decidedly symbolic move, the raw materials for war were being transformed into instruments of reconciliation and peace.

The common market for coal and steel established between Belgium, the Federal German Republic, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands was to be the first step towards European integration.

Later, six member states endeavoured to establish the European Economic Community (EEC), based on a common market for diverse goods and services, by signing the Treaty of Rome. Custom duties between the six countries were completely lifted on 1 July 1968 and a series of joint policies, on trade and agriculture in particular, were established.

This endeavour was such a success that Denmark, Ireland and Britain also resolved to join these Communities. The first enlargement occurred in 1973, when the membership of six grew to nine.

1981 saw the addition of Greece to the Communities, followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Europe’s political landscape shifted dramatically. This development led to the reunification of Germany on 3 October 1990 and the democratization of Central and Eastern European countries after they declared independence from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union itself was dissolved in December of 1991.

This was the beginning of more than half a century of peaceful cooperation between the European Communities’ member states. The Maastricht Treaty in 1992 served to further strengthen Community institutions and endow them with additional powers, giving birth to the European Union (EU).

Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the Union on 1 January 1995 due to the emerging European dynamic and the geopolitical shifts on the continent.

In the mid-1990s, twelve more countries, i.e. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta placed a bid for EU membership.

The EU approved their bids and began membership talks with Candidate Countries in Luxembourg in December 1997 and in Helsinki in December 1999. With that, the Union made an unprecedented move towards enlargement. 10 of the Candidate Countries concluded their accession talks in Copenhagen on 13 December 2002 and acceded to the European Union on 1 May 2004.

On 9 December 2011 leaders from the EU and Croatia signed the accession treaty. The country became the 28th EU member country on 1 July 2013.