History of the European Union


The story begins at the end of WWII, as the
European continent lies devastated, leaving the United States and the USSR as
the two major world powers. Their growing rivalry marks the beginning
of the Cold War. While the Soviets control Eastern Europe,
the West looks to the US for reconstruction aid. While the old continent is found divided by
the Iron Curtain, in the West, the idea of European unity begins
to take hold. On 9 May 1950, France – via its Foreign Minister Robert Schuman – proposes a Franco-German reconciliation, and placing under a common high authority the production of coal and steel, the main wealth of industrialized countries, which is also needed for the manufacture of
weapons. The aim is to boost the economy and maintain peace, with the project left open to countries wishing to join. The following year in Paris, six countries sign a treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community. As Germany is divided by the Iron Curtain,
only West Germany becomes part of it. To accelerate the development of Europe, the
six founding countries meet on 25 March 1957 in Rome to sign two new treaties. The first treaty creates the European Economic
Community whose main objective is to establish a common
market, including allowing the free movement of workers
and eliminating tariffs between member states. The treaty also defines common policies on
transport, trade and agriculture. The Common Agricultural Policy among
other goals aims to increase agricultural productivity, offer reasonable prices and ensure a fair standard of living for farmers. The second treaty establishes the European
Atomic Energy Community, coordinating civilian nuclear research programs. The Treaties of Rome enter into force in 1958 but it would take several years for its policies to be implemented. Many countries ask to join the Communities,
including the United Kingdom. But France, under the leadership of Charles
De Gaulle, vetoes the accession request, considering the UK as too close of an ally
to the United States. The institutions of the three Communities
are merged to enable more efficient functioning. There is now a single Commission, composed
of commissioners chosen by the heads of state. Its role is to propose European laws in the
common interest of its members. There is the Council, made up of ministers
of the member states, and whose role it is to approve, modify or
reject the proposals of the Commission. There is a Parliament representing the people
of Europe, and which also gives its opinion on Commission proposals. Its power would increase over forthcoming
treaties. Finally, there is a Court of Justice that
rules over the legality of decisions taken. In 1967, the United Kingdom renews its request
for membership, which France opposes a second time. With the removal of tariffs for industrial and agricultural products and the free movement of workers, the economic situation improves rapidly, prompting a new wave of membership applications. This time, negotiations go well, but in Norway the population opposes the country’s accession in a referendum. In 1973, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Denmark
join the Community. In Paris, the heads of state and government
come to an agreement to create the European Council. European leaders would meet at least three
times a year to together define the broad guidelines of the Community. South of the continent, after the end of dictatorships
in Portugal, Greece and Spain, the three countries request membership of the Community. In 1979, for the first time, members of the
European Parliament are elected by universal suffrage. In 1981, Greece joins the Community, while
the following year, Greenland — which receives more autonomy from Denmark — chooses to leave the Community after a referendum. In 1984, the United Kingdom under Margaret
Thatcher says it does not benefit enough from the Common Agricultural Policy, which then represented 80% of EU spending. The country negotiates to obtains a reduction
in its contribution to the Community’s budget. In 1986, Spain and Portugal join the Community. 12 member states and the European Commission give a boost to the internal market by signing the Single European Act. In addition to eliminating customs fees, the
goal is to remove all obstacles to the free movement of people, goods, capital and services. It is the “Single Market” project, to
be completed by 1993. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany
is reunified. In the East, the USSR can no longer contain
revolts and collapses, opening up new horizons for the Community, which establishes contacts
with the countries of Eastern Europe. On 7 February 1992, European heads of state
sign the Maastricht Treaty. The European Union is created and gets new
powers. The Treaty envisages an economic union and
the future creation of a common European currency. All countries ratify the treaty, including
Denmark where two referendums and negotiations to be exempted from the common currency are
required. A new wave of countries request membership
to the Union, but Switzerland, and then Norway, oppose potential candidacy via referendums. On the other hand, in Austria, Sweden and
Finland, negotiations succeed and in 1995, the EU grows to 15 members. Signed in Schengen, Luxembourg in 1985, the Schengen Agreement is gradually introduced from 1995. Its objective is to abolish border controls
and therefore have total freedom of movement within the European Union. The Agreement is incorporated into the European
Union through the Treaty of Amsterdam. In addition, the common currency project advances,
which would be called the Euro. However, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Denmark
do not want it. Remaining member countries set up the European
Central Bank. The Euro is officially launched on the market
in 1999, although the currency would be put into circulation only from January 1, 2002. As negotiations take place to enlarge the
European Union, heads of state meet in Nice to try to improve the structure of the Union. The outcome of the Treaty of Nice is considered
mixed. Two referendums are needed in Ireland for
it to come into force. On 1 May 2004, 10 new countries are included
in the European Union. All new members join the Schengen area with
the exception of Cyprus, as part of the island is controlled by the Turkish army since 1974. After the half-failure of the Treaty of Nice,
the 25 heads of state meet in Rome to again try to streamline the functioning of the European
Union. This time they aim to create a constitutional treaty that would replace all existing treaties with a single text. This sparks heated debate across Europe. Fearing an overly powerful European Union
at the expense of national sovereignty, the French and Dutch populations oppose the Treaty
via referendums. This triggers a period of reflection and in-depth
consultations within member states. On January 1, 2007, Romania and Bulgaria join
the European Union. The same year, 27 heads of state sign the
Treaty of Lisbon, which aims to strengthen and improve the functioning of the European
Union after enlargement. Notably, it is agreed that the EU’s role
is to promote peace, support sustainable development, fight against social exclusion and discrimination,
and safeguard cultural heritage. The Treaty is ratified by all states but Ireland,
which holds a referendum and rejects it. Yet again, more negotiations and a second referendum would be needed in Ireland for it to take effect. The global economic and financial crisis has repercussions on the euro zone, which enters a recession. After the rout of major European banks, many
countries find themselves in difficulty; in particular Greece, part of whose public debt
had been kept hidden with the help of consultants from Goldman Sachs bank. The country is forced to ask for financial
aid from the euro zone and the IMF in exchange for which it must implement austerity measures. Ireland, coming to the aid of its banks, also
sees its public debt explode. But the country does not want to ask for aid
from the euro zone, fearing it may in return be forced to raise its low corporate tax rates. The country finally receives aid all the same
in exchange for which it must adopt a strict plan. Subsequently, Portugal, Greece a second time,
Spain, and then Cyprus obtain financial aid from the eurozone; while almost everywhere
on the continent, austerity plans are put in place. In 2013, Croatia joins the European Union. At the borders of the continent, the so-called
Arab Spring creates instability in many countries. The civil war in Syria, a second civil war
in Libya and in Iraq, and other events such as war in Afghanistan and violence in the
Horn of Africa push many people to migrate to Europe. Despite the construction of walls at the Turkish
border, in 2015, over a million migrants enter the Schengen area. Europe tries to slow the flow of migration. Security patrols are reinforced on the Mediterranean Sea, while certain countries temporarily reintroduce controls at their borders. In addition, the European Union signs agreements
with Turkey and then with Libya, where the political situation is very unstable, so that they control and block the so-called illegal migration routes in exchange for financial aid. Migrant processing centers are funded, mainly
in Italy and Greece, where migrants find themselves awaiting regularization in overcrowded conditions. The migration crisis divides European countries
and fuels the rise of nationalist and Eurosceptic parties. In June 2016, the United Kingdom through a referendum votes in favor of leaving the European Union. The country then enters long and difficult
negotiations with the European Union to define the conditions of their withdrawal. After numerous failures, an agreement for
Brexit is finally reached and the United Kingdom exits the EU on January 31, 2020. While the UK no longer has any decision-making
power in the bloc, it continues to contribute to the European budget and receive funding at least until the end of the year. By this deadline, it is meant to negotiate
future agreements with the EU, in particular concerning customs duties, free movement, the status of Europeans living in the United Kingdom and vice versa, and the status of the border that separates Ireland from Northern Ireland. After the departure of the United Kingdom,
the European Union has 27 member states with a population of about 450 million. Negotiations are underway for the accession
of new countries, mostly in the Balkans. Negotiations for Turkey’s accession, which
started in 2005, are stalled. 19 countries are members of the eurozone,
while six others countries have adopted the euro without being a member of the eurozone or the EU. Finally, the Schengen area now comprises 26
States, including 4 non-members of the European Union, with Cyprus, Croatia, Bulgaria and
Romania expected to integrate soon.

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