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History of the EU

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The European project began as a peace initiative.  Following the two world wars, there was a strong will to ensure that war, especially between Germany and France, could never again occur.

In the early 1950s, two French politicians, Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, developed the plan for a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) which was introduced in 1952. Its members were France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. These countries agreed to share their coal and steel resources in the post-war rebuilding of western Europe. Control over coal and steel, the most important components of the weapons industry, was moved from national governments to the ECSC institutions. These institutions provided the blueprint for what would eventually become the European Commission, European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Court of Justice. Within a few years countries wanted to extend the principle behind the ECSC to other areas of trade. This led to the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC).

The founding of the European Union
The EEC was established by the Treaty of Rome in 1957.  It aimed to achieve an ‘ever closer union between the peoples of Europe.’ The EEC focused on economic integration though the creation of a common market and customs union. In the early years, a huge boom, led by a dynamic West Germany, created stronger economies in western Europe. During this time, trade barriers were removed between countries, a common external tariff was introduced and people were given the freedom to move to work in any member country.

In 1963, Britain made its first attempt to join but it was rejected by the French President Charles De Gaulle.

In the 1960s conflict between those who wanted to push forward a political union and those who wanted to maintain their national identities, such as De Gaulle, led to disagreement between member states about further integration and expanding the community. In 1973, Britain Ireland and Denmark finally joined the EEC, followed by Spain, Greece and Portugal in the 1980s.

This Single European Act (1986) made way for further integration, setting out a timetable for the completion of the single market, looking towards creating monetary union (the euro) and driving the agenda for further political union. The 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the USSR, and the reunification of Germany, provided a boost to this process.

In 1992, the Maastricht Treaty transformed the European Community into the European Union, giving it new powers in the areas of foreign and domestic policy, and setting a timetable for the creation of the euro currency. The treaties of Amsterdam (1997) and Nice (2001) expanded EU powers. Since 1995, a further 16 countries have joined the EU.

A treaty establishing a constitution for Europe, drafted in 2004, was rejected by referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005. The most recent treaty, the Lisbon Treaty, was signed by the leaders of all EU nations in 2007. The treaty was very controversial because it was very similar to the failed constitution. The treaty was rejected by Ireland in a referendum in 2008, but was later ratified following a second referendum in October 2009. The Lisbon Treaty finally came into force in December 2009.