As of writing the United Kingdom votes in a referendum to decide whether it should remain a member of the European Union. Both the Remain and the Leave campaigns have spread disinformation and bad history about the EU. Today I shall give a politically neutral history of the European Union to hopefully inform both UK and non-UK readers on this institution grabbing worldwide headlines.
The origins of the European Union can be found in the tattered remains of a war torn Europe. In the late 1940s Europe was divided between the capitalist west and the communist east, (in 1948 a communist coup had toppled the government of Czechoslovakia), NATO was being formed by the capitalist powers, Stalin had just backed down over blockading western Berlin and, the western powers had formed the Federal Republic of Germany, (West Germany), under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. The United States wanted West Germany to rise up from the destruction of the Second World War, (especially as it would oppose the communist eastern bloc), while France was fearful of this. West Germany would have the coal and steel rich areas of the Ruhr and Rhineland, and it seemed the Saarland seemed to also rejoin West Germany. As a result France feared German coal and steel would flood the markets of Europe devaluing it. However, France knew to change the approach it had taken towards Germany. French economist Jean Monnet, French-Luxembourg economist Robert Schuman and several others drafted a plan to create a High Authority controlling French and German steel and economic production. This 'Schuman Plan' in Schuman's words were: The French government proposes that the entire French-German coal and steel production be placed under a joint High Authority within the framework of an organization which would also be open to participation of the other countries of Europe'. On May 9 1950 was announced and virtually instantly ratified by the French and West German governments. The April of the next year France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed the treaty. Initially the Dutch were reluctant to as Britain refused to sign. Britain declined Schuman's intervention to join as it was upset that it had no say in drafting the initial treaty and the Scandinavian countries did not want to join. Konrad Adenauer from Germany, Robert Schuman and Alcide De Gasperi from Italy all founded the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951.
|Left to Right: Adenauer, De Gasperi and Schuman. http://www.brownpoliticalreview.org/2012/12/show-me-the-monnet-the-faces-of-europe/|
Treaty of Rome
France and West Germany, however, wanted reconciliation which the ECSC could not bring. Three times in a hundred years they had gone through major wars against one another and there were years of animosity between the two. Adenauer hoped that for West Germany to become a thriving country once again French fears had to be alleviated. A closer union with France could do this. The Benelux countries and Italy also wanted to increase their union with both France and West Germany. The Messina Conference of 1955 between the ECSC countries started preparations for a closer union between the countries. Political and military integration was immediately rejected but plans were made for the European Economic Community (the EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM). On March 25 1957 the Treaty of Rome was signed formally forming the EEC. The EEC created free trade among member states, (the Common Market), and put in place standardized tariffs for countries outside the EEC. A common agricultural policy was drafted but disagreements between the members meant that it would take until 1962 for it to be implemented. This would prove to be the most controversial thing about the EEC, and later EU, as the quotas implemented often caused food wastage. The option to join was offered to all European countries as long as they met certain conditions including having a stable economy and being a democracy.
Initially several states were unwilling to join the EEC. British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden said 'something which we know, in our bones,that we could not do' about initially joining. However, non-EEC countries started looking at the EEC enviously when the member states started experiencing rapid economic growth. Austria, Portugal, Denmark, the UK, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden all formed the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in tandem with the EEC to keep up. Since then Norway and Switzerland have been brought close the the European market despite not being members, (all the others have joined the Common Market). In 1961 Britain even applied to join the EEC despite earlier reservations. However, Britain was blocked by French President Charles de Gaulle who feared that British entry would destabilize the Community thanks to agricultural subsidies as well as Britain's close links with the United States. Until his resignation in 1969 he would veto British application.
In 1973 the EEC enlarged to include the UK, Ireland and Denmark (including Greenland). Norway had applied at this date but a referendum on membership stopped this from happening. In 1975 Britain also had a referendum which voted in favor of remaining in the EEC. As so many economies had joined the EEC other nations started to wish to join. Francoist Spain for example wished to join as its economy was lagging behind that of the democratic EEC. In 1979 as the EEC started to grow more powerful the first elections for the European Parliament were held. Two years later Greece joined the Common Market. In 1985 the Schengen Treaty was signed. The initial founders of the EEC had open borders between one another but not the rest of the EEC. A German could go to France easily but they could not go to Denmark as easily. The Schengen Treaty brought in place open borders for EEC members but Ireland and the UK were exempted. This was due to the fact that both nations feared open borders would allow the terrorist groups the Provisional IRA and the UVF could more easily cross the borders. The following year two major developments happened. The first was that Spain and Portugal, now full democracies, joined the EEC. The other was the adoption of the flag of Europe. Finally, in 1989 communism started collapsing in eastern Europe. Germany reunified in 1990 thanks to the efforts of socialist French President Francois Mitterrand and Christian Democrat German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Maastricht Treaty until now
Kohl and Mitterrand wanted to build on the reunification of Germany and this led to the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. The Treaty would create a monetary union, a single European currency to eventually be implemented, an Exchange Rate Mechanism to keep national currencies in line and, a common foreign and defense policy. However, many aspects of the Treaty were flawed and several member states were not in favor of all of the points of the Treaty. One such was that travelers didn't have to show their passports when entering the country but Ireland, the UK, Denmark and Greece all refused to have this implemented. Also the UK left the Exchange Rate Mechanism when the pound's value dropped. Most importantly, however, the EEC was no more. The closer ties meant that it had evolved from a community to a union. The Maastricht Treaty formed the EU.
1995 saw Austria, Finland and Sweden join the EU and 2004 would see the biggest enlargement. Cyprus, Malta, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland all joined the union. 2007 saw Romania and Bulgaria join and, in 2013 the EU's most recent member joined: Croatia. However, in 2002 the EU's biggest development since Maastricht took place: the euro was put in place. Initially twelve nations, (including France and Germany), adopted the euro and since then nineteen countries have joined the eurozone. Closer union has, however, changed the responsibilities of it. The Treaty of Lisbon, for example, was an attempt to handle the increased unity of the EU. The EU has created a pledge to support human rights and, most of the laws passed by the EU have been about the preservation of human and labor rights. How successful this has been is questionable as the lack of action during the Balkan Wars showed that there are limits to the EU's power. A common currency has proven to be both beneficial and a drawback. The Eurozone Debt Crisis of 2009 ruined the economies of several nations, Greece for example has still not recovered, but equally Germany has benefited enough to pull some countries out from debt.
As said earlier as I am writing the population of the UK is currently deciding whether to remain a member of the EU. Whatever the result the ramifications could change the EU for good. The sources I have used are as follows:
-Postwar A History of Europe since 1945 by Tony Judt
-The History of the Modern World by Terry Burrows, Reg Grant, Jane Lang and Mike Flynn