A brief history of the European Union
August 17, 2005
It took nearly a decade after a devastating world war to arrive at a formal union of six nations and call it the European Community. The countries that had already been aligned in a coal and steel pact for several years now signed up for a movement inspired by a Continent-wide desire to live in peace and trade freely. The six nations joining up in 1954 were Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.Three years later, realizing their success, the six founders signed the Treaties of Rome: one to regulate atomic energy and the other to remove the trade barriers existing at their borders. This was referred to as a Common Market, but it took 35 years to open the area fully for the free movement of people, goods and capital.With Belgium as a key initiator of the movement, Brussels became the capital for the union’s single bureaucracy in 1967. The large staffs of the various treaty organizations were merged under the European Commission, Council of Ministers and the Parliament.In the ’70s, the original six were joined by three new members – Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom. In the ’80s, Greece joined, followed by Portugal and Spain. Austria, Finland and Sweden joined in 1995.The name was finally changed to European Union (EU) after the community passed the so-called Maastricht Treaty in 1992. By then, the cooperation, in addition to economic and trade matters, extended to open borders, legal issues, defense and foreign affairs. The single currency came in 2002. The new euro was a major step toward a meaningful union and strengthened Europe’s finances, brought firm standards to the markets and interest rates. It also served as an attraction to expand the membership of the EU.While Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the United Kingdom decided against replacing their national currencies, the other 12 members formed the powerful eurozone, today one of the world’s most important international financial players.Following years of diplomatic debates after the collapse of the communism in Eastern Europe, a major change in the EU’s life came in 2004, when it expanded from a mostly Western European “club” to include 10 Central and Eastern European countries.Today, with 25 members represented in the Brussels-based Commission and Parliament, the EU includes the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia. Further enlargement of the EU is contemplated by adding. Bulgaria and Romania in 2007. Also on the waiting list are Croatia and Turkey. But recent negative votes in France and The Netherlands against a complex constitution for the EU stalled the progress toward admitting new members. To close the remaining gaps in the political life and future of a more “perfect union” will take a little longer.