Updated: 15/11/2022

History of the EU

History of the European Union

The ideal of a united Europe had been embraced only by philosophers and forethoughtful people, before it became a genuine political project and turned into a long-term objective in government policies of countries. The United States of Europe was a part of a humanistic and peaceful dream. Europe often witnessed bloody wars for centuries. France and Germany had three wars between years 1870 and 1945. Plenty of people lost their lives during these wars. As a result of those catastrophes, European leaders and thinkers came to an agreement that the only way to sustain peace is to unite countries in economic as well as political terms. The establishment of an organization, which could overcome the national conflicts in Europe, stemmed from resistance movements that fought against totalitarian regimes during the World War II.

Schuman Plan

Following World War II, the effort of European statesmen to form a lasting peace in Europe gained momentum. On May 9th, 1950 Robert Schuman, French Foreign Minister, encouraged European states  to transfer the decisions on coal and steel production to an independent and supranational institution based on the draft of Jean Monnet who was former Secretary General of the League of Nations. According to Schuman Plan, the centuries-old contest between France and Germany had to come to an end in order to establish peace in Europe. The ways to achieve that were to assure the collective production of coal and steel under the institution and to keep this organization accessible for all European states.

European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC)

As a result of the Schuman Declaration, 6 members consist of Belgium, Federal Germany, Luxembourg, France, Italy and Netherlands founded the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951. The first president of the High Authority of the Community was Jean Monnet, who provided the inspiration for this idea of the Schuman Declaration. Thus, coal and steel, which were the raw materials of the war, became tools for peace and, for the first time in the history, states transferred some part of their sovereignty to a supranational institution by their own will.

Treaty of Rome and European Economic Community (EEC)

In 1957, six member states decided to establish an economic community based on the free movement of workers, goods and services. Consequently, in 1957, after the Treaty of Rome was signed, European Economic Community (EEC) founded in order to establish economic unity in other sectors besides coal and steel. The main goal of the EEC was to set a common market where there is a free movement of goods, workers, services and capital, so finally to reach political integration.

European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM)

Similar to European Economic Community, the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) was established by the Treaty of Rome entered into force in 1st of January, 1958. The aim of the community was to coordinate the research programs of member states to ensure that the use of nuclear energy is safe and limited with peaceful purposes.

Merger Treaty and European Communities

In 1967, the Merger Treaty combined three communities (European Coal and Steel Community, European Economic Community, and European Atomic Energy Community) and set out single Council and single Commission for all. Since then, these communities were named as European Communities.

Customs Union

Custom duties on manufactured goods were abolished on 1 July 1968 before scheduled. Common policies, particularly agricultural and trade policies, had fallen into place in the late 1960s.

The First Enlargement

The success of the six states, led the UK, Denmark and Ireland to apply for Community membership. After a tough period of negotiation where France, under the rule of General de Gaulle, exercised veto power twice in 1963 and 1967 against British membership, these three countries became members in 1973.

1980s: the Community was expanding towards the South

With the participation of Greece in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986, the Community expanded towards the south. Thus, the number of members reached 12.

Single European Act

The world recession and the internal conflicts for sharing of financial burden led a “European pessimism” in the early 1980s. However, after 1984 this situation was replaced by hopeful expectations for revival of the Community. The Community aimed to form a single market by 1 January 1993, based on the White Paper prepared by the Commission under the Presidency of Jacques Delors in 1985. The Single European Act was signed by Germany, Belgium, France, Netherlands, Britain, Ireland, Spain, Luxembourg, and Portugal on 17 July 1986, and by Denmark, Italy and Greece on 28 February 1986.

The European Single Act, which entered into force in 1987, and the Treaties establishing the European Communities were amended extensively.

Maastricht Treaty and the European Union

German reunification on 3 October 1990 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Soviet control on Central and Eastern European countries and democratization of these countries, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 changed the political structure of Europe thoroughly. The decisiveness of member states for strengthening their ties, initiated negotiations for a new Treaty whose key features were determined at the EU Council in Maastricht on 9-10 December 1991. The Maastricht Treaty (officially the Treaty on European Union), entered into force on 1 November 1993. By this treaty, it was decided to complete the monetary union by 1999, to start European citizenship as well as to cooperate on common foreign and security policy and on justice and home affairs.

The Maastricht Treaty established a three-pillar European Union structure. The first pillar of this structure was the European Communities (ECSC, EEC and EURATOM), the second pillar was "Common Foreign and Security Policy" and the third pillar was "Cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs".

A New Expansion: Austria, Finland, Sweden

In 1995, with the participation of Austria, Finland and Sweden, the number of members of the European Union increased to 15.

Economic and Monetary Union

The Euro, the single currency of Europe, officially got into circulation on 1 January 2002 and began to be used in 12 countries.

The Last Enlargements 

In 2004, the largest enlargement in the history of the European Union took place and 10 new countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Greek Administration of Southern Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) joined to the European Union. In 2007, with the participation of Bulgaria and Romania, the number of the member states increased to 27. In 2013, the number has reached to 28 with the participation of Croatia. 

The Treaty of Lisbon

The final important stage in the deepening process of the European Union was the Lisbon Treaty, which was signed in 2007 and entered into force in 2009. The main objectives of this treaty were to eliminate the bottlenecks in EU decision-making mechanisms as well as to make the Union meet a more democratic and effectively functioning structure. In accordance with this purpose, comprehensive amendments were made and the Treaty establishing the European Community was renamed as the “Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union”.

The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and the European Union

The EU countries, which were significantly affected by the global crisis in 2008, faced economic and financial problems such as rising public deficit, decreasing competitiveness, increasing unemployment and low economic growth. The negative effects of the crisis were also felt in the EU and the Eurozone economy shrank by 4.1 percent in 2009 which was the biggest depression in its history. The global crisis has affected the financial structures of EU countries, resulting in a significant increase in public deficits and debt stocks, as well as in endangering of the sustainability of public finance in many member countries. The debt crisis that broke out in Greece in 2010 affected other Eurozone countries in a short period and the global crisis turned into a debt crisis and economic crisis in the EU. Stability programmes and bailout packages were implemented in the member countries.

In order to cope with these problems, efforts were made to overcome the effects of global crisis by establishing mechanisms such as European 2020 Strategy, European Financial Stability Mechanism (EFSM), European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), the European Semester, Euro Pact, Six Pack, European Stability Mechanism (ESM), and the Banking Union.

Besides these, the European External Action Service was founded on 26 July 2010. Established to assist European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in the implementation of the European Union Common Foreign and Security Policy, this Service is composed of officers from the relevant departments of the Council, the Secretary-General of the European Commission and staff assigned by the diplomatic units of the member states.

In 2012, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Peace Prize was presented to the EU at a ceremony on 10 December 2012 for its contribution to the promotion of peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.

Multiple Crises of the European Union

Although the Eurozone has entered an economic recovery phase after the crisis, the EU has faced many challenges such as irregular migration crisis, Brexit, rise of far right and populist movements.

The irregular migration crisis in 2015 led to the questioning of the functioning of the Schengen Area, and also revealed disagreements among member states. The EU reached an agreement with Türkiye on 18 March 2016 to overcome the crisis of irregular migration. Thanks to one for one deal in the EU-Türkiye Statement, immigration to the EU through the Aegean Sea has declined considerably and immigrants have been prevented from losing their lives.

The UK's decision to leave the EU was an important test for the EU. A member state has taken a step for leaving the Union for the first time in EU history. In a referendum held on 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom decided to leave the EU (Brexit) by 52 percent. On 29 March 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May submitted a letter with the official notification of the UK's departure from the EU to the European Council. On 25 November 2018, the political declaration on Brexit was approved by the EU member states. However, at the EU Summit of 10 April 2019, Brexit was postponed until 31 October 2019 due to the lack of consensus on withdrawal conditions in the UK parliament.

Europe's problems have worsened when all these are added to the fact that xenophobic attitudes of the rising far right movements, which fed from the crisis environment, engage in politics through anti-EU policies and the central parties cannot develop alternative discourses against these discourses. In recent years, the fact that the far right and populist parties have increased their votes, and even become a coalition partners in leading countries of Europe, has led to questioning the values of the EU. The latest European Parliament elections on 23-26 May 2019 indicated that the rising trend of far right and populist movements in Europe continues.         

The Search for Solutions in the European Union

Faced with the multiple crises, the EU started to search for solutions. Discussions on the future of the EU was added to agenda. Thus, on 1 March 2017, the European Commission announced the White Paper on the Future of the European Union to the public. The White Paper contains 5 scenarios: “Carrying On”, “Nothing but the Single Market”, “Those Who Want More Do More”, “Doing Less More Efficiently”, and “Doing Much More Together”.

In addition, the EU attempted to create a new defense mechanism considering the changing policy of the USA and the consequences of Brexit. In this context, the EU established Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) for strengthening its own defense. Moreover, the EU published the Strategy for the Western Balkans on 6 February 2018 and took measures to prevent countries like Russia and China from increase their influence on the Western Balkans.

The EU is currently in the process of reviewing and renewing its existing policies. Following the European Parliament elections, the EU Summit was held on 2 July 2019, and as a result new presidents of EU institutions were determined. The work of EU leaders who are expected to take office in November 2019 will be important both in terms of the future of the EU as well as of Türkiye-EU relations.

For detailed information about EU history please click here.

Updated: 15/11/2022 / Hit: 1,133,228