top of page

The Birth of the EU

Sreya Chadalavada

The European Union began as a call to bring Europe together with support from across the political spectrum. Previous to WWII Europe had dominated global trade, banking, and finance. After the widespread devastation of the war, economic reconstruction was a priority. The first attempt at linking countries together was the Benelux Customs Union which was signed in 1944 and aimed to eliminate terrorism. Next came the Brussels Treaty in 1948 which established the Western European Union.

The idea behind the European Coal and Steel Community came from Jean Monet and was intended to create a common market in coal and steel between France, Germany and other interested countries. The idea was that the member state would determine the rule governing the common market with a high authority supervising and regulating the common market in accordance with the set rules. With the help of Robert Schuman and Konrad Adenauer the ECSC came into existence on July 25, 1952. The original members were Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. By creating a common market for coal and steel it significantly reduced the risk of war because of how closely tied the countries economies are. As the ECSC seemed to be working, the European Defense Community and European Political Community were proposed in order to bring European countries even closer together; however this plan was rejected as it pushed a little too far too fast. Monnet proposed expanding the common market through two new treaties: the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. The European Economic Community (ECC) created a Customs Union in all industrial and agricultural goods while the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) encouraged cooperation in civilian uses of nuclear power. In 1961 Britain, Ireland, Denmark applied for EEC membership, however they were rejected due to Britain’s lack of enthusiasm for integration. After applying for the third time, the UK, Ireland, and Denmark finally joined the EEC on January 1, 1973. Additionally, around this time the EEC became known as the Economic Community (EC). Not long after, the first oil shock occurred, causing economic growth to plummet. During this time protectionism and non-tariff barriers to trade began to emerge within the EC. And despite the period of economic stagflation Greece, Spain, and Portugal applied to join the EC. They were seeking out help from existing member states in either becoming or restoring their democracy. In the 1980s a new generation of European leaders came into power and were determined to solve the ongoing crisis. The European Council created the Dooge Committee to study the issue and a few years later the Single European Act Treaty was ratified, creating the Single Market. The Single Market entailed the free movement of goods, services, capital, and labor, and eliminated all non-tariff barriers to integration. Despite progress towards integration, the lack of free movement of people proved to be a barrier. In 1985 the governments of France, Germany, and the Benelux states signed the Schengen Agreement, removing all border controls among the signatory countries. As the Single European Act seemed to be working, the Berlin Wall fell in November of 1989, followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the breakup of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia at the end of the Cold War. Post-Cold War European order needed to be restructured through a new treaty. The Maastricht Treaty was signed February 1992 creating the European Union. Under this treaty the Economic and Monetary Union was created, the Common Foreign and Security Policy was created, and the legal basis for cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs was created. For the next 10 years, the Single Market strengthened with the implementation of competition, regional, social, agriculture, and environment policies. After the creation of the euro many more states began applying and joining the EU, with Austria, Finland, and Sweden joining in 1995 and several more in 2004.


bottom of page