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The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of twenty-seven European member-states (as of 2010). The EU is the most integrated of any regional bloc, operating as a single market with a common currency. It also maintains a range of common policies, including trade and agriculture, and increasingly shared foreign and defense policies. EU citizens enjoy free movement and exchange across member countries.
After World War II destroyed the economies and financial markets of Europe, nations were determined to rebuild their shattered economies, recover their influence, and—above all—ensure that such a catastrophe would never happen again. The restoration process was stimulated by the U.S.-led Marshall Plan, which provided European countries with financial allowances. Primarily, the new continent had to prevent antagonism between Germany and France. Many people supported the idea of a politically unified Europe and proposed a European federation or some form of European government. On 19 September 1946, the English statesman Winston Churchill gave a speech at the University of Zurich outlining his vision of a “United States of Europe” similar to the United States of America. The idea prevailed, and the Council of Europe was created in 1949, even though it remains a restricted organization today. The Council of Europe did not hold any legislative power or a right to vote. It was, and still is, a forum of political exchange to defend human rights, parliamentary democracy, and the rule of law.
The European Union of today grew out of three separate communities: the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (EEC), and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC). Each of these communities had its own commission as well as its own council. All three communities had the same members continuously.
Early in 1951 France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Italy founded the ECSC, an administrative agency overseeing the production of coal and steel. On 9 May 1950, the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, publicly presented his plan of pooling the coal and steel resources of the member states to create a unified market for their coal and steel products. This plan became famous as the “Schuman Declaration,” which was drafted by the French civil servant Jean Monnet. Initially the United Kingdom was invited to join the community as well but refused for sovereignty reasons.
By 1954 the ECSC managed to lift restrictions on imports and exports, creating a unified labor market as well as a common set of rules; between 1952 and 1960 steel production rose by about 75 percent. At that time coal and steel were the primary resources for industrialization. The Treaty of Paris of 1952 formally established the ECSC. A few years later the ECSC member states attempted to further integrate politically and militarily. They intended to create the European Political Community and the European Defence Community (EDC), having in mind a European military service under joint control as well as a federation of European states. Regardless of the treaty that was reached between the member states, the French National Assembly failed to ratify the treaty, and thus the EDC was buried. In 1955 the Western European Union settled in its place.
Soon after ratification failed, the member states of the ECSC reiterated their desire for further integration and founded the European Economic Community along with the European Atomic Energy Community. The EEC was established by the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and formed a customs union among the six founding countries in 1958. Experts thought that deeper economic integration would lead to a political union. The EEC worked for the liberalization of the flow of goods, services, capital, and people; the abolition of trusts and cartels; and the development of joint and reciprocal policies on labor, social welfare, agriculture, transport, and foreign trade. The EEC was the most important of the three communities.
The EAEC—also known as Euratom—arose as the third treaty organization and was also established by the Treaty of Rome in 1958. Euratom’s aim was the collaboration of member states in peaceful nuclear research to ensure the free movement of nuclear raw materials, equipment, investment capital, and specialists within the community, and to promote European nuclear research rather than transnational competition. Euratom’s authority was limited to civilian use of atomic energy.
Because the United Kingdom did not participate in any of the three communities, it proposed that the Common Market to be expanded to North America. London initiated European Free Trade Association (EFTA) negotiations, which were finalized in 1960 and joined by the European countries that were not members of any of the other three communities. During the 1970s EFTA and EEC negotiated various free trade agreements to reduce trade barriers and in 1979 introduced the European Monetary System (EMS), which helped to stabilize the currencies after two major oil crises in 1973 and 1979.
The European Community
With the Treaty of Brussels in 1965, Euratom, EEC, and ECSC merged as the European Community. The treaty also joined the three commissions and councils as the single Commission of the European Communities and the single Council of Ministers of the European Communities. The French president, Charles de Gaulle, vetoed Britain’s membership, which Britain had applied for in 1963 for the first time. Only after de Gaulle left office could Britain join the EC in 1973. At the same time Ireland and Denmark joined the EC. The Single European Act of 1987 created a single internal European market and abolished all trade barriers that might hinder the free flow of goods, services, and people. The community also further integrated political and social affairs. Almost ten years later Greece joined the EC in 1981, and Spain and Portugal joined in 1986. When Germany reunited in 1990 the former East Germany was automatically absorbed into the community.
The European Union
In 1993 the European Community changed its name to the European Union (EU). The name change was established by the Treaty of the European Union, which was signed in Maastricht, the Netherlands, in 1992 and ratified by the EU member states in 1993. Its articles laid the foundation for the single European currency, the euro (the proposal of a common European currency was taken seriously as early as the mid-nineteenth century), a central banking system, a legal definition of the EU, and a further integration in policy areas such as foreign and security policy. The treaty replaced the Treaty of Rome of 1957. The European Union absorbed the functions of the Western European Union in 1999, which automatically gave the EU military capabilities. In 1995 the EU invited Austria, Finland, and Sweden to join, bringing the number of member states to fifteen.
On 1 January 2002 the euro replaced the old national banknotes and coins. One year later, in 2003, the Commission of the European Communities started negotiations with Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Cyprus, and Malta for European Union membership. This latest enlargement became effective on 1 May 2004. Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on 1 January 2007. Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Turkey are candidates to join the EU, while Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and Iceland are recognized as potential membership candidates. Kosovo is also seen as a potential candidate, but not all member states recognize its independence from Serbia.
In December 2007 European leaders signed the Lisbon Treaty, which was intended to replace the unpopular and failed European Constitution. When Irish voters rejected the treaty in June 2008, its immediate future also became uncertain. At a second poll on 2 October 2009, Irish voters endorsed the treaty. When the Czech Republic approved the Lisbon Treaty on 3 November 2009, it had been ratified by all member countries. It came into effect on 1 December 2009. Headquartered in Brussels, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg, the key institutions of the EU include the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, the European Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, and the European Central Bank. In the early twenty-first century the European Union comprises around 500 million citizens and generates approximately 30 percent of global GDP. The European Union motto is United in Diversity, and is perhaps best represented by the fact that it has twenty-three official languages.
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