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    The European Union is an international organisation. The basis of the Union is economic cooperation between a number of European countries. In the course of the years, this cooperation has developed into a complex structure in which 15 Member States currently participate. Below we present a brief history of the genesis of the European Union.

    The 1950s

    After World War II, it was necessary to improve relations between France and Germany. The Frenchman Jean Monnet put forward the idea of placing the control of the coal and steel markets into the hands of an independent authority. This proposal resulted in the Schuman Plan, named after the then French Foreign Minister. This plan, presented to representatives of the six founder members in Paris on 9 May 1950, was the basis of the Paris Treaty.

    On 18 April 1951, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg signed the Treaty of Paris, establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The objective was to increase European unity through cooperation on an economic level.


    A body consisting of nine members managed the coal and steel production of the Member States: the High Authority. The ECSC further consisted of the following institutions: an assembly of 78 delegates from the national parliaments, a Court of Justice with seven judges, and a Council. The first president of the High Authority was Jean Monnet.

    The Paris Treaty was concluded for a period of fifty years and expired on 23 July, 2002. The powers of the ECSC were transferred to the remaining Communities

    With the ECSC, a basis was established for the process of European integration. At the Messina Conference in June 1955, the foreign ministers of the Member States proposed broadening cooperation in the economic area and also stimulating the industrial development of nuclear energy at a supranational level. The Belgian Foreign Minister, Paul-Henry Spaak, was made the head of the intergovernmental commission whose task it was to draft a proposal.

    On 21 April 1956, the Spaak Commission presented its report, which proposed the establishment of a common market with free movement of persons, goods, capital, and services. In addition, it proposed a European Community for Nuclear Energy, aimed at developing nuclear fuels. These proposals led to the signing, on 25 March 1957, of the Treaties of Rome, in which two new Communities were established: the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). The treaties entered into force on 1 January 1958.

    Europe now had three communities: the ECSC, the EEC, and Euratom. The European Parliament and the Court of Justice were joint institutions for the three communities. The constituent meeting of the Economic and Social Committee was held in Brussels in May 1958.

    The 1960s

    The period following 1958 was characterised by numerous initiatives to improve cooperation among the Member States. The European Social Fund (ESF) was established in 1960. This fund is the main instrument of Community social policy. The first regulation on the free movement of workers came into effect in 1961. From that moment on, citizens of Member States were able, in principle, to work in any other Member State and have the same rights and duties as workers native to that country. In 1962, the Council approved the first regulations concerning the common agricultural policy (CAP), with a view to establishing one single market for agricultural products. The points of departure of the CAP were guaranteed food supply, a reasonable standard of living for the agricultural population, stable markets, and reasonable prices for consumers. In 1968, a customs union between the EEC countries was established. Since then, no income duties have been levied on the internal trade in goods, and a common external customs tariff has been applied.

    An important step forward in European integration took place in 1961. In that year, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Ireland expressed the wish to negotiate about acceding to the Communities. A year later, Norway applied for membership. However, it was not until 1970 that the negotiations with these countries actually took place. In 1963, French president De Gaulle vetoed British membership. In the meantime, it was decided to implement an economic and monetary union (EMU), to allow the Communities to administer their own resources, and to extend the budgetary powers of the Parliament. The EMU had to stabilise prices within the EEC and fix the exchange rates. Another important development was that political cooperation was strengthened through the introduction of periodical meetings of the foreign ministers or heads of state.

    At a top conference in Rome in 1967, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the signing of the EEC and Euratom Treaties, the heads of state and government leaders announced their intention to let the Treaty merging the institutions of the three European Communities enter into force on 1 July 1967. From that date, there was one Commission and one Council, but they continued to act in accordance with the separate rules governing each of the Communities.

    The 1970s

    Since 1972, the periodical meetings of the foreign ministers or heads of state have been held every six months and have formed the reference point in the cooperation between the Member States. In 1973, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Denmark joined the Communities, increasing EEC membership to nine states. In a referendum, a small majority of the Norwegians voted against membership. Since 1979, the citizens of the EC Member States have directly chosen the European Parliament. In 1980, the Parliament rejected a budget for the first time.

    In 1975, the Council established the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and a Committee for Regional Policy. The fund was intended to economically develop weaker regions; in the beginning, mainly Southern Italy, Ireland, and the French overseas territories. Greece applied for membership; a year later, the first negotiations took place. The European Monetary System got off the ground and provided stability between the various European currencies. In years following, Portugal and Spain applied for membership. The European Court of Auditors started work in 1977.

    The 1980s

    In June 1984, the European Council met in Fontainebleau and decided to elaborate proposals to reinforce and improve cooperation in economic, political, and social areas. In 1985, the European Commission, chaired by the Frenchman Jacques Delors, published a White Book on the Internal Market. These developments led to the signing of the Single European Act in February 1986, which was ratified on 1 July 1987.


    The Single European Act modifying the EEC Treaty redefined the decision-making procedures within the EEC. The issues on which the Member States could use their veto were limited. Instead, the Council had power to decide with a qualified majority. This Act can be seen as the beginning of actual economic and monetary union between the Member States. Technology and environmental policies were also included in the Treaty.

    Greece became a member in 1981, and Spain and Portugal in 1986. The Communities now had twelve Member States. In 1985, the Benelux countries, the Federal Republic of Germany, and France signed the Schengen Agreement on the elimination of border controls. In 1987, Turkey applied for membership. In the same year, the Delors I package was approved, reforming finances and the agricultural policy and doubling the structure funds. The year 1989 brought great changes to Europe with the collapse of the Berlin Wall heralding the reunification of Germany. In the same year, Austria applied for membership.

    The 1990s

    In 1990, an intergovernmental conference on the political union (EPU) and on the monetary union (EMU) took place in Rome. This conference led to the Treaty on European Union, better known as the Maastricht Treaty. This treaty was signed on 7 February 1992 by the twelve Member States of the European Community. The treaty can be seen as a compromise between the already existing supranational forms of cooperation combined with intergovernmental forms of cooperation. In fact, the treaty was the result of negotiations between proponents of a federal Europe and those Member States that did not want to go further than a Europe of Nation states.

    The treaty structure of the has the characteristics of a compromise: the so-called temple structure with three pillars.

    • The first pillar consists of the existing treaties of the European Communities with amendments and new elements. This is the supranational community pillar.
    • The second pillar consists of the common foreign and security policies and has an intergovernmental character.
    • The third pillar consists of agreements in the fields of justice and home affairs and is also intergovernmental in nature. (In the Amsterdam Treaty, this became: 'police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters'.)

    It is also worth mentioning that the treaty strengthened the position of the Parliament with the introduction of the co-decision procedure. This complicated form of decision-making was intended to decrease the so-called democratic deficit. The treaty also established the Committee of the Regions, to be consulted by the Council in regional affairs. Finally, it introduced the principle of subsidiarity. This means that the European Union is authorised to take action, "only if and insofar as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of proposed action, be better achieved by the Community."Politically, this principle is, of course, a very sensitive issue.

    With the treaty that was signed in Maastricht on 7 February, 1992, the first step was finally taken on the road towards a single currency, and the time schedule laid down for achieving this in three stages. By virtue of the protocols added to the Treaty, the United Kingdom and Denmark reserve the right not to proceed to the third stage, even if they meet the criteria (=opting-out clause). After a referendum, Denmark declared not to participate, and also in Sweden there are reservations

    While the negotiations on the treaty were going on, a number of European countries applied for EU membership. In 1994, the European Economic Area (EEA) was established between the EU Member States and the countries of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), except for Switzerland. In 1995, Austria, Sweden, and Finland joined the European Union. The Norwegians again voted against membership. The EU now had 15 Member States.

    The large number of new Member States and the applications for membership by states from the former Eastern Bloc was not taken into account in the Maastricht Treaty. In addition, the Economic and Monetary System suffered a setback. Germany kept the interest rate artificially high because of investments in the Eastern Länder. The United Kingdom was forced to step out of the EMS and France could not keep the franc within the required bandwidth. At the same time, Europe was confronted with a regional crisis in the former Yugoslavia. The European Union was not able to cope with the situation.

    These developments quickly led to the realisation that Maastricht should be reconsidered. On 29 March 1996, the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to revise the Maastricht Treaty was opened. Harsh and laborious political negotiations followed.

    Progress was made during the Irish Presidency in the second half of that year. The Dutch Presidency in the first half of 1997 brought further agreement in the form of the Amsterdam Treaty, which was signed on 2 October of the same year. The Treaty, which was vehemently criticised for failing to take real decisions on awkward issues like expansion of the union, the power of the Union, and its foreign and defence policies presented a number of novelties. The Parliament was given the role of co-legislator in a larger number of fields. Coordination of employment was assigned to the Union´s institutions. Basic rights were explicitly incorporated into community law. Cooperation in the field of the free movement of persons, asylum, and immigration was transferred to the third pillar of the communal part of the EC Treaty. The Schengen cooperation was included in the treaty.

    The Member States agreed on the future operation of the EMU. There would be a stability pact laying down rules and sanctions on government deficits after the onset of the third phase of the EMU. The first phase, from 1990 to 1994, had led to the full liberalisation of the movement of capital. The main event in the second phase, 1994-1999, was the foundation of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the precursor of the European Monetary Institute. The aim was to strengthen the coordination of the Member States´ monetary policies with regard to price stability. In the third phase, starting in 1999, a new currency came into being; the ECU was replaced by the Euro, and the ECB became fully independent in determining monetary policy.

    The Amsterdam Treaty became operative on 1 May 1999. By then, the Santer Commission had foundered on mismanagement. His successor, Prodi, faces the task of drastically reforming the Commission and giving shape to the third phase of the EMU.

    In July 1997, the Commission presented the Commission´s Agenda 2000. It contains recommendations for change in the country policy and in the structure funds policy with a view to the EU´s enlargement. The Agenda also contains advice on the strategy to be adopted on entry of candidate members from Central and Eastern Europe.

    On 13 December, 1997, the Europe of the fifteen decides to throw itself open to its neighbours to the east. This can be concluded from the decisions of the European Council of 12 and 13 December, 1997, in Luxembourg. In them, the European Council indicated that the enlargement of the Union will take place in stages according to the individual pace of each candidate Member State, depending on the extent to which it has made the necessary preparations, the aim being to enable the candidate members to enter the Union and to prepare the Union itself for the enlargement in favourable circumstances. This decision was preceded by a long process of entering into relations with the countries of middle and eastern Europe (also with Cyprus) that started on the day after the fall of the Berlin wall and the ensuing collapse of the Soviet Empire.

    In March 1998, the process enabling twelve countries to join was set in motion. The countries in question were Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Rumania, Slovenia, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. Turkey has been recognised as a candidate member, but negotiations on entry have not yet been opened.


    To find a solution to the issues that had been left unresolved by the Amsterdam Treaty, a new ICG was opened on 14 February 2000. The issues addressed by the Intergovernmental Conference included the size and composition of the European Commission, the weighting of the votes of the Member States in the Council, and the possible extension of the vote in the case of a qualified majority. Other subjects were also be dealt with, insofar as they are related to the implementation of the Amsterdam Treaty.

    The Intergovernmental Conference led to the signing of the Treaty of Nice by the heads of state of the Member States on 26 February, 2001. After the ratification in the Member States, the treaty will become operative. Institutional changes will ensure that the enlargement of the Union by the countries mentioned will become possible.

    In the margin of the meeting of the European Council (which forms part of the IGC) in Nice from 7 to 9 December, 2000, the presidents of the European Parliament, the European Council, and the Commission announced the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union. In a single text, the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union contains all the civil, political, economic, and social rights of the European citizen and all the people who are staying in the territory of the Union.

    The rights are divided into six chapters:

    • Dignity
    • Freedom
    • Equality
    • Solidarity
    • Citizens' rights
    • Justice

    They rest on the fundamental rights and freedoms that are recognized by the European Convention of human rights, the constitutional traditions of the Member States of the European Union, the European Social Charter of the Council of Europe, and the Charter of the social fundamental rights of the employees of the European Community, besides other international agreements signed by the European Union or its Member States.

    The judicial status of the Charter - its enforceability by inclusion in the Treaty with respect to the European Union - was discussed by the Cologne European Council. The Nice European Council decided to deal with the Charter's judicial status in the framework of the debate on the future of the European Union, which started on 1 January, 2001. The Convention drew up its draft Charter in anticipation of the possible inclusion in the Treaty. The European Parliament took a favourable view.


    On 2 January, 2001, Greece becomes the 12th member of the Eurozone. On 7 June, the Treaty of Nice is rejected by the Irish population by means of a referendum (53.87%). Shortly afterwards, a national debate is launched in Ireland. A second referendum is planned for the autumn of 2002.

    On 21 September, an exceptional meeting of the European Council takes place to analyse the international situation in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11 and to give the necessary impulses to action by the European Union. From 14 to 15 December, the European Council convenes in Laken (Belgium), where the problem of democracy, transparency, and efficiency is on the agenda. In addition, it is decided that a Convention will be convened on the future of Europe at which essential problems entailed by the future development of the Union will be discussed and the various possible solutions investigated. The European Council has appointed Valéry Giscard d´Estaing as chairman of the Convention and Giuliano Amato en Jean-Luc Dehaene as vice-chairmen.

    The Convention brings together the most important interested parties for the debate about the future of the Union. Besides the chairman and the two vice-chairmen, the Convention is composed of:

    • 15 representatives of the heads of state and government leaders of the Member States (1 per Member State)
    • 13 representatives of the heads of state and government leaders of the candidate Member States (1 per candidate Member State)
    • 30 representatives of the national parliaments of the Member States (2 per Member State)
    • 26 representatives of the national parliaments of the candidate Member States (2 per candidate Member State)
    • 16 members of the European Parliament
    • 2 representatives of the European Commission

    Each permanent member of the Convention has a deputy. The Economic and Social Committee (three representatives), the Committee of the Region (six representatives), the social partners (three representatives) and the European ombudsman have been invited as observers. In the Laken declaration, it is determined that the candidate Member States participate in the discussions as fully-fledged interlocutors, without, however, being able to prevent a consensus possibly taking shape among the Member States. In addition, it is possible for civil society organizations to make their contribution to the debate, notably by becoming members of the so-called Forum. Hence, the European Convention is also interesting from a democratic perspective. The aim of the Convention is to present a draft for a constitutional treaty of the European Union in late 2003. Giscard d´Estaing counts on the European government leaders having no alternative in 2004 but to approve this draft treaty, which is supported by a majority of the Convention.


    On 1 January, 2002, Euro coins and notes start circulating in the twelve participating countries: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.