A timeline of the EU
In the wake of World War II nationalism is out of favour in large parts of continental Europe and support for federalism is high. The European Union of Federalists organises a Congress at The Hague in 1948 in the hope of drawing up a European constitution. But the UK rejects the federal approach and the result is the Council of Europe a loose grouping that becomes a guardian of Europe’s human rights.
The Washington Treaty is signed by the USA Canada and 10 Western European states Britain France the Benelux countries Iceland Italy Norway and Portugal. The key feature of the pact is a mutual defence clause if one country is attacked the others will come to its defence. The US is supportive of European integration but it is another year before real progress is made in this field.
French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman announces a plan for France and Germany to pool coal and steel production and invites other states to join them. His plan is based on the idea that European unity is the key to peace. Solidarity in production he said would make war between France and Germany “not merely unthinkable but materially impossible.”
Six countries sign the treaty France Germany the Benelux states and Italy. It sets up a High Authority to manage the coal and steel industries and a Common Assembly a precursor of the European parliament. The Dutch supported by the Germans also insist on the creation of a Council of Ministers made up of ministers from member states to counterbalance the supranational High Authority.
The first president of the High Authority is Jean Monnet the inspiration behind the Schuman Declaration. The ECSC guarantees German coal to the French steel industry. It also provides funds to upgrade Belgian and Italian coal mines. Germany agrees to this and to the dismantling of its steel cartels in order to gain international respectability.
In response to the Korean War the USA insists that Europe must contribute more to its own defence and that Germany must rearm. In 1952 the six ECSC members agree to create a European Defence Community which envisages German soldiers joining a European army. But the French parliament delays ratification and ultimately rejects the idea in 1954.
The six members of the ECSC sign the Treaty of Rome setting up the European Economic Community EEC and the European Atomic Energy Community Euratom. The EEC aims to create a common market a customs union plus free movement of capital and labour. To please France it also promises subsidies to farmers. Euratom’s goal is the joint development of nuclear energy.
The EEC starts work and quickly establishes itself as the most important of the European communities. It has a commission a council of ministers and an advisory parliamentary assembly whose members are drawn from national parliaments. At the same time the European Court of Justice comes into existence to interpret the Treaty of Rome and rule in disputes over Community decisions.
An alternative to the EEC emerges when Austria Denmark Norway Portugal Sweden Switzerland and the UK set up EFTA the European Free Trade Association. Like the EEC EFTA aims to establish free trade but it opposes uniform external tariffs and sees no need for supranational institutions.
The UK’s decision to apply for membership of the EEC was taken by the government of Harold Macmillan a Conservative. It was not welcomed by French President Charles de Gaulle who saw it as a threat to his goal of using the EEC to amplify France’s voice in world affairs. He was also concerned about the UK’s close ties with the US.
France’s nationalist leader Charles de Gaulle refuses to back the UK’s application to join the EEC saying that the British government lacks commitment to European integration.
The three countries and Norway had failed to join 10 years earlier because of General de Gaulle’s veto on British membership. This time all sign an accession treaty in 1972 but Norwegians reject it in a referendum later in the year. Denmark and Ireland hold successful referendums. The UK does not hold a referendum until 1975 after renegotiating its entry terms the result is twotoone in favour.
The European Monetary System EMS introduces the European currency unit Ecu and the exchange rate mechanism ERM. The Ecu a unit for the communitys internal budget also takes on some of the features of a real currency it is used for travellers cheques and bank deposits. The ERM gives national currencies an exchange rate band denominated in Ecus. All EC members join except the UK.
Jacques Delors proposes that the European Community should by the end of 1992 remove a series of barriers to free trade and free movement of capital and labour creating a “single market”. Delors believes the single market programme will revive European integration by spilling over from the economic into the political arena. It is widely seen as a necessity if Europe is to compete with the United States.
The SEA modifies the Treaty of Rome aiming to complete the formation of a common market which the earlier treaty had begun. It abolishes national vetoes in a host of areas relating to the single market increases the legislative powers of the European parliament and makes the first commitment by member states to create a “European Union”.
Market liberalisation is seen to work to the benefit of the more developed northern European member states so the poorer southern states demand compensation. This comes in the form of agreement to double the allocations for structural funds paid to poorer regions.