History of the EU

The History of the European Union

Unless you have been visiting another planet, you cannot fail to have noticed that we are about to leave the European Union. Here we take a look at the origins of the EU, when it started and how it has developed and changed over the intervening decades featuring a timeline of dates and events.

Europe After World War II

Europe was in a terrible state following World War II with buildings and lives decimated, untold poverty, unemployment and great instability. America helped Europe get back on its feet again by introducing an aid plan that would see Europe rebuilt and stabilised in order to become a wealthy and prosperous group of nations once again. The European Recovery Act pumped $12 Billion over four years into sixteen European countries enabling recovery, while cementing an alliance between the US and Europe that lasts till this day. It was hoped by cementing financial alliances there would be no more war in Europe and to this end it has been relatively successful.


In May 1950 Robert Schuman, who was the French Foreign Minister, suggested the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community which today is commemorated on “Europe Day”. Schuman suggested that bringing together European coal and steel industries would bring the various regions together in a common cause that was for once not war. This was the beginning of a fledgling European Union.


In 1951, The Treaty of Paris was signed which aimed to strengthen the future prospects for employment growth, economic expansion and better living standards through the common market for steel and coal. Equal access to production sources were the key element of the agreement along with, improved working conditions, growth in international trade, the establishment of the lowest prices and the modernization of production. The six countries (The ECSC) involved in this treaty were

  • Belgium
  • West Germany
  • France
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • The Netherlands

Frenchman Jean Monnet was its head, while over the following five years’ coal and steel trade improved by 129% with the US being the first country outside the six to recognise this cooperative. The first external office outside Europe was established in Washington with a Marshal Plan official named Len Tennyson as its head.

The Treaty of Rome

In 1957 the Treaty of Rome was signed in order to set up the EEC or European Economic Community. By now the EU was taking shape and evolving into the more recognisable force we see today. Members wished to consolidate more than the coal and steel industries but also the atomic industry too. To this end Euratom was created or EAEC as it is known.


In 1961 the US Mission to the European Communities was established. This organisation is now known as the US Mission to the European Union. This enabled the relationship between the United States and the EU countries to grow and prosper.

1967 Brussels Treaty to 1968 Customs Union

This merger treaty restructured the running of the member states making their association more streamlined. The three main institutions came together meaning one commission served all three as one. ECSC, EEC and Euratom all now served together as one unit.

By 1968 the EEC’s Customs Union was completed with customs duties officially removed between member states. This made buying and selling within the single market more efficient with areas covered including

  • Preferential Trade
  • Environmental Controls
  • Health
  • Agriculture and Fisheries Policies

1972 and 1973

In 1972 legislation was passed and signed into law by American president Richard Nixon to grant diplomatic status to a European Commission office in Washington, while 1973 was a landmark date in UK history. In 1973 the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland joined the European Community.

The European Monetary System 1979

The EMS was launched in 1979 and was the forerunner to the economic and monetary union that was to follow. The EMS was devised in order to stabilise exchange rates, curtail price increases, limit fluctuations in currency between countries and curb inflation.

European Elections 1979

Up until 1979 Members of the European Parliament of MEPs were appointed by their own countries governments. In 1979 all that changed with the general population given the opportunity to vote for their own MEP to represent their constituencies in the EU. This made people feel like they actually had a say in policy decisions more directly.


In 1981 the nine member states became ten when Greece joined the family of nations.


This year was a very important landmark for the European Communities as the idea of a European single currency was mooted by Jacques Delors a former French economics minister. Delors was president of the European Commission from 1985 to 1995. He oversaw the introduction of the single market and the signing of the Maastricht Treaty which effectively established the creation of the European Union in 1993.


Portugal and Spain joined the community in 1986 bringing the member numbers to 12. The European flag was introduced in the same year along with the European anthem Ode to Joy by Beethoven.

1987 to 1989

In order to expand membership of the community and move on any decisions regarding the introduction of the single market the Single European Act came into force. Majority voting was introduced to make it difficult for any one country to veto legislation. In 1989 the Berlin Wall that effectively separated western Europe from Eastern Europe fell enabling the unification of Germany along with the prospect of more European countries wishing to join the community.

Two Main Events of 1990

The United States and the European Communities formalized their relations with the Transatlantic Declaration, and established a framework to facilitate regular and intensive consultation, including regular presidential level summits. The unification of Germany also officially took place in October 1990 meaning that East Germany as it was formerly known became part of the European Community automatically. Many Eastern European countries that had formerly been under communist rule were replaced by democratic governments and strove to also join the EU.


Under the Maastricht Treaty which was finalised in 1993 the European Community became known officially as the European Union. The treaty laid down policy for the EU’s defence, single currency, justice, home affairs and foreign policy. The Copenhagen Criteria followed soon thereafter. This ensured that new EU members would adhere to certain policies and criteria including

  • Democratic stable institutions
  • Human rights
  • The rule of law
  • Working market economy
  • Respect for minorities
  • Ability to cope with the pressure of competition
  • Follow EU policies and rules

The single market was also completed by 1993 introducing “4 freedoms” goods, services, capital and last but not least people meaning that citizens of the EU could choose to study, live, work or retire in any member country.


The European Economic Area also included the country of Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein. These three countries although not member states were integrated to a degree into the EU’s internal market. This did not mean however that these three would be able to take part in any of the voting processes.


In 1995 Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the European Union bringing the membership total to 15 countries. This altered the landscape somewhat and forced the establishment of the European Free Trade Organisation or EFTA. The Schengen agreement also came into effect in 1995 enabling citizens of member states signed up to the agreement the freedom to travel over borders within the area. The countries that initially signed up to Schengen were France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. The UK did not however sign up to the Schengen agreement.

The new Transatlantic Agenda also came into effect in 1995. The partnership introduced a new framework to tackle a growing number of challenges faced as the EU was growing. There were four principle goals which embodied a number of requirements including

  • Democracy
  • Stability
  • Development
  • Peace
  • Contributing to expanding world trade
  • Tackling global challenges
  • Better communication
  • Total commitment to the partnership


The European Central Bank was established in order to implement monetary policy and manage the Euro. The Transatlantic Economic Partnership was created in 1998 to extend cooperation in trade and investment. 1999 saw the Euro adopted as the single currency of the EU with the currency phased in over the following three years. Eleven member states adopted the Euro with more to follow in the future. These countries would no longer use their own currency with money such as the Franc, Gilder and Deutschmark becoming obsolete.

Once again the UK declined to join the Euro preferring to keep the Pound as their currency. The Treaty of Amsterdam was signed in 1999 reforming EU institutions in readiness for new member states from Eastern Europe joining the EU. Greece joined the Euro in 2001.


This year would see a large rise in EU membership with ten more countries joining up adding 100 million more people as EU citizens. These were Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.


The TEC brought together members of the European Commission and U.S. Cabinet who carry the political responsibility for advancing transatlantic economic integration between the U.S. and the EU and was created in 2007, while the Schengen area was expanded in the same year to include countries such as Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Border checks at airports within the Schengen were abolished in 2008.

Bulgaria and Romania finally joined the EU in 2007 with Slovenia becoming the first of the new countries to take on the Euro as their currency. Switzerland joined the Schengen area in 2008, while Malta and Cyprus adopted the Euro in the same year.


Slovakia joined the Euro area in 2009 and Herman Van Rompuy, the former Belgian Prime Minister was appointed the first permanent President of the EU Council. Catherine Ashton Former EU Trade Commissioner was appointed the Commission's first High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission.

The Treaty of Lisbon came into force in 2009 too. This treaty was designed to enable the EU to be more democratic, united, efficient and transparent. More power was given to the EU Parliament along with a permanent president of the European Council, a new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and a new diplomatic service.


Estonia joined the Euro area in 2011, while Lichtenstein joined the Schengen area. The European External Action Service was also introduced in 2011 with the aim of making European external actions more efficient and as a result increasing the power and influence of the EU in the rest of the world.

2012 The Nobel Peace Prize

In 2012 the EU was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, a very prestigious award! This was awarded to acknowledge the role of the EU in maintaining peace in Europe and the world over the previous six decades along with the promotion of human rights.


Croatia joined the EU in 2013 becoming the twenty eighth country to become a member. The European Commission president was also elected in the same year. Jean Claude Juncker took office on November 1st 2014 and was a controversial choice as far as the UK were concerned. This was because the Brits thought Juncker had hated the UK since Margaret Thatcher days and had a bad reputation due to many scandals that had embroiled him in the past. Latvia also joined the Euro in 2014.


Latvia adopts the Euro and the United Kingdom government promise the country a referendum regarding membership of the EU. June 2016 the people of the UK vote by 52% to 48% in favour of leaving the EU or Brexit as it is referred to.


The idea of creating a union of European countries following World War II must have seemed like an excellent choice in order to garner peace for the future of Europe. Indeed, bringing together countries as a cooperative trading block and creating humanitarian ties is a good thing, while also ensuring the sovereignty of the individual nations. The EU has changed and evolved over the decades into the huge organisation it is today with many feeling that it has taken over the identity of individual states so much that they are indeed becoming a United States of Europe.

Of course, many people do not agree that this is happening at all and with the UK now negotiating its way out of Europe divisions have arisen in the country between those who voted to leave the EU and those who wished to remain. One thing is clear, that the EU offers many advantages to its member states and in an ideal world we should all be able to jog along together in one big union.

Unfortunately, along with the many freedoms and open borders offered to EU member states comes what some see as a security nightmare. Many feel that their laws and customs are being eroded and what was once viewed as an excellent conglomeration is now sited as a disaster. Whichever side of the fence you fall on the list of events we have portrayed, that have enabled the creation of the EU, are very impressive and should not be underestimated. Hopefully the EU will sort out their problems to enable those countries who wish to remain members a prosperous and peaceful future.