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You & EU History

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

This blog post is part of the series 'You&EU: Institutions'.

European history impacts your life today. In order to understand our present, and to help plan for the future, it is therefore important to learn from our past.

Why have a union at all?

Before we start to explore the EU itself and your influence on it, let us begin with understanding why we have this kind of union at all. Where did it come from? Why did the European countries want to hand some of their power over to a so-called supra-national body that goes beyond the national level?

To understand that, we have to remember a period of the European history that only our grandparents experienced. Go and ask them. They will give you a story of Europe full of violence, war and family tragedies. And all this because of national(istic) ambitions of the European nations to enforce their power at the international level. From this historical experience, we know where attitudes of ambitious and uncompromising states may ultimately lead.

The representatives of France and Germany, the main two rivals in the First and Second World Wars, as well as many other Europeans, understood that this nationalist self-interest does not serve anybody. With the two World Wars experience, they grasped that the way to gain profiting development and wealth does not go through rivalry, but through common cooperation. By relying on each other in an international union, these collaborators would be prevented from conflicting with one another. Thanks to all this, the very first predecessor of the today’s European Union – the European Coal and Steel Community – was born.

From then to now

The European Coal and Steel Community (ESCS), created in 1952, brought together France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg to cooperate in one of the main economic areas of the time. This Community helped the member countries to recover from the devastation of war, and work in political cooperation towards a stable peace.

After a few years of successful collaboration, these states decided in 1957 to create a European Economic Area (EEA), for cooperation in a broader economic sense, and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), for developing a common atomic energy market. As the collaboration got stronger and stronger, these three communities were joined together into the so-called European Communities (EC) in 1967. In short, this agreement lasted until 1993 when the European Union (as we know it today) was created by the well-known Maastricht Treaty.

We mentioned the first six states who wished to cooperate in the beginning. However, the European project attracted other west-European states as well. In 1973, the EC accepted the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark as new member states. In 1981, Greece joined the EC as well, followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986, who managed to transfer their previous authoritarian regimes into democracies. Here we have the twelve states who founded the European Union in 1993. The next EU enlargements took place in 1995 (Austria, Finland, and Sweden), 2004 (Czechia, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia), 2007 (Romania and Bulgaria) and 2013 (Croatia).

Only a success story? Nope, failures as well…

The development of this European integration project is full of failures (from the perspective of pro-Europeanists). Norway decided twice in a referendum (in 1972 and 1994) to not take part in the European project, Greenland stepped out of the EC after gaining home rule from Denmark 1979 and a subsequent referendum about the EC membership held in 1982. In 2005, the European leaders experienced disappointment after the refusal of a proposed European Constitution by French and Dutch citizens in their referenda. More recently, in 2015, Iceland rolled down its candidature to the EU, submitted in 2009 in times of financial crisis. And finally, in 2016, the British citizens decided to step out of the EU following a tight referendum.

Have your say!

You do not have to agree with all the EU brings into your life. Nor do you have to agree with your fellow European citizens denying what the EU brings into their (and your) life. However, you are the creators of not only your own history, but of a European history as well. You hold European citizenship; you can influence the decisions taken in the EU.

The EU impacts your life. So stay tuned with our blog posts and see in what way, and how you can have your say in it.

This blog post is part of the series 'You & EU: Institutions'.

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