by Arnav Singh
“Nationalism is war, and war is the past. But it is not only the past. It could be our future. You are the guarantors of peace and our security.”
-Francois Mitterand (French President) in an address to the EU (1995)
Today, the European Union is a political force to be reckoned with - an economic powerhouse comprising 27 nations with a combined GDP of $18.8 trillion. What started out as an effort to bring peace to Europe has evolved and branched out into 35 different policy areas spanning from foreign affairs to justice, migration, and the environment.
Currently, the news surrounding the European Union in mainstream media has been largely centered around the exit of Britain and the steep rise in levels of Euroscepticism - skeptical or negative attitudes towards the EU and the process of European integration - due to rising nationalism and the perception that the EU lacks democracy.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look into the history of the EU, and examining why and how it was formed.
The aftermath of World War II. (1945-48)
Europe was torn apart by two bloody and disastrous World Wars, leaving people with no jobs and no homes. Hundreds of millions of lives were lost, and an Iron Curtain divided Europe in two. The economic and human costs of the wars crippled the entirety of the European continent.
It was clear that for peace, justice, and prosperity to prevail, nations needed to come up with a solution that would safeguard them from future wars on such a scale.
Winston Churchill was one of the first prominent political figures to push for European Integration post the horrors of the Second World War.
“There is a remedy which ... would in a few years make all Europe ... free and ... happy. It is to recreate the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety, and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”
-Winston Churchill, University of Zurich,1946.
As a result of his efforts, paired with those of some other prominent world leaders, on May 7th, 1948, a Congress of Europe was called at the Hague, attended by 800 delegates from several European countries, as well as observers from Canada and the United States, with Winston Churchill as the honorary President. This event marked the first federal moment in European History and rallied public opinion for unity.
The Hague Congress resulted in a proposal for the creation of a European Assembly, a customs and economic union, and a proposal of creating a European charter of human rights.
Treaty of London and Formation of Council of Europe (1949)
Thus, it was decided that a Council of Europe would be formed, consisting of a Parliamentary Assembly and a Committee of Ministers consisting of Foreign Ministers of each member state. The Treaty of London (1949) established the Council of Europe and was signed by ten countries: United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, and Luxembourg.
The organization still exists today, with 47 member countries. The EU and the Council share similar ideals about democracy, human rights, and justice. The difference lies in the fact that the Council of Europe cannot make binding laws - it only has the power to enforce some existing international agreements through its European Court of Human Rights, like the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which is aimed at preventing crimes against humanity such as those that occurred during World War II, and to raise awareness of human rights.
A country has to join the Council of Europe and ratify the ECHR to qualify for becoming a member of the EU. The Council of Europe brought together countries that were still struggling with the devastation from World War II and heralded the start of an era of cooperation among European countries.
Schuman Declaration (1950)
"Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity. The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and [West] Germany".
-Robert Schuman, French Foreign Minister
The Schuman Declaration was a statement made by the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman on 9th May 1950, that laid out a plan to unite Europe in a step-by-step process.
The first step was to bring the production of steel and coal under a common higher authority and create a common market for countries to trade these resources. The rationale behind this was that since coal and steel were required to build ships, planes, and armories, tying the war production of one country with others would make it impossible for European countries to go to war with each other. This formed a crucial element in European integration and induced collaboration on a global scale.
Treaty of Paris and the Formation of the European Coal and Steel Community (1951)
The Treaty of Paris was signed on 18th April 1951 between France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands as a result of the Schuman Declaration, establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).
The Community set up a High Authority, a Parliamentary Assembly, a Council of Ministers, a Court of Justice, and a Consultative Committee.
The central institution of the ECSC, the High Authority, fixed prices and set production limits, and removed all trade barriers between member states in coal, coke, steel and scrap iron.
As a result, trade in these commodities increased drastically, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process. The ECSC showed the people that cooperation between historic rivals, France and Germany, was possible and beneficial for all.
Treaties of Rome (1957)
On 25th March 1957, the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community (EEC Treaty), and the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom Treaty), were signed by 6 nations: France, Belgium, Italy, Netherlands, Luxembourg, and West Germany. Together, these two treaties are known as the Treaties of Rome.
1) EEC Treaty - The aim of the European Economic Community was to establish a common market based on the four freedoms of movement (goods, persons, capital, and services).
The EEC created a common market by eliminating trade barriers, border controls, and established a common external trade policy. This allowed companies to easily expand their operations across Europe and sell their goods and services, sparking an economic boom. The EEC also regulated the prices of various agricultural products making them more accessible to people.
2) Euratom Treaty - The European Atomic Energy Community oversaw the nuclear energy market, coordinated the supply of fissile materials, and initiated research programs into the development and peaceful uses of atomic energy. The Treaty established a nuclear energy industry on a European scale rather than a national one.
Merger Treaty (1965)
The Merger Treaty which laid down the foundations of the European Union was signed on 8th April 1965 and established a single Council, a single Commission of the three European Communities (ECSC, EEC, and Euratom) and a common parliament.
Although these three communities remained separate legally, they were run by the common set of institutions -
Council of European Communities
Commission of European Communities.
Court of Justice of European Communities (Ensured Compliance of rules and regulations by member states).