Chapter 1: What is the European Union? T he European Union is a unique, treaty-based, institutional framework that defines and manages economic and political cooperation among its fifteen European member countries. The Union is the latest stage in a process of integration begun in the 1950s by six countries - France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg - whose leaders signed the original treaties establishing various forms of European integration. These treaties gave life and substance to the novel concept that, by creating communities of shared sovereignty in matters of coal and steel production, trade and nuclear energy, another war in Europe would be unthinkable. While the EU has evolved common policies in a number of other sectors since then, the fundamental goal of the Union remains the same: to create an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.
Due largely to the success of Europe's economic integration, there are now 15 EU member states (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany,Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain,Sweden, and the United Kingdom), and membership will likely increase to more than twenty soon after 2000.
The European Union used to be called the European Community until 1993 when the Maastricht Treaty took effect and made a number of important revisions to the founding treaties. 'Maastricht' made it constitutionally possible to achieve Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), and to develop the Union's inherent political dimension through the new Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).
The new Treaty of Amsterdam brings the Union into the 21st century. The treaty prepares the EU institutions for the next enlargement, significantly strengthens the Union's foreign policy, develops a more coherent EU strategy to boost employment, and removes remaining barriers to free movement of people across internal borders. The treaty took effect on May 1, 1999 following ratification by all member states.
Union membership is open to any European country with stable democratic government, a good human rights record, a properly functioning market economy, and the macroeconomic fitness to fulfil the obligations of membership. Candidates must have the capacity to fulfil and implement EU laws and regulations (known as the 'acquis communautaire').
To date, four enlargements have taken place in the evolution of theEuropean Union: Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined theoriginal six European Community members in 1973. Greece joined in 1981, followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986. Austria, Finland, and Sweden acceded to the European Union on January 1, 1995. Norway had also negotiated and signed an accession treaty in 1994 but Norwegian voters narrowly rejected membership in a referendum.
Although it was not officially an enlargement, the five Laender of the former German Democratic Republic entered the Union as part of a united Germany on October 3, 1990. The European Union is currently preparing for a fifth enlargement towards Central and Eastern Europe. For more on the next enlargement, see Chapter Six.
History: The Union's Origins
Economic integration was launched in the wake of World War II, as a devastated Western Europe sought ways to rebuild its economy and preventfuture wars.
On May 9, 1950, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman announced a plan,conceived by French businessman-turned-advisor, Jean Monnet. To control the forces of war, Monnet proposed pooling European coal and steel production under a common authority. The Schuman Declaration was regarded as the first step towards achieving a united Europe - an ideal that in the past had been pursued only by force. Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands accepted the French proposal, and signed the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) Treaty in Paris on April 18, 1951. The Six set up the ECSC High Authority, to which member governments transferred portions of their sovereign powers. The ECSC was so successful that coal and steel trade between the Six increased by 129 percent in the first five years.
Encouraged by the success of the ECSC, the Six tried to pursue integrationin the military and political fields. When these were derailed following rejection by the French Parliament in 1954, European leaders decided to first continue the unification of Europe on the economic front alone. At an historic meeting in Messina, Italy, in June 1955, the project to create a common market was launched. Two treaties were negotiated to establish:
A European Economic Community (EEC) to merge separate national markets into a single market that would ensure the free movement of goods, people,capital and services with a wide measure of common economic policies, and A European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or Euratom) to further the use ofnuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The Six signed the treaties creating these two Communities on March 25,1957 in Rome. Often referred to as the Rome Treaties, they were ratified the same year and came into force in January 1958.
The road to European Union began with three separate treaties dating fromthe 1950s: the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), and the European Economic Community (EEC). Collectively, they became known as the European Community.
The Maastricht Treaty on European Union, which took effect in November 1993, was a major overhaul of the founding treaties. It created the 'three pillar' European Union as it exists today (see chart).
Pillar One incorporates the three founding treaties and sets out the institutional requirements for EMU. It also provides for supplementary powers in certain areas, e.g. environment, research, education and training.
Pillar Two established the Common Foreign and Security Policy which makes it possible for the Union to take joint action in foreign and security affairs.
Pillar Three created the Justice and Home Affairs policy, dealing with asylum, immigration, judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters, and customs and police cooperation against terrorism, drug trafficking and fraud.
The CFSP and JHA operate by intergovernmental cooperation, rather than by Community institutions which operate Pillar One. Maastricht also created European citizenship and strengthened the European Parliament's legislative role in certain areas.