A Brief History of European Integration

Until it crystallised into a political concept and became the long-term goal of the Memberof the European Community, the European ideal was unknown to all but philosophers and visionaries.

The notion of a United States of Europe was part of a humanist-pacifist dream which was shattered by the conflicts which brought so much destruction to the European continent in the first half of this century. The vision of a new Europe which would transcend antagonistic nationalism finally emerged from the resistance movements which had sprung up to resist totalitarianism during the Second World War. Altiero Spinelli, the Italian federalist, and Jean Monnet, the man who provided the inspiration for the Schuman Plan which led to the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, were the main proponents of two approaches, the federalist and the functionalist, which were to provide the impetus for European integration. Central to the federalist approach is the idea that local, regional, national and European authorities should cooperate and complement each other. The functionalist approach, on the other hand, favours a gradual transfer of sovereignty from national to Community level. Today, the two approaches have merged in a conviction that national and regional authorities need to be matched by independent, democratic European institutions with responsibility for those areas in which joint action is more effective than action by individual States: the single market, monetary policy, economic and social cohesion, foreign and security policy, employment policy, environmental protection, foreign and defence policy, the creation of an area of freedom and justice.

In 1995 the European Union is a monument to the dedication of the early pioneers. The Union is an advanced form of multisectoral integration, its competence extending to the economy, industry, politics, citizens’ rights and foreign policy of its fifteen member States. The Treaty of Paris establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) (1951), the Treaties of Rome establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) (1957), as amended by the Single European Act (1986), the Maastricht Treaty on European Union (1992) and finally the Amsterdam Treaty (1997), form the constitutional basis of the Union, binding its Member States more firmly than any conventional agreement between sovereign States. The European Union generates directly applicable legislation and confers specific rights which can be relied upon by its citizens.

Initially the Community’s activities were confined to the creation of a common market in coal and steel between the six founder members (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands). In that post-war period the Community was primarily seen as a way of securing peace by bringing victors and vanquished together within an institutional structure which would allow them to cooperate as equals. In 1957, three years after the French National Assembly had rejected a European Defence Community, the Six decided to create an economic community, built around the free movement of workers, goods and services. Customs duties on manufactured goods were duly abolished on 1 Julyand common policies, notably an agricultural policy and a commercial policy, were in place by the end of the decade. The success of the Six led Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom to apply for Community membership. They were finally admitted in 1972 following difficult negotiations during which France, under General de Gaulle, used its veto twice, once in 1961 and again in 1967. This first enlargement, which increased the number of Memberfrom six to nine in 1973, was matched by a deepening of the Community’s tasks; it was given responsibility for social, regional and environmental matters.

The need for economic convergence and monetary union became apparent in the early 1970s when the United States suspended dollar convertibility. This marked the beginning of a period of worldwide monetary instability, aggravated by the two oil crises of 1973 and 1979. The launch of a European Monetary System in 1979 helped stabilise exchange rates and encourage Member States to pursue strict economic policies, enabling them to give each other mutual support and benefit from the discipline imposed by an open economic area. The Community expanded southwards with the accession of Greece in 1981 and Spain and Portugal in 1986. These enlargements made it even more imperative to implement structural programmes designed to reduce the disparities between the Twelve in terms of economic development. During this period the Community began to play a more important role internationally, signing new agreements with the countries in the southern Mediterranean and countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, which were linked to the Community by four successive Lomé Conventions (1975, 1979, 1984 and 1989). With the agreement signed in Marrakesh on 14 April 1994, between all the members of GATT, world trade embarked on a new phase of its development. The European Union, negotiating as a bloc, endeavoured throughout to put its stamp on the negotiations and to have its interests prevail. Already the world’s major trading power, the Union is now working on developing structures which would give it a higher profile on the international stage, the aim being to introduce a common foreign and security policy. World recession and internal wrangling on the distribution of the financial burden led to a stage of “Europessimism” in the early 1980s. This gave way, from 1985 onwards, to a more hopeful view of the prospects for revitalising the Community. On the basis of a Whitedrawn up in 1985 by the Commission chaired by Jacques Delors, the Community set itself the task of creating a single market by 1 January 1993. The Single Act, signed in February 1986, confirmed this ambitious target and introduced new procedures for adopting associated legislation. It came into force on 1 July 1987. The collapse of the Berlin Wall, followed by German unification on 3 October 1990, liberation from Soviet control and subsequent democratisation of the countries of central and eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in December 1991, transformed the political structure of Europe. The Member States determined to strengthen their ties and negotiated a new Treaty, the main features of which were agreed at the Maastricht European Council on 9-10 December 1991. The Treaty on European Union, which entered into force on 1 November 1993, sets the Member States an ambitious programme: monetary union by 1999, new common policies, European citizenship, a common foreign and security policy and internal security. Applying the review clause in the Maastricht Treaty, the Member States negotiated a further treaty, signed in Amsterdam on 2 October 1997, which adapted and strengthened the Union’s policies and powers, particularly in judicial cooperation, the free movement of persons, foreign policy and public health. The European Parliament, the Union’s immediate democratic voice, was granted new powers, confirming its role as joint legislator.

On 1 January 1995, three further countries joined the European Union. Austria, Finland and Sweden expanded the Union with their specific characters and opened up further dimensions at the heart of central and northern Europe. On 1 May 2004, the ten countries which are Cyprus, Malta, Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland. Litvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, Czech Republic joint the Union. The negotiations with the two countries, Bulgaria and Romania, which gained the candidate country status in 2000 after the candidacy application in 1995 continue. Depending on further progress in complying with the membership criteria, the Union’s objective is to see Bulgaria and Romania join the EU in 2007. The negotiations with Turkey whose candidacy application was made in 1987 and accepted in December 2005 continue. Now Turkey is in the Screenning Process which is expected to end in September 2006. The negotiations with Crotia whose candidacy application was made in 2003 and accepted in 2005 continue. The negotiations with the FYROM whose candidacy application was made in 2004 and accepted in 2005 have not began yet. The other countries, Albenia, Serbia-Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosova under UN control, are the potential candidate countries.

The Union of Twenty Five now faces two major challenges: success in enlargement to include the ten countries of central and eastern Europe and Cyprus , with which the European Council decided in Luxembourg on 13 December 1997 to start negotiations for membership in the spring of 1998; use of the dynamics of monetary union which, based on the creation of the Euro on 2 May 1998, should provide the economies of the Member States with better convergence and the conditions for permanent job-creating growth. Neither of these challenges will be overcome without considerable effort. How can a Union of more than twenty-five members operate without the decision-making mechanisms being strengthened, and without ensuring that policies of solidarity and joint action benefit from funding which is both effective and fair? In more general terms, whilst enlargement will increase the heterogeneous nature of interests and perceptions within the Union, how will the consensus of the Member States be maintained on the major objectives set by Europeans, and the means of achieving them? The European Commission, chaired by Jacques Santer, put forward its “Agenda 2000” in July 1997, on the basis of which the governments embarked on a wide-ranging review of the structural policies and the common agricultural policy. Henceforth, the Union has no choice but to progress still further along the road towards an organisation which is both efficient and democratic, capable of making decisions and taking action while preserving the identity of its constituent States. Unless it can strengthen its structures and rationalise decision-making the Union will be faced with the prospect of dilution or paralysis. A “Greater Europe” in gestation will only develop into an organised power if it is built in such a way as to be capable of speaking and acting as one. Almost a half century of European integration has had a profound effect on the development of the continent and the attitudes of its inhabitants. It has also changed the balance of power. All governments, regardless of political complexion, now recognise that the era of absolute national sovereignty is gone. Only by joining forces and working towards a “destiny henceforward shared”, to quote the ECSC Treaty, can Europe’s old nations continue to enjoy economic and social progress and maintain their influence in the world. The Community method, which involves a constant balancing of national and common interests, respect for the diversity of national traditions and the forging of a separate identity, is as valid as ever today. Devised as a way of overcoming deep-rooted hostilities, superiority complexes and the warring tendencies so characteristic of relations between States, it kept the democratic nations of Europe united in their commitment to freedom throughout the Cold War. The eclipsing of East-West antagonism and the political and economic reunification of the continent are a triumph for the European spirit, which Europeans need now more than ever as they look to the future.