Milestones in European Construction


1945 - From war to peace

At the end of the World War II, Europe was destroyed, left in ruins, and a lot of people were killed. Everything needed to be rebuilt and it was imperative that the European nations prevent another World War.

The difficulty was finding a way to build conditions of a lasting peace between countries that had been bitter enemies for years on end, to build healthy foundations for the future relations between those States.

The biggest problem lay in the relationship between France and Germany, who had been arch enemies for decades. The primary objective of Euroepan reconstruction was to create a lasting bond between those two countries, a bond that would spread between all the free countries of Europe, in order to build a permanent, peaceful community together.

1950 - The Schuman Declaration

Plan-SchumanOn May 9, 1950, Robert Schuman, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs stated: “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.”

1951 - The European coal and steel Community

parisAlong with Jean Monnet, Schuman made a proposal (known as the Schuman Plan) to pool France's and Germany's two most important resources-- coal and steel-- together, into an organization that would also be open to other European countries. This plan was signed on April 18, 1951 with the Treaty of Paris, establishing,the first European community, the ECSC: the European Coal and Steel Community. The decisions of this body would be made by a higher authority, a cooperative, multi-national body whose members were appointed by the member governments. Six countries signed the treaty: Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The United Kingdom refused to join and challenged the nature of this new supernational European Community.

The Schuman Plan was a milestone in European integration and construction because it marked the beginning of reconciliation between France and Germany, a vital first step to building any international organization in Western Europe. War between France and Germany was no longer possible, because the two countries had to cooperate to produce weapons, or any other materials, from their shared steel and coal.

1957 - The creation of the European Economic Community and of the European Atomic Energy Community

Robert Schuman’s proposal gave birth to a community that specialized in managing coal and steel, which was very important, but also quite limited. To further European integration, the six member countries decided to enter into economic cooperation as well. With this goal in mind, the same six countries signed the Treaty of Rome, which established the EEC (the European Economic Community), and Euratom (the European Atomic Energy Community). The goal of the EEC was to create a large common market in Europe. characterized by a customs union and the gradual removal of tariffs, so that people and goods could move freely betwen all the member countries. The EEC also sought to impliment common policies in all of the member countries, particularly in the field of agriculture. The principle aim of the European Atomic Energy Community, meanwhile, was the joint development of peaceful atomic energy in Europe.

To facilitate the work of the fledgling European Community, four new institutions were established in 1958 : the European Commission, a Council of Ministers, a Parliamentary Assembly (later titled the "European Parliament"), and a Court of Justice.


1968 - Elimination of customs duties

By July 1, 1968, the customs union had become a reality; tariffs had completely disappeared between the member countries. The effect was amazing. Between 1957 and 1970, intra-community trade increased six fold, and the EEC’s trade with the rest of the world had tripled. Consumers benefited directly from the union as well, because they were offered an increasingly varied range of imported products. The European community was becoming a reality.

1973 - Elargement to countries of Northern Europe

The first enlargement of the EEC was in 1973. The United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark entered into the EEC, increasing the number of member states from 6 to 9. Norway rejected membership in a referendum.

1979 - The European Parliament's first elections with universal suffrage

parlementIn June 1979, the deputies of the European Parliament, then chosen by the national Parliaments of the different countries, are elected for the first time to direct universal suffrage by the European citizens.

1981 - The accession of Greece in European Community

After the fall of the regime of the Colonels, Greece enter in the European Community in 1981

1986 - Elargement to countries of Southern Europe and the Single European Act

Greece is followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986. This brought the number of member countries up to a dozen.

In 1968, the Single European Act (SEA) set a deadline for the creation of the Single Market: January 1993. This new treaty required the member states to commit to establishing a Europe without internal borders by that date. No restrictions, whether regulations or taxes, could delay the establishment of a genuine European internal market. The SEA was signed and ratified by the twelve member states of the Community on July 1, 1987. Some 300 measures were taken to eliminate the various obstacles impeding the free circulation of goods and people: physical barriers, technical barriers, fiscal barriers, etc.


1989 - A new Order

The fall of Berlin Wall

1992 - Maastricht Treaty

The Maastricht Treaty, signed on February 7, 1992, took European construction to a new level. It established the European Union (EU) and added a political dimension to the Community. The “House of Europe” now rested on three pillars:

  • A community pillar (which comprises the European Community, the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Atomic Energy Community). This pillar focuses on the transfer of sovereignty from the member states to the European institutions.
  • A political pillar, which focuses on foreign and security policy (CFSP), and sets the procedures for intergovernmental cooperation in all matters of foreign policy. This pillar does not involve a transfer of sovereignty.
  • A pillar that focuses on cooperation in the fields of justice and interior affairs. It provides procedures for intergovernmental cooperation in the fields of immigration, asylum, the fight against organized crime, etc. This pillar does not involve a transfer of sovereignty.
Another innovation of the Maastricht Treaty was the creation of EU citizenship. From then on, every person holding the nationality of a EU country automatically became a citizen of the EU. Moreover, the EU citizenship provided rights, such as the right to move and reside freely within the EU, the right to vote for and to stand as a candidate in European Parliament and municipal elections, the right to register a complaint with the European Ombudsman, etc.

Finally, the Maastricht Treaty called for the establishment of a single currency by January 1, 1999, and of a European Central Bank (EBC). The Maastricht Treaty, therefore, put the finishing touches on the economic and monetary union.

Criteria were established (the "Maastricht criteria"), which facilitate economic convergence between the Member States. European Union members also have to meet the following criteria before they can adopt the euro as their currency:

  • The national inflation rate cannot be more than 1.5% higher than the average of the three best-performing Member States of the European Union (the three States with the lowest inflation).
  • The ratio of annual government deficit to GDP must not exceed 3%, and the ratio of gross government debt to GDP must not exceed 60%. These criteria were reasserted in 1997, when the Treaty of Amsterdam was signed, through the adoption of the Stability and Growth act. Thus, the obligation to avoid excessive budget deficits became permanent.
  • Long-term interest rates must not be more than 2 percentage points higher than the average of the three best-performing Member States of the European Union (the three Member States with the lowest long-term interest rates).
  • Member States must show stability by participating in the exchange rate mechanism (ERM II), for at least two years, without deviating too much from the ERM II central rate.

In January 1, 1999, eleven of the countries in the european economic and monetary union decided to adopt the euro: Germany, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Portugal.


1993 - The adoption of Copenhagen Criteria

The Single Market finally became a reality on January 1st, 1993. The year 1993 hinged on the process of enlargement of the European Union, which was entering into a new phase. The European Council of Copenhagen, in June of 1993, defined the criteria that any Candidate Country wishing to enter the European Union must meet before its accession. These so-called "Copenhagen Criteria" were aimed mainly at the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, who, since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, were seeking to become part of the European Community.

There are three main Copenhagen Criteria: political, economic, and compliance with community rights.

  • The political criteria requires that the State has stable political institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for minorities.
  • The economic criteria requires that a candidate have a functioning market economy that is able to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within Europe.
  • The community rights requirement dictates that the countries must have the ability to assume the rights and obligations of the EU system, which includes all legislation adopted and revised throughout the European construction (the founding Treaty of Rome as revised by the Single European Act, the treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam, and Nice, all of the regulations and directives adopted by the Council of the Union, and all of the rulings of the Court of Justice)
Now that the membershp criteria was clearly defined, the question was no longer if the European Union would continue to expand, but when. Following the Copenhagen European Council, the Central European countries submitted their official candidature for accession to the European Union. The accession of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia took place eleven years later on May 1, 2004, the date Cyprus and Malta also joined the Union.

1995 - Elargement of the European Union and entry to force of the Schengen Agreement

It was also in 1993 that accession negotiations started with Austria, Finland, and Sweden. These negotiations ended one year later and on January 1, 1995, the European Union welcomed three new members, making it a Europe of 15.

The Schengen Agreements enter into force in seven Member States: Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Portugal. The travelers, of all nationalities, can go in these countries without identity check to the borders. Other countries since joined the Schengen zone. The agreements authorize the free movement of persons and harmonize controls of the travelers within the space consisted these States.

Measures adopted by the Member States as part of cooperation under Schengen
Key rules adopted within the Schengen framework include:

  • Removal of checks on persons at the internal borders;
  • A common set of rules applying to people crossing the external borders of the EU Member States;
  • Harmonisation of the conditions of entry and of the rules on visas for short stays;
  • Enhanced police cooperation (including rights of cross-border surveillance and hot pursuit);
  • Stronger judicial cooperation through a faster extradition system and transfer of enforcement of criminal judgments;
  • Establishment and development of the Schengen Information System (SIS).

1997 - Treaty of Amsterdam

On October 2, 1997, the Treaty of Amsterdam was signed, which was the "follow-up" to the Maastricht Treaty. The new treaty improved the organization of intergovernmental cooperation between the Member States of the European Union. It also brought new areas to the community field, namely police, justice and employment. Social policy was also incorporated into the treaty and all states are thus bound by the common social rules adopted in this Treaty.

The Amsterdam Treaty created “a space of freedom, security and justice” within the European Union. The Schengen Convention, signed by 13 member states (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden), allowed free movement of persons without border control and organized police cooperation between the Member States. The signatory countries are required to increase (in an intergovernmental manner) their efforts against terrorism, organized crime, pedophilia, drug and weapons trade, fraud, and corruption. The Schengen Convention was completely integrated into the Amsterdam Treaty and therefore applied to all of the Member States of the European Union. Special conditions apply, however, for Ireland and the United Kingdom (who have still not signed the Convention), as well as for Denmark.

The Treaty of Amsterdam also introduced. for the first time, the concept of “enhanced cooperation,” an idea that allowed a limited number of able and willing Member States to move forward in deepening European construction. The treaty entered into force on May 1, 1999.

2001 - Treaty of Nice

The Amsterdam Treaty also provided for an intergovernmental conference (IGC), to be held one month before the EU expanded to 20 members. The IGC opened on February 14, 2000, and ended in Nice in December of the same year. The Heads of State or Government agreed on a new treaty- the Treaty of Nice- during the European Council in Nice on December 7-11, 2000. This treaty was signed on February 26, 2001, by 15 countries. Its primary aim was to change the institutional and decision-making processes of the European Union, to allow for the enlargement to 25 Member States. The Treaty of Nice became effective on February 1, 2003.

2002 - The Introduction of the Euro

Since January 1st, 2002 the Euro is the means of official payment in 12 of 15 Member states (alone Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom are not part of the euro area). More than 80 thousand million coins are put into circulation. Negotiations for an European single currency had already begun in 1993 with the treaty of Maastricht.

2004 - A historical elargement of the European Union

Photo de famille à l'occasion de l'élargissement 2004The Treaty of Nice opened the door to a historical enlargement, unprecedented in the Union, which was held on May 1, 2004. After a long process of negotiations between the Union and individual countries, ten new countries joined the European Union: Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

A treaty for a European Constitution and a reflexion phase

The Treaty of Nice was, however, insufficient for a Union of 25 Member States, with new accessions on the horizon. A Declaration on the Future of Europe, part thie Treaty of Nice, started a major debate on the future European Union. The inaugural session of the Convention on the Future of Europe, which specifically addressed this issue, opened on February 28, 2002. After 16 months of work, the Convention agreed on a single text, a draft of a constitutional treaty.

On October 4, 2003, an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) met, and, in June 2004, the Heads of State or Government of the EU Member States reached a unanimous agreement on the text of the Treaty Establishing a Constitution of Europe. This text offered a series of measures to make the Union more transparent, more efficient, and closer to its citizens. It specified the Union’s competencies and powers, simplified the legal instruments, and re-defined a qualified majority in the Council. It also added a permanent president of the European Council and a Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Union, reduced the European Commission, and introduced a citizen’s right initiative.

The text, signed by the 25 Member States on October 29, 2004, was expected to enter into force on November 4, 2004, after ratification by all the Member States according to their respective national procedures, either by referendum or by parliamentary vote. However, it was more difficult than expected. Due to the failure of both the French and the Dutch referendums in 2005, the ratification of the draft was slowed, and the European Union was caught in a period of reflection on the process of reforming the EU treaties and its future. For two long years, the European Union tried to find a solution to its problems of internal reform and navigating between state's positions that were sometimes in conflict with one another.

2007 - The treaty of Lisbon and the elargement

The fate of the constitutional process was finally clarified by the European Council on June 21 and 22, 2007. It called for an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to draft a "Reform Treaty," which introduced some technical and institutional changes into previous treaties, instead of creating a "Constitution of Europe." The constitutional process was, therefore, abandoned.

After an agreement reached by the Heads of State and Government in October of 2007, the "Reform Treaty" was signed on December 13, 2007, in Lisbon. The Treaty of Lisbon entered into force on December 1, 2009, after ratification by all the Member States of the European Union.

Many elements in the text of the Constitutional Treaty were included in the Treaty of Lisbon, such as the stable presidency of the EU, the new system of voting by qualified majority, the involvement of national parliaments in framing legislation, etc. However, some of the points were not included, such as a reference to the symbols of the Union, and the establishment of free competition and fair objectives in the EU. The Treaty of Lisbon also ommitted a clause that would integrate of the text of the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the Treay. However, the Charter is still binding, even though it was not integrated into the text,

drapeau de l'Ex-République yougoslave de MacédoineDuring the discussion of the process of treaty reform, the EU continued to expand. After signing their accession treaty on April 25, 2005, Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on January 1, 2007. On July 1, 2013, Croatia became the most recent country to join the European Union, making it a Union of 28. A further five countries are currently candidates for membership: Albania, the Former Yugoslave Republic of Macedonia. Montenegor, Serbia, and Turkey. In order to join, these countries must meet the various "Copenhagen Criteria" and conduct negotiations with the EU. Finally, the acts of accession must be ratified by the Member States and the Candidate Country in question. Three other countries are considered to be "potential Candidate Countries" by the European Council: Bosnia-Herzegovina since 2003, and Kosovo since 2008.

The financial crisis in European Union

Europe today is in the midst of an economic and financial crisis which has touched the whole world, and which hit Europe especially hard in 2010. Many countries in the Euro Zone have gone through financial difficulty, including Greece, Portugal, and Ireland, constituting a real threat to the stability of th Euro Zone. Financial aid mechanisms such as the MESF (European Mechanism for Financial Stability) and the FESF (European Funds for Financial Stability) were created to help countries experiencing economic difficulty.

But the crisis got worse: these mechanisms proved insufficient to help Greece, and the crisis spread to other European countries, including Spain and Italy.
The Member States of the Euro Zone therefore decided to establish a stronger, independent support mechanism called the MES (Mechanism of European Stability), with a total capacity of 750 billion euros. The MES was approved by an intergovernmental treaty, then by the European Council on December 16-17, 2010, then was finally voted on by the European Parlliament in March 2011. It entered into force on September 27, 2012.

These difficulties have sparked debates relating to the capability of the Euroepan Unoin. Some of the countries of the European Union, especially Germany, have called for a strengthened federal budget program, which would forbid national debts and include surveillance mechanisms for the most important budgets. A bold step in this direction was taken when the Treaty on Stability, Coordination, and Governance in the European Union was adopted by the European Council on March 1st and 2nd, 2012, and was signed by 25 out of the then-27 Member States. Only the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic refused to sign. Article 3 of this Treaty would impose the sanctions on European States who did not keep their budget in check.

In contemporary debates, the question of establishing a banking union to coordinate and control financial activity in the European Union is also being considered.

According to current assessments, the crisis seems to have lessened slightly. However, the crisis has caused a rift between the countries in the Euro Zone, who tend to favor more integration and the strengthening of federal budget and banking programs, and the countries outside the Euro Zone (particuarly the UK), who want to distance themselves further from the Euro Zone.
In the midst of this economic difficulty, it is especially important to pay attention to the path that the European Union is taking. After all, the biggest steps towards the construction of a European community are often taken during hard times (at the end of World War II, during the economic crises in the 1990's, etc.) It is possible, therefore, that the European Union will bounce back, and use the crisis as an opportunity to strengthen federalism and the bonds between the Member States.

Europe today

The Euro Zone has also grown. Greece joined the Euro Zone in 2001, Slovenia in 2007, Malta and Cyprus in 2008, Slovakia in 2009, Estonia in 2011, Latvia on January 1st, 2014,and finally Lithuania in 2015. This makes a grand total of 19 Member States in the Euro Zone.