This blog is hosted on Ideas on EuropeIdeas on Europe Avatar

The Heart of Europe

Politics, economics and international affairs

A brief history about European Union


Today we will deal with an important regional organization, the European Union, or EU. And see how it has developed over time. We will start by briefly exploring its origins and then see how it has developed and where it stands now. We will also familiarize you with core concepts of some important theories of integration.

After World War II, an important development in European integration was the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, ECSC, formally established by the Treaty of Paris in 1951. The treaty was signed by Belgium, France, Western Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg, who are also the founding states of what now is the European Union. The idea behind the creation of the coal and steel community was to integrate the coal and steel industries of the participating states, and notably of two former core enemies, Germany and France.

The project was initiated on the basic of an important contributions by politicians such as Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, and the first Chancellor of Germany after World War II, Konrad Adenauer. In fact, the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, presented the plans for this coal and steel community on the 9th of May 1950 in the Schuman Declaration. Here’s a short passage from this declaration.

“The pooling of coal and steel production will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions war, of which they have been the most constant victims.”

You can see that the core idea was to move forward after World War II, and to start creating the foundations for what today is the European Union. To study and understand processes of racial integration, different theories have been developed.

A famous one is Neo-functionalism. According to the theory, to which Ernst Haas has made a very important contribution with his 1958 book, The Uniting of Europe. Regional integration moves forward on the basis of processes of spillover. Spillover can, for example, be functional, political, or what is called cultivated. Functional spillover essentially means that the benefits of integrating in one area can only be fully exploited if integration also happens in another area. For example, economic cooperation can mean that it makes sense to also initiate cooperation in the area of long-term policy. Another type of spillover is political. It occurs on the basis of political pressures, for example, by trans-national interest groups demanding more integration. Finally, spillover can be cultivated, meaning it is encouraged by supranational institutions that support or cultivate further integration.

Quite a different perspective is what is called intergovernmentalism. A major author in this tradition was Stanley Hoffmann. According to Hoffman, regional integration is not a self perpetuating process. And supra national institutions are not all that important. It’s rather are the states that decide on major steps in integration. His theory seemed to be very relevant, when in 1965, the Empty Chair Crisis occurred. At the time, the French President, Charles De Gaulle, disagreed this plans that he saw as further reducing the influence of governments in decision making. And vistas, he withdrew the French ministers from council meetings where the intergovernmental decisions were made. As a reaction to this, some Neo-functionalists started revising their own approaches. You see some references to work on Neo-functionalism and intergovernmentalism in our list of readings.

Pan-European integration moved forwards and plans for the creation of a true common market, also called the internal market, were made. A new strand of theorizing was presented that, in a way, combined elements of intergovernmentalism and liberalism. The most famous author in this tradition is Andrew Moravcsik, who is a professor of politics at Princeton University. According to this approach, integration moves forward in two steps. First, domestic preference formation. Second, intergovernmental negotiations.

In the next step there are intergovernmental negotiations. When the preferences of the most powerful states in European Integration converge, there will be new agreements that may lead to major new steps forward. These are just a few examples of theories explaining why integration moves forward. They can, of course, also be applicable to other examples of racial integration, but European integration in a global comparison has developed quite far.

From its origins onwards, European integration not only aimed at increased economic cooperation, but also at moving towards what may be called political union. We have to keep in mind that its beginnings go back to situations of conflict and war. The integration process, by creating increasing economic interdependence and the establishment of supranational institutions, may have significantly contributed to the fact that there has not been war among the member states of this union since 1945. Given the conflictual path on the European continent, this can be considered to be an impressive achievement.

Actually, this is one of the reasons why, in2012, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In an era, in which the European Union also faced some criticism and what is called Euroskepticism. This prize was a welcome moment to honor the work of many who support and believe in European integration. After the end of the Cold War, large parts of Eastern Europe joined the European Union.

In 2004, there was what may be called a big bang enlargement, by a total of ten new member states. Nonetheless, we can see that in general terms, economic integration in what is now the European Union seems to have come easier and faster than integration in more political domains. Such as foreign or security policy.

In economic terms, the European Union has even moved forward after having created an internal market in the early 1990s to the establishment of a monetary union in which many of its members participate. In the wake of the global financial crisis, the monetary union has also faced significant challenges. But, it seems that these, in turn, have caused the integration process to move forward by new agreements aiming at the maintenance of fiscal and monetary stability.

In a way, this process may then be seen as following this neo-functionalist logic. But it is also true that governments need to agree on such major new steps and support them, which is more in line with intergovernmentalist reasoning.

Unfortunately, the crisis has also led to serious challenges, notably in terms of rising unemployment rates, such as among young people in the European Union’s south.

Today, the European Union is an important actor in terms of global trade. It’s currency, the Euro, although still quite young, is used not only in many European Union member states, but also, for example, as a major reserve currency in several central banks around the globe. The crisis has posed serious challenges to this common currency but also led to new pressures on European integration in terms of the need to find common approaches, helping to safeguard fiscal and monetary stability also in times of crisis.

So summarizing, the main driving force for European integration was the mission to integrate sovereign states in an effort to increase their welfare but also to prevent conflict and war between them in the future. From the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, to the Internal market, and later, even a Monetary union. Members have become increasingly interdependent in economic terms. On the global scale, the European Union is important as an economic entity.

One Response to A brief history about European Union

  1. Thank you for providing a brief summary of the EU. I especially admire your conclusion and that remains the core objective behind the EU: a wonderful strategic vision that banishes war & ushers in mutual prosperity. The efforts at many to piggy-back ride the EU’s success/or if somewhat remotely bonafide within the EU and as its elements is the idea to present the EU with its necessary face outside this. Or in other terms a political face that is seen as a ‘national’ one with religion as its central feature. While both the versions/arguments of identity-building & identity-politics is common place to scholars and commentators of the issue, it remains a disconcerting threat – in the same strategic sense – to have elements of ethnic markers (which necessarily includes religion) as the foundational identity-net upon which the EU must rest. Your conclusion remains the better explanation and rationale behind the EU, as well as the correct one. The idea of a political EU that is seen to need such a strategic disintegral disaster inbuilt into it remains a shock, to say the very least just as the utter poverty of this view too shocks that reduces and insults the idea of a political EU with such in-built strategic disasters and can only come from sickened & diseased minds. So one hopes that the idea of a political EU, should it bear fruit as the recent EU elections do show signs of its eventual growth, is one that matches the founding vision of the great states-persons who helped give shape to it – turning a war & hatred ravaged zone into an region of peace & prosperity.

UACES and Ideas on Europe do not take responsibility for opinions expressed in articles on blogs hosted on Ideas on Europe. All opinions are those of the contributing authors.