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[Luxembourg 2005 Presidency of the Council of the European Union]
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History of the EU

First step towards European integration: the ECSC

Assemblée CECA ,
ZoomAssemblée CECA

After the Second World War, Europe was completely devastated and relegated to second place in the international arena due to the rising power of the United States and the Soviet Union. In view of the growing rivalry between the two superpowers, several western European leaders came to the conclusion that lasting peace could be guaranteed only if their nations were to come together in both political and economic terms. Cooperation between states was seen as the best means to prevent armed conflicts.

In 1950, Robert Schumann, French Minister for Foreign Affairs, put forward the idea of a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). At that time, coal and steel productionwere the main war industries. Pooling these industries would prevent any new war between European neighbours. The ECSC was founded in 1951 by six countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Decision-making power was entrusted to the High Authority. With Jean Monnet at the helm, it thus became the first independent supranational authority in Europe.

European Communities

At the Messina Conference (1-2 June 1955), the ministers for foreign affairs of "the Six" acknowledged that the internal logic of the enterprise started in 1950   was commanding an expansion of the economic integration into other sectors.

In 1957, "the Six" signed the Treaties of Rome, establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or Euratom) and the European Economic Community (EEC). In this way, the Member States dismantled the trade barriers that separated them and formed a ‘common market’.

In 1967, the institutions of the three European Communities merged. From then on, there was only one Commission, one Council of Ministers and the Assembly (European Parliament). ‘The institutional triangle’, as it is known today, was established.

Successive enlargements

Annonce élargissement ,
ZoomAnnonce élargissement

Attracted by its success, the European Communities were joined by Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom in 1973, followed by Greece in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986, Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995.

In May 2004, the European Union celebrated a historic event with its expansion into Central and Eastern Europe. Ten new countries joined the EU: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Bulgaria and Romania plan to join in 2007, while Croatia and Turkey are also candidates. 

This page was last modified on : 29-12-2004

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