The history of the European Union
We may start the history of the European Union with its name: Europe. We all know that Europe is not a geographically definable concept, since it's very hard to define its borders, as we can do in the case of Africa or Australia.
General De Gaulle said Europe stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Urals.
But this sentence raises some issues:
- Is Turkey in Europe?
- Are the Azerbaijani, the Chechen, the Mari and the Hanyshi peoples European inhabitants?
- Is Russia in Europe?
If we accept the idea that Europe is one continent, it would be the smallest, although more than 50 countries are situated on it. However there are 27 states in the European Union and three more countries are waiting for full membership: Croatia, Turkey and Macedonia.
Let's go back in history. What happened after World War II? The desire for peace was so strong in people that it affected the politicians. Jean Monnet, who is considered to be the father of the EU and his friend, the French Secretary of State Robert Schuman, thought that peace between the Germans and the French was the most important thing. They therefore established the Montanunion in 1951, and the same six countries who participated in it founded the ancestor of the European Union, the European Economic Community, also known as European Community 1957 on March 25th in the Treaty of Rome.
The main aims of the union were stated by France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Holland as follows:
- his integration chose the form of a customs union: the free movement of goods
- The next ambition was the Common Market, with free movement of not only goods but also people, capital and services
- They made three conditions: Being European (that is the problem), Market Economy, and Democracy
- Another purpose is the attainment of the most perfect form of integration
How was this achieved in practice?
- The customs union was a success, it came into existence before the dead-line
- The realization of the Common Market was a bit harder
- The common currency (EURO) has today replaced the national currencies in 16 countries
- The expansion was really successful, as today instead of the 6 founder countries there are 27 members in the EU, which means that it is four and the half times bigger than it was
- This integration chose the form of customs union for the free transfer of goods.
The number of the members increased in every decade.
- The first expansion took place in the 1970s, when Great Britain, Ireland and Denmark became members. It was a lesson for Hungary that a relatively poor nation could join (Ireland was really poor at that time).
- The second expansion was in the 1980s when three backward nations joined: Greece, Portugal and Spain. It was called the Mediterranean Expansion. There were now 12 member states, double the original. This expansion was more a political decision than an economical one.
- The increase in number of the members in the 1970s meant the joining of three wealthy states: Austria, Sweden and Finland. Their economic achievements raised the economic power of the Union. Among the 15 states there were four backward countries and 11 wealthy ones. The EU could cope with this.
- While the EU was trying to introduce the standard currency 'euro', the political transformation occurred in the socialist countries. Numerous poor, backward nations wanted to start the integration process. 2-3 countries joined and started to improve fast:
In 2004 ten states: Poland, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus joined. In 2007 Romania and Bulgaria became full members.
Those who joined felt that Europe owes a debt to the past socialist states, while the old 15 feared that the Union would be diluted.
Even the newly joined states did not really know what joining the EU meant. The small number of the participants in the voting demonstrated that many people Hungary were against joining in, but those who did vote said a resounding 'yes'. With this enlargement a question arose: where can the EU grow? Many of the states e. g. France and Germany were worried about Turkey joining.
It seems that the increase of the number of the members in the European Union by this time always happened for political reasons. Beside the economical achievements (union of customs, standard currency), the EU can boast many political and cultural successes such as the free market for products and people, and the fact that we have been living in peace for more than 50 years except for a few smaller local wars.
I think this is biggest achievement of the EU.
Dr Fáyné dr Péter Emese