You are here: Home
A peaceful Europe
The beginnings of cooperation
The European Union is set up with the aim of ending the frequent and bloody wars between neighbours, which culminated in the Second World War. As of 1950, the European Coal and Steel Community begins to unite European countries economically and politically in order to secure lasting peace. The six founding countries are Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The 1950s are dominated by a cold war between east and west. Protests in Hungary against the Communist regime are put down by Soviet tanks in 1956. In 1957, the Treaty of Rome creates the European Economic Community (EEC), or ‘Common Market’.
The historical roots of the European Union lie in the Second World War. Europeans are determined to prevent such killing and destruction from ever happening again. Soon after the war, Europe is split into East and West as the 40-year-long Cold War begins. West European nations create the Council of Europe in 1949. It is the first step towards cooperation between them, but six countries want to go further.
9 May 1950
French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman presents a plan for deeper cooperation. Later, every 9 May is celebrated as ' Europe Day'.
18 April 1951
Based on the Schuman plan, six countries sign a treaty to run their heavy industries – coal and steel – under a common management. In this way, none can on its own make the weapons of war to turn against the other, as in the past. The six are Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
Founding Member States: Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
23 October – 10 November 1956
In Hungary, people rise against the Soviet-backed regime. In November, Soviet tanks appear on the streets of Budapest to quash the protests.
The Soviet Union beats the United States in the space race by launching the first man made space satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957.Sputnik 1 orbits the earth at a height of 800 km. In 1961, Soviet Union wins again with the first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, whose spacecraft is just 2.6m in diameter.
25 March 1957
Building on the success of the Coal and Steel Treaty, the six countries expand cooperation to other economic sectors. They sign the Treaty of Rome, creating the European Economic Community (EEC), or ‘ common market’. The idea is for people, goods and services to move freely across borders
The 1960s sees the emergence of 'youth culture’, with groups such as The Beatles attracting huge crowds of teenage fans wherever they appear, helping to stimulate a cultural revolution and widening the generation gap. It is a good period for the economy, helped by the fact that EU countries stop charging customs duties when they trade with each other. They also agree on joint control over food production, so that everybody now has enough to eat - and soon there is even surplus agricultural produce. May 1968 becomes famous for student riots in Paris, and many changes in society and behaviour become associated with the so-called ‘68 generation’.
In August 1961, the communist authorities in East Germany build a wall across Berlin to prevent their citizens from escaping to a freer life in the West. A few people still escape; others are shot by guards in the attempt.
The EU starts its ‘common agricultural policy’ giving the countries joint control over food production. Farmers are paid the same price for their produce. The EU grows enough food for its needs and farmers earn well. The unwanted side-effect is overproduction with mountains of surplus produce. Since the 1990s, priorities have been to cut surpluses and raise food quality.
‘Beatlemania’ sweeps the world in 1963. The Beatles, the first pop supergroup, attract huge crowds of teenagers wherever they appear. They stimulate a cultural revolution, widening the generation gap.
The EU signs its first big international agreement — a deal to help 18 former colonies in Africa. By 2005, it has a special partnership with 78 countries inAfrica, the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP)regions. The EU is the world’s biggest provider of development assistance to poorer countries. Its aid is linked to respect for human rights by recipients.
Rioting by students and workers in France in May 1968 shakes the very foundations of the State. Milder student protests occur in other EU countries. They reflect frustration at remote and unresponsive governments as well as protests again the Vietnam War and the nuclear arms race.
The six remove customs duties on goods imported from each other, allowing a free cross-border trade for the first time. They also apply the same duties on their imports from outside countries. The world’s biggest trading group is born.Trade among the six and between the EU and the rest of the world grows rapidly.
Soviet tanks thunder into Prague in August 1968 to crush the short-lived Prague spring of fledgeling democracy in Czechoslovakia. With over 600 000 troops occupying the country, the Czechs and Slovaks are powerless. One student, Jan Palach, burns himself to death in protest.
The Americans reassert their supremacy in space by landing a man on the moon in July 1969.
Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom join the European Union on 1 January 1973, raising the number of member states to nine. The short, yet brutal, Arab-Israeli war of October 1973 result in an energy crisis and economic problems in Europe. The last right-wing dictatorships in Europe come to an end with the overthrow of the Salazar regime in Portugal in 1974 and the death of General Franco of Spain in 1975. The EU regional policy starts to transfer huge sums to create jobs and infrastructure in poorer areas. The European Parliament increases its influence in EU affairs and in 1979 all citizens can, for the first time, elect their members directly.
The EU’s first plan for a single currency dates from 1970. To maintain monetary stability, EU members decide to allow their currencies to fluctuate against each other only within narrow limits. This exchange rate mechanism (ERM), created in 1972, is a first step towards the introduction of the euro, 30 years later.
The six become nine when Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom formally enter the EU.
Member States: Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
New Member States: Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Following an Arab-Israeli war in October 1973, the Middle East oil-producing nations impose big price increases and restrict sales to certain European countries. This creates economic problems throughout the EU.
To show their solidarity, EU leaders set up theEuropean Regional Development Fund. Its purpose is to transfer money from rich to poor regions to improve roads and communications, attract investment and create jobs. This type of activity later comes to account for one-third of all EU spending.
EU citizens directly elect the members of the European Parliament for the first time. Previously they were delegated by national parliaments. Members sit in pan-European political groups(Socialist, Conservative, Liberal, Greens, etc.) and not in national delegations. The influence of the Parliament is constantly increasing.
The overthrow of the Salazar regime in Portugal in 1974 and the death of General Franco of Spain in 1975 end the last right-wing dictatorships in Europe. Both countries commit themselves to democratic government — an important step towards qualifying for future membership of the EU.
The murder of former Italian Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, in 1978 is one of many acts of terrorism carried out by extremist groups in the 1970s. Among the victims are leading lawyers, businessmen and politicians, as well as 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games (1972).
The Polish trade union, Solidarność, and its leader Lech Walesa become household names across Europe and the world following the Gdansk shipyard strikes in the summer of 1980. In 1981, Greece becomes the 10th member of the EU and Spain and Portugal follow five years later. In 1986 the Single European Act is signed. This is a treaty which provides the basis for a vast six-year programme aimed at sorting out the problems with the free-flow of trade across EU borders and thus creates the ‘Single Market’. There is major political upheaval when, on 9 November 1989, the Berlin Wall is pulled down and the border between East and West Germany is opened for the first time in 28 years, this leads to the reunification of Germany when both East and West Germany are united in October 1990.
In summer 1980, shipyard workers in the Polish city of Gdansk, led by Lech Walesa, strike for more rights. Other strikes follow across the country. In August, the government capitulates and Solidarność is created as an independent trade union. The government gradually reasserts its power and imposes martial law in December 1981, ending Poland’s brief encounter with people power. But the seeds have been sown for later.
Membership of the EU reaches double figures when Greece joins. It has been eligible to join since its military regime was overthrown and democracy restored in 1974.
Member States: Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
New Member State: Greece.
Computers and automation are changing the way we live and work. To stay at the forefront of innovation, the EU adopts the ‘Esprit’ programme in 1984 as the first of many research and development programmes it has since funded.
Spain and Portugal enter the EU, bringing membership to 12.
Member States: Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom and Greece.
New Member States: Spain and Portugal.
Although customs duties disappeared in 1968,trade is not flowing freely across EU borders. The main obstacles are differences in national regulations. TheSingle European Act of 1986 launches a vast six-year programme to sort these out. The Act also gives the European Parliament more say and strengthens EU powers in environmental protection.
The EU launches the‘Erasmus’ programme to fund university students wishing to study for up to a year in another European country. More than 2 million young people have benefited from this and similar EU schemes.
The collapse of communism across central and eastern Europe, which began in Poland and Hungary, is symbolised by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Faced by a mass exodus of its citizens to West, the East German government throws open the gates. Germany is united after more than 40 years, and its eastern part joins the EU (October 1990).
With the collapse of communism across central and Eastern Europe, Europeans become closer neighbours. In 1993 the Single Market is completed with the 'four freedoms' of movement of goods, services, people and money. The 1990s is also the decade of two treaties: the ‘Maastricht’ Treaty on the European Union in 1993 and the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999. People are concerned about how to protect the environment and also how Europeans can act together when it comes to security and defence matters. In 1995 the EU gains three more new members: Austria, Finland and Sweden. A small village in Luxembourg gives its name to the ‘Schengen’ agreements that gradually allow people to travel without having their passports checked at the borders. Millions of young people study in other countries with EU support. Communication is made easier as more and more people start using mobile phones and the internet.
TheTreaty on European Union is signed in Maastricht in the Netherlands. It is a major EU milestone, setting clear rules for the future single currency as well as for foreign and security policy and closer cooperation in justice and home affairs. Under the treaty, the name ‘European Union’ officially replaces ‘European Community’.
The single market and its four freedoms are established: the free movement of goods, services, people and money is now a reality. More than 200 laws have been agreed since 1986 covering tax policy, business regulations, professional qualifications and other barriers to open frontiers. The free movement of some services is delayed.
Austria, Finland and Sweden join the EU. The 15 members now cover almost the whole of Western Europe.
Member States: Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom, Greece, Spain and Portugal.
New Member States: Austria, Finland and Sweden.
The Schengen Agreement takes effect in seven countries — Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Travellers of any nationality can travel between all these countries with no passport control at the frontiers. Other countries have since joined the passport-free Schengen area.
The Treaty of Amsterdam is signed. It builds on the achievements of the Maastricht Treaty, laying down plans to reform the EU institutions, to give Europe a stronger voice in the world and to devote more resources to employment and the rights of citizens.
EU leaders agree to start the process of membership negotiations with 10 countries from central and Eastern Europe: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. The Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta are also included. In the year 2000, treaty changes agreed in Nice open the way for enlargement by reforming EU voting rules.
The euro is introduced in 11 countries (joined by Greece in 2001) for commercial and financial transactions only. Notes and coins will come later. The euro countries are Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom decide to stay out for the time being.
Mobile phones and the Internet begin to change the way we communicate. The technology behind both is European. Young people travel more, and students often take a ‘gap’ year to see the world, using e-mail to keep in touch.
The euro is now the new currency for many Europeans. During the decade more and more countries adopt the euro. 11 September 2001 becomes synonymous with the 'War on Terror' after hijacked airliners are flown into buildings in New York and Washington. EU countries begin to work much more closely together to fight crime. The political divisions between east and west Europe are finally declared healed when no fewer than 10 new countries join the EU in 2004, followed by Bulgaria and Romania in 2007. A financial crisis hits the global economy in September 2008. The Treaty of Lisbon is ratified by all EU countries before entering into force in 2009. It provides the EU with modern institutions and more efficient working methods.
11 September 2001
Hijacked airliners are flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon building in Washington. Nearly 3 000 people die. The EU countries stand firmly alongside the United States in the fight against international terror.
1 January 2002
Euro notes and coins become the legal currency in 12 EU countries. Printing, minting and distributing them is a major logistical operation. More than 80 billion coins are involved. Notes are the same for all countries. Coins have one common face, giving the value, while the other carries a national emblem. All circulate freely. Using Finnish (or any other) euro coin to buy a Madrid metro ticket is something we soon take for granted.
The communications revolution continues. Many schools and homes now have high-speed access to the Internet. Text messages are the favourite way for people to stay in touch with each other. Later in the decade, people begin to communicate widely through social media and to use smart phones.
31 March 2003
As part of its foreign and security policy, the EU takes on peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, firstly in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and then in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In both cases, EU-led forces replace NATO units. Internally, the EU agrees to create an area of freedom, security and justice for all citizens by 2010.
1 May 2004
Eight countries of central and eastern Europe — the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia— join the EU, finally ending the division of Europe decided by the 'Great Powers' 60 years earlier at the Yalta Conference in the Crimea. Cyprus and Malta also become members.
Member States: Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Finland and Sweden.
New Member States: Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia.
Candidate Countries: Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey.
29 October 2004
The 25 EU countries sign a Treaty establishing a 'European constitution'. It is designed to streamline democratic decision-making and management in an EU of 25 and more countries. When voters in France and the Netherlands reject the constitution in June 2005, EU leaders declare a ‘period of reflection’.
16 February 2005
The Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to limit global warming and cut emissions of greenhouse gases, comes into force. The EU has consistently taken the lead in efforts to reduce the impact of climate change. The United States is not a party to the Protocol.
1 January 2007
Two more countries from Eastern Europe - Bulgaria and Romania - join the EU, bringing the number of Member States to 27. Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey are also candidates for future membership.
Member States: Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia.
New Member States: Bulgaria and Romania.
Candidate countries: Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Turkey.
13 December 2007
The 27 EU countries sign the Treaty of Lisbon, which amends the previous treaties. It is designed to make the EU more democratic, efficient and transparent, and thereby able to tackle global challenges such as climate change, security and sustainable development. The Treaty of Lisbon is ratified by all EU countries before entering into force on 1 December 2009.
A major financial crisis hits the world economy. The problems start with mortgage loans in the United States. Several European banks also experience difficulties. The crisis leads to closer economic cooperation between EU countries.
A challenging decade
The global economic crisis strikes hard in Europe. The EU helps several countries to confront their difficulties and establishes the 'Banking Union' to create a safer and more reliable banking sector. In 2012, the European Union is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Croatia becomes the 28th member of the EU in 2013. Climate change is still high on the agenda and leaders agree to reduce harmful emissions. European elections are held in 2014 and more Eurosceptics are elected to the European Parliament. A new security policy is established in the wake of the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Religious extremism increases in the Middle East and various countries and regions around the world, leading to unrest and wars which result in many people fleeing their homes and seeking refuge in Europe. The EU is not only faced with the dilemma of how to take care of them but also finds itself the target of several terrorist attacks.
Following the economic crisis that began in 2008, several countries encounter problems with the public finances. The 16 euro area countries back a plan to help them deal with their deficits.
Pro-democracy protests erupt in Syria. After security forces open fire on demonstrators, violence escalates and rebel brigades are formed to confront the state security forces. A civil war begins in Syria which will dominate world politics for many years to come.
The launch of the first two Galileo satellites brings the EU one step closer to having its own satellite navigation system. Galileo will help improve transport, rescue services, banking transactions and electricity provision.
The European Citizens' Initiative becomes operational, giving citizens the direct possibility to propose the creation of a law to the European Commission.
10 December 2012
The EU is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for over six decades [having] contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe".
11 March 2013
The phasing-out period for testing cosmetic products on animals ends, meaning that cosmetics tested on animals can no longer be marketed in the EU.
1 July 2013
Croatia joins the EU, becoming its 28th member.
Member States: Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania
New Member State: Croatia.
Candidate countries and potential candidates: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Turkey.
22 February 2014
The President of Ukraine is ousted by its Parliament following several months of popular protest and unrest. The country's relationship with the EU and Russia is at the heart of a long period of uncertainty. Crimea, a part of Ukraine, is illegally annexed by Russia, an action condemned by the EU.
15 July 2014
The European Parliament elects Jean-Claude Juncker as the President of the European Commission, following the European elections in May.
EU leaders pledge €1 billion towards fighting the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa, particularly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. It is the largest and most complex outbreak since Ebola was first observed in 1976. By the end of 2015, the virus is virtually eradicated in these countries.
26 November 2014
The Commission announces a €315 billion investment plan with a view to creating up to 1.3 million new jobs.
Greece is the EU country worst hit by the economic crisis. Discussions on reforms in the country and support from the EU lead to a new deal.
13 November 2015
130 people are killed in a terrorist attack in Paris. Shortly afterwards, EU ministers agree on tougher border security measures around the passport-free Schengen zone.
By the end of 2015, around one million asylum seekers have arrived in Europe during the year, much fleeing civil war in Syria and in need of international protection. EU leaders step up efforts to strengthen external border controls and reduce the number of asylum seekers by cooperating with neighbouring states such as Turkey.
At a climate conference in Paris, 195 countries agree to limit the global temperature increase to less than 2°C.
The Netherlands takes over the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.
Wrocław (Poland) and San Sebastián (Spain) are the European Capitals of Culture for 2016. Both cities will host events to promote their local culture.
The European Commission announces proposals to tackle corporate tax avoidance by large companies in all 28 EU countries. The Anti-Tax Avoidance Package will hamper aggressive tax planning, increase tax transparency and secure a level playing field for all businesses in the EU Member States.
The European Commission presents its energy security package. It contains proposals aimed at ensuring that consumers in the EU are provided with sustainable, competitive and affordable energy, requiring a fundamental transition of the energy landscape.
Meeting in the European Council, EU leaders agree on a new settlement for the United Kingdom within the EU. This includes the EU further promoting the competitiveness of the economy, that EU countries can temporarily limit some EU migrants' social benefits as well as the introduction of safeguards to strengthen subsidiarity. Prime Minister David Cameron announces that a referendum on whether the UK should remain in or leave the EU will take place on 23 June 2016.
EU leaders hold a meeting with their Turkish counterparts on strengthening cooperation on the migration and refugee crisis.
At a European Council meeting in Brussels, EU leaders reach an agreement with Turkey that aims to reduce irregular migration by sea from Turkey to Greece. The agreement states that Turkey will accept the return of people who have already made the sea crossing to Greece; certain refugees from Turkey will be resettled in the EU, and the EU will increase its funding to help refugees in Turkey.
A double terrorist attack in Brussels leaves more than 30 people dead and over 300 injured. In a statement, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker calls for the EU to “face the terrorist threat together, and to bring European solutions to questions that concern us all.”
As part of the 'European Semester', the Commission adopts recommendations for each of the 28 EU countries, offering guidance on 2016-2017 national budgets and economic policies.
At the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, the European Union commits to supporting United Nations’ action aimed at improving assistance to people in crisis across the globe and to lessen the impact of future humanitarian crises.
Japan hosts the meeting of the G7 heads of state and government, the forum of the world's leading advanced economies. Discussions focus on the global economy, foreign policy and the migration and refugee crisis.
The people of the United Kingdom vote to withdraw from the European Union by a margin of 52 % to 48 % in a referendum. Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union sets out the procedures to be followed if a Member State decides to leave the European Union. The United Kingdom remains an EU Member State until negotiations on the terms of exit are completed.
Meeting in the European Council, EU leaders discuss the political consequences of the UK referendum. They also address other pressing issues including tackling the migratory crisis, deepening the single market to boost growth and jobs, and enhancing the security of the EU by working more closely with NATO.
Together with the Presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission, EU leaders meet for the first time without the United Kingdom at the table. They express regret about the result of the referendum but are determined to forge ahead with current priorities.
Slovakia takes over the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.
EU leaders and their Chinese counterparts meet in Beijing and agree to move forward their strategic partnership. Leaders also agree to have another round of the human rights dialogue between the EU and China later this year in Brussels.
A terrorist attack in Nice, France, leaves 87 people dead and over 300 injured.
The European Commission presents its Energy Union and Climate Action package aimed at accelerating the transition to low-carbon emissions in all sectors of the economy in Europe.
The European Commission concludes that Ireland has granted undue tax benefits of up to €13 billion to Apple. This is illegal under EU state aid rules because it allowed Apple to pay substantially less tax than other businesses. Ireland must now recover the illegal aid.
In his State of the Union speech, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker outlines his vision for a better Europe - “a Europe that protects, empowers and defends”. The President underlines the need to invest strongly in youth, job seekers and start-ups.
At an informal meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia, 27 heads of state or government meet to begin a political reflection on the further development of an EU with 27 member countries, following the UK's decision to leave the Union. They agree on the Bratislava Declaration and Roadmap, which set out the objectives for the coming months.
British national Julian King is appointed as Member of the European Commission responsible for 'Security Union'. He replaces Jonathan Hill who resigned following the United Kingdom's June referendum on EU membership.
EU ministers approve the ratification by the European Union of the UN 'Paris Agreement' on climate change, agreed in December 2015. This allows the agreement to enter into force.
The European Border and Coast Guard Agency is officially launched to reinforce the management and security of the EU's external borders.
At a European Council meeting in Brussels, EU leaders discuss trade, migration and Russia, including the latter's role in Syria.
The European Commission announces plans to overhaul the way in which companies are taxed in the Single Market, in order to deliver a growth-friendly and fair corporate tax system.
EU and Canadian leaders meet in Brussels to sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, also known as 'CETA'.
EU and Ukrainian leaders meet in Brussels. Since the last summit in 2015, Ukraine has worked on an ambitious reform agenda, with strong EU support.
The European Commission presents a package of measures entitled 'Clean Energy for all Europeans'. It has three main goals: putting energy efficiency first, achieving global leadership in renewable energies and providing a fair deal for consumers.
The first-ever joint declaration to fast-track a set of EU priority proposals is signed by the Presidents of the EU Parliament, Council and Commission. They pledge, on behalf of their institutions, to make “substantial progress” in key policy areas next year.
At a European Council meeting in Brussels, European leaders discuss the most pressing issues including migration, security, economy, youth and external relations.
The European Commission adopts a package of measures to strengthen the EU's capacity to fight the financing of terrorism and organised crime in the areas of money laundering, illicit cash flows and the freezing and confiscation of assets.
For the first time, Malta takes over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Its programme identifies its priorities as migration, security, social inclusion, the single market and Europe's neighbourhood and maritime policies.
New rules enter into force obliging Member States to automatically exchange information on all new cross-border tax rulings that are given to multinational companies in all EU countries.
Aarhus in Denmark and Pafos in Cyprus share the title of 'European Capital of Culture' in 2017. Both cities will host events to promote their local culture. The German city of Essen is the European Green Capital for 2017.
MEPs elect the Italian conservative Antonio Tajani as President of the European Parliament.