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A brief history of the European Union
A durable peace
It may not be easy, at today’s distance, to appreciate how much this meant, only five years after the end of the war of 1939-1945 that had brought such terrible suffering to almost all European countries.
For France and Germany, which had been at war with each other three times in the preceding eight decades, finding a way to live together in a durable peace was a fundamental political priority that the new Community was designed to serve.
For France the prospect of a completely independent Germany, with its formidable industrial potential, was alarming. The attempt to keep Germany down, as the French had tried to do after the 1914-1918 war, had failed disastrously. The idea of binding Germany within strong institutions, which would equally bind France and other European countries and thus be acceptable to Germans over the longer term, seemed more promising. That promise has been amply fulfilled. The French could regard the European Union (EU) as the outcome of their original initiative, and they sought, with considerable success, to play the part of a leader among European nations, though since the accession of 12 new member states in 2005 and 2007, they have become less confident of their leadership role.
But participation in these European institutions on an equal basis has also given Germany a framework within which to develop peaceful and constructive relations with the growing number of other member states, as well as to complete their unification smoothly in 1990. Following the 12 years of Nazi rule that ended with devastation in 1945, the Community offered Germans a way to become a respected people again. The idea of a Community of equals with strong institutions was attractive.
Schuman had also declared that the new Community would be ‘the first concrete foundation of a European federation which is indispensable to the preservation of peace’. But whereas French commitment to developing the Community in a federal direction has been variable, the German political class, having thoroughly absorbed the concept of federal democracy, has quite consistently supported such development. In 1992, indeed, an amendment to the Basic Law of the reunited Germany provided for its participation in the European Union committed to federal principles.
The other four founder states, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, also saw the new Community as a means to ensure peace by binding Germany within strong European institutions. For share of value-added tax tC mthe most part they too, like the Germans, saw the Community as a stage in the development of a federal polity and have largely continued to do so.
Although World War Two is receding into a more distant past, the motive of peace and security within a democratic polity that was fundamental to the foundation of the Community remains a powerful influence on governments and politicians in many of the member states. The system that has provided a framework for over half a century of peace is regarded as a guarantee of future stability. One example was the decision to consolidate it by introducing the single currency, seen as a way to reinforce the safe anchorage of the potentially more powerful Germany after its unification; the accession of ten Central and East European states, seeking a safe haven after World War Two followed by half a century of Soviet domination, was another; and there has been continuing pressure to strengthen the Union’s institutions in order to maintain stability as eastern enlargement increases the number of member states towards 30 or more, including several new democracies.
The British, having avoided the experience of defeat and occupation, did not share that fundamental motive for the sharing of sovereignty with other European peoples and felt reliance on the US and NATO to be sufficient. Hence the focus on the economic aspects of integration that has been common among British politicians and has restricted their ability to play an influential and constructive part in some of the most significant developments. The EU’s potential contribution to making the world a safer place in fields such as climate change and peacekeeping, as well as with its external economic and aid policies more generally, could, however, as suggested later in this book, provide grounds for a change in this fundamental British attitude.
Economic strength and prosperity
While a durable peace was a profound political motive for establishing the new Community, it would not have succeeded without adequate performance in the economic field in which it was given its powers; and the Community did in fact serve economic as well as political logic. The frontiers between France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg, standing between steel plants and the mines whose coal they required, impeded rational production; and the removal of those barriers, accompanied by common governance of the resulting common market, was successful in economic terms. This, together with the evidence that peaceful reconciliation among the member states was being achieved, encouraged them to see the European Coal and Steel Community as a first step, as Schuman had indicated, in a process of political as well as economic unification. After an unsuccessful attempt at a second step, when the French National Assembly failed to ratify a treaty for a European Defence Community in 1954, the six founder states proceeded again on the path of economic integration. The concept of the common market was extended to the whole of their mutual trade in goods when the European Economic Community (EEC) was founded in 1958, opening up the way to an integrated economy that responded to the logic of economic interdependence among the member states.
The EEC was also, thanks to French insistence on surrounding the common market with a common external tariff, able to enter trade negotiations on level terms with the United States; and this demonstrated the potential of the Community to become a major actor in the international system when it has a common instrument with which to conduct an external policy. It was a first step towards satisfying another motive for creating the Community: to restore European influence in the wider world, which had been dissipated by the two great fratricidal wars, and which take instructions from any other body now be reinforced by the Union’s potential for contributing to much-needed global safety and prosperity.
One exception to the British failure to understand the strength of the case for such radical reform was Winston Churchill who, less than a year and a half after the end of the war, said in a speech in Zurich: ‘We must now build a kind of United States of Europe . . . the first step must be a partnership between France and Germany . . . France and Germany must take the lead together.’ But few among the British understood so well the case for a new Community, and Churchill himself did not feel that Britain, then at the head of its Empire and with a recently forged special relationship with the United States, should be a member. Many were, however, reluctant to be disadvantaged in Continental markets and excluded from the taking of important policy decisions. So after failing to secure a free trade area that would incorporate the EEC as well as other West European countries, successive British governments sought entry into the Community, finally succeeding in 1973. But while the British played a leading part in developing the common market into a more complete single market, they continued to lack the political motives that have driven the founder states, as well as some others, to press towards other forms of deeper integration.
1. Churchill at The Hague: founds the European Movement, following his call for ‘a kind of United States of Europe’. It is important to understand the motives of the founders and of the British which, while they continue to evolve, still influence attitudes towards the European Union. Such motives are shared, in various proportions, by other states which have acceded over the years; and they underlie much of the drama that has unfolded since 1950 to produce the Union.
Theories and explanations
There are two main ways of explaining the phenomenon of the Community and the Union. Adherents to one emphasize the role of the member states and their intergovernmental dealings; adherents to the other give greater weight to the European institutions.
Most of the former, belonging to the ‘realist’ or ‘neo-realist’ schools of thought, hold that the Community and the Union have not wrought any fundamental change in the relationships among the member states, whose governments continue to pursue their national interests and seek to maximize their power within the EU as elsewhere. A more recent variant, called liberal intergovernmentalism, looks to the play of forces in their domestic politics to explain the governments’ behaviour in the Union. For want of a better word, ‘intergovernmentalist’ is used below for this family of explanations as to how the Community and Union work.
One should not underestimate the role that the governments retain in the Union’s affairs, with their status as the signatories of the Union’s treaties, their power of decision in the Council that represents the member states, and their monopoly of the ultima ratio of armed force. But other approaches, including those known as neo-functionalism and federalism, give more weight than the intergovernmentalists to the European institutions.
Neo-functionalists saw the Community developing by a process of ‘spillover’ from the original ECSC, with its scope confined to only two industrial sectors. Interest groups an essential part and political parties, attracted by the success of the Community in dealing with the problems of these two sectors, would become frustrated by its inability to deal with related problems in other fields and would, with leadership from the European Commission, press successfully for the Community’s competence to be extended, until it would eventually provide a form of European governance for a wide range of the affairs of the member states. This offers at least a partial explanation of some steps in the Community’s development, including the move from the single market to the single currency.
A federalist perspective, while also stressing the importance of the common institutions, goes beyond neo-functionalism in two main ways. First, it relates the transfer of powers to the Union less to a spillover from existing powers to new ones than to the growing inability of governments to deal effectively with problems that have become transnational and so escape the reach of existing states.
Most of these problems concern the economy, the environment, and security; and the states should retain control over matters with which they can still cope adequately. Second, whereas neofunctionalists have not been clear about the principles that would shape the European institutions, a federalist perspective is based on principles of liberal democracy: in particular, the rule of law based on fundamental rights, and representative government with the laws enacted and the executive controlled by elected representatives of the citizens. In this view, the powers exercised jointly need to be dealt with by institutions of government, because the intergovernmental method is neither effective nor democratic enough to satisfy the needs of citizens of democratic states. So either the federal elements in the institutions will be strengthened until the Union becomes an effective democratic polity, based on the principles of rule of law and representative government.
How the EU was made
‘Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single, general plan. It will be built through concrete achievements, which first create a de facto solidarity.’ With these words, the Schuman declaration accurately predicted the way in which the Community has become the Union of today. The institutions and powers have been developed step by step, following the confidence gained through the success of preceding steps, to deal with matters that appeared to be best handled by common action.
We consider particular institutions and fields of competence and we see how interests and events combined to bring about the development as a whole. Some primary interests and motives were considered before: security, not just through military means but by establishing economic and political relationships; prosperity, with business and trade unions particularly interested; protection of the environment, with pressure from green parties and voluntary organizations, and with climate change a matter of increasingly general concern; and influence in external relations, to promote common interests in the wider world.
With the creation of the Community to serve such purposes, other interests came into play. Those who feared damage from certain aspects sought compensation through redistributive measures: for France, the common agricultural policy to counterbalance German industrial advantage; the structural funds for countries with weaker economies, which feared they would lose from the single market; budgetary adjustments for the British and others with high net contributions. Some governments, parliaments, parties, and voluntary organizations have pressed for reforms aiming to make the institutions more effective and democratic. Against them have stood those who resist moves beyond intergovernmental decision-making, acting from a variety of motives: ideological commitment to the nation-state; a belief that democracy is feasible only within and not beyond it; mistrust of foreigners; and simple attachment to the status quo. Among them have been such historic figures as President de Gaulle and Prime Minister Thatcher, as well as a wide range of institutions and individuals, most prevalent among the British, Danes, Czechs, and Poles. Among the European institutions, it is the Council of Ministers that has come closest to this view.
Two of the most influential federalists, committed to the development of a European polity that would deal effectively with the common interests of the member states and their citizens, have been Jean Monnet and Jacques Delors. Both initiated major steps towards a federal aim. Altiero Spinelli represented a different kind of federalism, envisaging more radical moves towards a European constitution. The German, Italian, Belgian, and Dutch parliaments and governments have in varying degrees been institutionally federalist, as have the European Commission and Parliament, and, in so far as the treaties could be interpreted in that way, the Court of Justice. They have generally preferred Monnet’s stepwise approach, although the Belgians, Italians, and European Parliament have espoused constitutional federalism.
1950s: the founding treaties
Monnet was responsible for drafting the Schuman declaration, chaired the negotiations for the ECSC Treaty, and was the first President of its High Authority. These two words reflected his insistence on a strong executive at the centre of the Community, stemming originally from his experience as Deputy Secretary General of the interwar League of Nations which convinced him of the weakness of an intergovernmental system. He was, however, persuaded that, for democratic member states, such a Community should be provided with a parliamentary assembly and court-embryonic elements of a federal legislature and judiciary-and that there should be a council of ministers of the member states.
This structure has remained remarkably stable to this day, though the relationship between the institutions has changed: the Council, and in particular, since 1974, the European Council of government heads, has become the most powerful; the European Commission, while still very important, has lost ground to it; the European Parliament has gained in power and the Court of Justice has established itself as the supreme judicial authority in matters of Community competence. Although they were later to accept these institutions, British governments of the 1950s felt them to be too federal for British participation.
Page one of the text Monnet sent to Schuman for his Declaration of 9 May 1950
The six member states, however, were minded to proceed further in that direction. The French government reacted to American insistence on German rearmament, following the impact of communist expansionism in both Europe and Korea, by proposing a European Defence Community with a European army. An EDC Treaty was signed by the six governments and ratified by four; but opposition grew in France and the Assemblée Nationale voted in 1954 to shelve it. The result was that the idea of a competence in the field of defence remained a no-go area until the 1990s.
While the collapse of the EDC was a severe setback, confidence in the Community as a framework for peaceful relations among the member states had grown; and there was a powerful political impulse to ‘relaunch’ its development. The Dutch were ready with a proposal for a general common market, for which the support of Belgium and Germany was soon forthcoming. The French, still markedly protectionist, were doubtful. But they held to the project of European unification built around Franco-German partnership and so accepted the common market which the Germans wanted, on condition that other French interests were satisfied: an atomic energy community in which France was equipped to play the leading part; the common agricultural policy; the association of colonial territories on favourable terms; and equal pay for women throughout the Community, without which French industry, already required by French law to pay it, would in some sectors have been at a competitive disadvantage. The Italians for their part, who had the weakest economy among the six, secured the European Investment Bank, the Social Fund, and free movement of labour. So all these elements were included in the two Rome Treaties, which established the European Economic Community (EEC) and European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom): an early example of a package deal, incorporating advantages for each member state, which has characterized many of the steps taken since then.
The two new treaties entered into force on 1 January 1958. While Euratom was sidelined, the EEC became the basis for the future development of the Community. Its institutions were similar to those of the ECSC, though with a somewhat less powerful executive, called Commission instead of High Authority; and the EEC was given a wide range of economic competences, including the power to establish a customs union with internal free trade and a common external tariff; policies for particular sectors, notably agriculture; and more general cooperation.
Rome wasn’t built in a day; and the Treaties of Rome (in force in 1958) were a big building block in a long and complicated process that has constructed the present European Union. Other major treaties included the ECSC Treaty (in force 1952), S take instructions from any other body.st11ingle European Act (1987), Maastricht Treaty (1993), Amsterdam Treaty (1999), Nice Treaty (2002), and Lisbon Treaty (2009).
A minor complication is that there were two Treaties of Rome, but the EEC Treaty was so much more important than the Euratom Treaty that it is generally known as the Treaty of Rome.
A major complication is that the European Union was set up by the Maastricht Treaty, with two new ‘pillars’ for foreign policy and internal security alongside the European Community, which already had its own treaties. These were organized alongside the EC Treaty (TEC), within the EU Treaty (TEU). The Lisbon Treaty finally produced some simplification of this, by collapsing all the pillars into one: the EU now operates on the basis of the TEU and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
N.B. to avoid undue complexity, we follow two principles in referring to the EC and EU:
• European Community, Community, or EC is used regarding matters relating entirely to the time before the EU was established, or in the period between Maastricht and Lisbon when the EC’s separate characteristics are relevant;
• European, Union, or EU in all other cases.
The first President of the Commission, Walter Hallstein, led the Commission into a flying start, with acceleration of the timetable for establishing the customs union; and within this framework the Community enjoyed notable economic success in the 1960s, with growth averaging some 5 per cent a year, twice as fast as in Britain and the United States. But conflict between the emergent federal Community, as conceived by Monnet or Hallstein, and de Gaulle’s fundamentalist commitment to the nation-state made that decade politically hazardous for the Community.