The historical roots of the European Union lie in post Second World War reconstruction, political and physical (History of the European Union). The idea of European integration was conceived to prevent such devastation and bloodshed from happening again. French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman first proposed closer integration in a speech on 9 May 1950 - a date now celebrated as Europe Day. After the idea was planted, the next fifty years has seen European integration steadily take shape.
The first concrete step was taken in 1951, when Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands founded the European Coal and Steel Community. The goal was to unite European countries economically and politically in order to secure lasting peace. Closer cooperation took shape in 1957, when the Treaty of Rome was signed to create the European Economic Community (EEC), or ‘Common Market’. , setting the free movement of people, goods and services across borders as a common goal.
The 1960’s saw a period of fast economic growth and new areas of joint policies for the EEC. The Common Agricultural Policy was launched in 1962 to control and secure food production within the Community. CAP guaranteed farmers equal price for their produce. However, the principal of higher production bringing automatically higher earnings soon lead to severe overproduction in European agriculture. Also in the early 60’s, the EU signed its first big international agreement — a deal to help 18 former colonies in Africa. In 1968, the six member states removed customs duties from products imported from each other and also harmonised imports duties from outside of the community.
The year 1972 brought first moves towards a single currency: the Exchange Rate Mechanism was created to maintain monetary stability. A year later, the community took new members for the first time: Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the club. Also, regions of Europe were acknowledged on the European arena as in 1974 the Regional Development Fund was set up. In 1979, EU citizens directly elected members of the European Parliament for the first time and pan-European political groups were born.
Southern Europe increased its influence when, in 1981, Greece joined the union, and in 1986 Spain and Portugal followed suit. A year later, Erasmus programme for funding studies abroad was launched. The destiny of Europe took a new direction in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, symbolising the collapse of communism across central and eastern Europe. After more than 40 years of separation, Germany was reunited and, soon after, its eastern part joined the EU.
A darker chapter in European history began in 1991, when Yugoslavia began to fall apart, igniting a war in the Balkans. Nevertheless, European integration moved on and in 1992 the Treaty on European Union was signed in Maastricht, bringing new rules for a single currency, foreign and security policy and cooperation in justice and home affairs. Another long-term goal was realised in 1993, as the single market entered into force and made the free movement of goods, people, services and money a reality. A northern dimension was added to the union in 1995, as Finland, Sweden and Austria joined the EU. In the same year, passport-free travel took effect in the Schengen area, first with seven member states. In 1997, the Treaty of Amsterdam brought employment and citizens’ rights to the EU policy arena.
On the 1st of January 2002, euros became the common currency in the wallets of the citizens in 12 member states. Also, foreign and security policy moved forward in 2003, when the EU took on peace-keeping operations in the Balkans. In 2004, ten new member states entered the EU in a big-bang enlargement, ending the division of Europe decided by the Great Powers 60 years earlier at Yalta. In 1997, Romania and Bulgaria followed suit. In December 2007, the 27 member states signed the Treaty of Lisbon, designed to reform and streamline the EU.