History of the European Union

1941 – Federal, united, free and peaceful. Such is Altiero Spinelli’s vision of Europe in 1941, when he writes, together with Ernesto Rossi, “Towards a free and united Europe. A draft manifesto”. During the Second World War and while he was held captive in Ventotene – a small island of the Pontine Archipelago -  the Italian intellectual writes a text which will go down in history as the Ventotene Manifesto,  recognised as the fundamental text for the process  of the federalist unification of Europe. 

1949 – On the 5th of May the Council of Europe is established. It  is responsible for the protection of human rights and is set up by Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Sweden; it is based in Strasbourg. Still outside the European institutional framework, it is the European countries’ first attempt to create a continental body in the post-war period to prevent new conflicts. 

1950 – On the 9th of May the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposes the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) which, in his view, would make a war between European countries unthinkable. Every year on the 9th of May, Europe Day commemorates Schuman declaration.

1951 - On the 18th of April Schuman aspiration becomes reality by laying the foundation stone of the community edifice: six European countries – France, Western Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg – sign the treaty establishing the ECSC, the European Coal and Steel Community, with the aim of introducing the free movement of coal and steel and ensure free access to the sources of production. The supranational and independent High Authority is established in Luxembourg with the task of enforcing common rules set for production and trade. 

1957 - On the 25th of March, following the success of the European Coal and Steel Community, the treaties establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) are signed in Rome. The so-called Treaties of Rome enter into force on the first January of the following year. ECC and Euratom Commissions are based in Brussels.

1962 – – On the 30th of July the EEC introduces the CAP, Common Agricultural Policy, giving the countries joint control over food production.

1968 – On the 1st of July the customs union enters into force,  fully eliminating customs duties between the six member states and establishing a common external tariff.

1972 – The currency “snake” is set up with the aim of strengthening coordination between policies for the management of foreign exchange of European countries and ensuring stability by setting the margin of fluctuation. High inflation and foreign exchange instability of those years generate the need for a greater exchange rate stability and an economic-monetary cooperation. The currency “snake”, seven years later and through a real exchange rate agreement, becomes the European Monetary System (EMS), whose goal will be the creation of a “zone of monetary stability” in Europe.

1973 – On the 1st of January, the six countries become nine as Denmark, Ireland and United Kingdom enter the EEC.

1975 – The European Council meeting in Rome, which was chaired by Aldo Moro, takes decisions on passport union and on the election of the European Parliament by universal suffrage. The first elections will be held in 1979.

1981 –On the 1st of January, Greece becomes the 10th member of the EEC. 

1983 – On the 25th of July the Council adopts a resolution on the first framework programmes for research and development (for 1984/87).

1984 - The draft Treaty on the establishment of the European Union is adopted by a large majority of the European Parliament. Altiero Spinelli, the then MEP, is the leading figure behind the proposal. 

1985 - The Schengen Agreement is signed by France, Germany and the Benelux countries. In December of the same year, a European Council in Luxembourg agrees to amend the Treaty of Rome and to revitalise the process of European integration by drawing up a Single European Act, which is signed in February 1986 in the Hague. The Act introduces important institutional reforms and facilitates the establishment of the single market.

1986 – On the 1st of January Spain and Portugal enter the EU, bringing membership to 12.

1987 – The EU launches the Erasmus programme, thanks to the initiative of a group of European Commission officials, headed by Domenico Lenarduzzi, from the Friuli region. In 1986, the Council of EU Ministers rejected the Commission proposal of establishing a programme for university exchanges in Europe. Thanks to hard negotiations during Delors Commission presidency, the Erasmus programme is approved in 1987 and in the autumn of that year three thousand students travel abroad for study stays. 

1992 - On the 7th of February, the new Treaty is signed in Maastricht. Under the treaty, the name ‘European Union’ (EU) officially replaces ‘European Economic Community’ (EEC). The treaties signed in the Netherlands city also set clear rules for the single currency as well as foreign and security policy and closer cooperation in justice and home affairs. Therefore, the European Union, under the Maastricht treaties, does not simply bring the three historical communities (EEC, ECSC and Euratom) together but widens its powers in different and important sectors. 

1993 - The single market is established. Free movement of goods, services, persons and capitals becomes a  reality.

1995 - EU grows further. On the 1st January three other countries join the EU: Austria, Finland and Sweden, bringing membership to 15. On the 26th of March of the same year, The Schengen Agreement comes into force between Belgium, France, Germany, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Within the Schengen area common rules and procedures are applied with regard to visas for short stays, asylum requests and border controls. Schengen cooperation has been incorporated into the European Union legal framework by the Treaty of Amsterdam.

1997 - With the Treaty of Amsterdam, which was signed in October 1997 and entered into force two years later, the building of the European Union continues, with steps forward from an institutional point of view, in the relations between the UE and the citizens, addressing significant issues related to freedom, security and justice.

2001 - On the 26th of February the Treaty of Nice is signed, following the European Council meeting held in the Côte d’Azur town. The treaty was the result of eleven-month negotiations during an intergovernmental conference that began  in February 2000. The new treaty enters into force on the 1st February 2003, after its ratification by the fifteen EU member states and with the reform of EU voting rules, and it paves the way to the enlargement.

2002 - The Euro arrives on the 1st of January. More than 80 billion coins are distributed in 12 countries. Notes are the same for all countries. On the front, they show doors, on the back they show bridges, which symbolise unity and openness between countries. As for the coins, one side is the same for all countries, while the other side shows a national emblem.

2004 - On the 1st of May ten countries join the EU. These are Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania,  Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary. Cyprus and Malta also become members. It is the most important enlargement of the EU, involving around 100 million people.

2007 - Two more countries from eastern Europe, Bulgaria and Romania, now join the EU, bringing the number of member states to 27 countries. On the 13th of December of the same year the Treaty of Lisbon is signed and it enters into force two years later, on the 1st December 2009. The new Treaty defines clearly EU and member states competencies, establishes a strengthened role for the European Parliament, amends the Council voting procedures, introduces citizens’ initiative, creates the function of the President of the European Council and of the High Representative for the Union in Foreign Affairs and establishes an EU diplomatic service.

2013 - On the 1st of July Croatia joins the EU, thus bringing membership to 28.

Last update: 12 June 2014