- Introduction – Laura MALERBA S6ENA
- Origins of EU – Laura MALERBA S6ENA
- First Union : The ECSC – Elodie NEYENS S5NLA
- Maastricht Treaty – Ayaan MEKRANI S5ENA
- Treaty of Lisbon (2004-2009) – Ayaan MEKRANI S5ENA
- European crisis (2009-2016) – Laura MALERBA S6ENA
- Brexit – Ayaan MEKRANI S5ENA
- 2020 – present – Laura MALERBA S6ENA
- Future – Camus-Salomé GERARD S4FRA
- Hristina STRUMELIVEA S5ENA
- Ariosto COLON-ZOLIKOFF S7ENA
Have you ever wondered why certain areas of the world seem to be caught in endless conflict and corruption, and yet, here in the EU, we have held peace for almost 80 full years?
This higher power that’s known as the European Union- why is it important? What does it do? Somehow it has granted us all these rights; it’s made our cities greener, economies stronger, neighbours friendlier… So how is that all possible?
If we could understand where the European Union came from – the agreements and treaties that kick started the whole notion in the first place; and if we learned about the many battles it has faced while maintaining prosperity, maybe then we could understand the important role that the EU plays in our lives today, as well the significance of it promising us a tomorrow.
Origins of the EU
At the end of WWII, Europe was left in ruins. Millions of citizens had died or were seriously injured by previous conflicts and industrial and cultural centres. Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Belgium had been destroyed. Famine lurked in every region since food production had been disrupted, and transportation infrastructure (railways, roads, bridges) suffered from extensive damage.
As Eastern Europe was under the control of the Soviets, the West looked to the U.S for reconstruction aid, and in 1947 the Marshall plan was officially established. The plan encouraged European countries to trade with each other; an idea that beforehand was unheard of, since European countries weren’t friendly enough with their neighbours to be willing to trade with them. So strict protectionism was used to make exchanging goods close to impossible. The Marshall plan aimed to ease these trade controls, and did so successfully as it stimulated European production and formed strong connections across borders.
On top of that, the Marshall plan ended up laying down the foundations for the European Union, as persistent interlinking between European powers became beneficial to countries. This cooperation became a fundamental building block in establishing long term European peace.
In fact, on May 9th 1950, Germany and France -whose tensions had always been present- agreed to finally end their hostility towards each other by proposing a Franco-German reconciliation. This essentially meant that, thanks to economic collaboration, conflict between the two nations would be simply unthinkable, thus creating the first steps to a united, peaceful Europe.
First Union : The ECSC
In 1951 the first union came together: ‘The ECSC’ (European coal and steel community). It was an organisation of six countries who wanted to regulate their industrial production under a centralised authority. It was established by ‘The treaty of Paris’ which was signed by: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany. The ECSC was the first organisation based on the principles of ‘supranationalism’, which means that it’s a type of multinational political union where negotiated power is transferred over to the governments of member states. The ECSC was a way to create a common market for coal and steel among its member states and also a way to make sure there was no competition between European nations over natural resources. It was seen as the start of the process of formal integration which eventually led to the European Union.
The ECSC came after World War II as a way to prevent France and Germany to go to war again. It was first proposed on the 9th May 1950 by Robert Schuman the Foreign minister and Prime minister of France. As Foreign minister and Prime minister Schuman had already completely changed the ‘Gaullist policy’ , which aimed to weaken Germany and take over part of its borderlands. On the 9th May, Schuman said he wanted to: “Make war not only unthinkable, but materially impossible”. Since France and Germany were historic enemies, Schuman thought it would be better to put the union he was thinking of in the framework of an organisation also open to other countries of Europe. He claimed that the first step to achieve his goal was to form the ECSC, France was the first government to surrender its supreme power of authority and to agree with what Robert Schuman proposed. The decision of France was based on a text written by Robert Schuman and edited by his friend and colleague: the foreign ministry lawyer, professor Paul Reuter. Schuman thought the decision of France to agree with his proposal was a democratic and supranational decision, and he also believed it to be a new development in the World’s History.
Besides the numerous people for the ECSC there were those who opposed it. In France Charles de Gaulle (creator of the ‘Gaullist policy’) opposed the ECSC. He considered it to be an unsatisfactory “piecemeal approach”. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) of German also decided to oppose ‘The Schuman plan’. Kurt Schumacher was the chairman of this Social Democratic Party and besides his personal distrust of France he also thought that “A little Europe of six” would override the main objective of the SDP and he even believed that the ECSC would end any hopes of having the steel industry nationalised. However, the younger members of the SDP thought that the ECSC was a good idea. Eventually there were a lot of people who encouraged the ECSC in the six countries who signed the ‘Treaty of Paris’ and so the ECSC was established.
Later, on 11th August 1952, the United States became the first non-ECSC member to recognise the community. The United States stated that they would now start dealing with the ECSC on coal and steel matters, and also established its delegation in Brussels. Monnet, who had been working with Schuman to complete his plans about the ECSC, responded to the United States by choosing Washington D.C. as the city where they would have their first external presence.
Sometime later the ECSC was merged together with the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC) and with the European Economic Community (EEC), together they were called the EEC. Today the EEC is one of the three most important pillars of Europe. The ‘treaty of Paris’ had been expanded for a long time, but eventually it was due to expire in 2002. In the 1990s a lot of people began to debate about what they were going to do about the expiring ECSC. Eventually they decided that they should leave it to expire. The countries who were in the ECSC were transferred to the ‘treaty of Rome’ and all financial problems were to be solved in the ‘treaty of Nice’. The ‘treaty of Paris’ expired the 23th July 2002.
The ECSC did a lot, failed some of its intentions that they had made in the ‘treaty of Paris’ failed. For example they failed to make a proper energy policy and to increase wages of employees within the market. The ECSC had a lot of ambition but a shortfall of time. Even so in the time they had the ECSC has made a lot of achievements, like the development of employment and the improvement of the standard living of its citizens. The ECSC solved a lot of welfare issues and not to forget it created peace between some of its countries. The ECSC was the start of the Europe we know.
The Maastricht treaty or the treaty on the European Union was established in the year of 1992. It is an international agreement that led to the formation of the European Union. The treaty had certain criteria to be followed by all member states.
Institutional into political events lead to its implementation. In fact six years ago, the ratification of the single European Act picked away for institutional reforms and intensification of the European integration. The Fall of the Berlin Wall (in 1989), led to the ring application of Germany! Not only geographically transferring Europe, it also changed the whole geopolitical context but among others the end of the cold war.
Originally 12 countries signed the treaty in 1992 (West Germany, Denmark, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, France, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Greece, Portugal, and Spain). As of 2020, the European Union has a total of 28 members states.
Treaty of Lisbon (2004-2009)
The signing of the Lisbon treaty was on 13th December 2007. The day of it being effective was January 1st 2009. The Lisbon Treaty put the European Parliament’s power to approve law on an equal footing with the Council and widened the number of areas over which they could create laws. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is the highest court on matters of EU law. This treaty updated regulations for the European Union, establishing a more centralized leadership and foreign policy, a proper process for countries that wish to leave the Union, and a streamlined process for enacting new policies. Most of the treaties that have taken place were near the early 2000s, such as the ‘treaty of Amsterdam’, ‘the treaty of Nice’ and ‘the treaty of Lisbon’. These treaties were there to try and reform the European Union in a way to further allow for expansion! It was the anticipation of expansion that led for calls and protests for reform to make the EU precisely fit for its enlargement. There were also calls for further integration. The following two factors : ‘expansion’ and ‘integration’ can be seen as a process of widening the European Union. This is actually the real backdrop to why the Lisbon treaty was shaped.
The following are some key provisions from the Lisbon Treaty: a merger of the EC and the EU to form the European Union. There was a renaming of the EC treaty -> it is now known as the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. We also see a expansion of the GMV system. There was a renaming of the Court of First instance as the general court. We see an increased role of the European Parliament, new roles for the president of the European Council and finally some amendments made to the charter on fundamental rights.
The Lisbon Treaty itself was no more significant than other treaties that have taken place. Previously, the Lisbon treaty did do a number of things to increase an allow for the widening of the European Union.
European crisis (2009-2016)
The EU has faced many hardships throughout the years, and the crises that took place from 2009 until roughly 2016, were situations that were no stranger to struggle.
One of the most complex and unprecedented events that took place in the early 2010’s in Europe was the European Sovereign debt crisis; which is just a complicated, fancy way of saying that the E.U was in a lot of debt. Specifically five countries: Greece, Ireland, Cyprus, Portugal and Spain. This economic crisis is complicated and long, so I will try my best to explain the European Sovereign debt crisis in the most digestible way possible, so that even if you have little to know knowledge of economics, you will still be able to follow.
Before we begin, you need to know that countries that have adopted the euro are known as being in the eurozone. Now we can begin to understand how the European sovereign debt crisis started and what really happened. To do so, we have to first look at how the euro actually works, and really dig into the roots of the issue.
Let’s say we have a country, Greece, for example, before it joins the eurozone (meaning it has its own currency; the drachma). Greece decides that it wants to trade with another country, let’s just call it ‘country B’. Country B also isn’t in the eurozone. So, Greece trades -let’s say- wood with country B, in exchange for money. Not only will Greece receive the money for the wood; they’ll also receive whatever interest rates that they want country B to pay for the wood, so that they’ll get some extra cash.
Now, if Greece starts realising that they’re accumulating a bit too much debt, they can decide to lower their interest rates so that more countries will want to buy their wood, because, let’s face it, we’re more likely to buy something if it’s cheaper, right? Well, the same idea applies here.
Let’s say now that Greece wants to buy from country B, but then Greece realises that it doesn’t have enough money for that. So it thinks of a brilliant idea, it can simply borrow money! The issue is, if you borrow money often and have a reputation of not paying said money back, countries (like country B) won’t really trust you anymore. So when you go to them to buy their goods, they will be less willing to do business with you because of your financial record, and will prefer to sell their goods to a different, more reliable country.
This was Greece’s situation before it joined the eurozone, so now we have to find out what happened to Greece once it adopted the euro.
To do that, let’s simplify once again, just so that we’re all on the same page.
The boss of the eurozone (known as the European Central Bank or ECB, which establishes Monetary Policy), is the institution in charge of lending money to EU countries and setting interest rates. The ECB, however, is a bit too generous in sending out loans: and so as soon as Greece joins the eurozone and goes up to the ECB to borrow, it’s suddenly allowed to lend hundreds and thousands of euros. Greece has never been used to this much money before, so it goes and buys way more things then it can even afford to pay back. But it’s okay for now, because it can just borrow more, right?
Well, suddenly, the 2008 Great Recession strikes, and the ECB is unexpectedly out of loans to give to its eurozone countries.
Now there’s a problem. Greece has been borrowing and borrowing without giving back, and only now does it realise how much debt it’s really in. Greece isn’t the only one with issues though, because Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus… they all realise that if they can’t borrow money anymore, they could end up in default (unable to pay back their debt).
All of these countries start to panic, but then they remember: Germany.
Germany has loads of money, since they’re so organised with their taxes and spending. So, Germany says that it will pay for their debts, but only if they adopt austerity measures. All the indebted countries then proceed to grumble and moan, plead and cry. You see, austerity measures sound simple enough: you cut down on spending, pay back your debt and raise taxes- however, if, say, Greece were to cut down on government spending, that would mean giving its people less money for the work they do. This will cause unemployment, lots of unemployment. So the indebted countries couldn’t only rely on Germany; they needed further support. Some of the countries proceeded to propose: “Why don’t we lower our interest rates so that more countries will buy more of our goods?” The indebted countries cheer and roar, but then Germany and the nations with stronger economies start shaking their heads to this idea. The problem is, if interest rates were to be lowered, countries like Germany would be at a disadvantage because it means that their goods (that can usually be sold with high interest rates and made lots of profit from- because they’re reliable countries to trade with) well, if the interest rates were lowered then they wouldn’t be able to make as much profit anymore off of their trade deals, thus weakening their economy. So once again, panic arose.
Luckily though, the EU partnered up in time with a scary lifesaver (the International Monetary Fund or IMF), who you don’t want to encounter too often, but since it was an emergency, the two institutions helped bail out the indebted countries and save them from default.
The countries were finally out of the red, but there was still one problem. There was no guarantee that all of this wouldn’t just happen all over again- that Greece wouldn’t just decide to borrow too much and pay back too little, a second time. So, after a lot of discussion, the EU came together and created the Eurogroup, which consists of nineteen finance ministers, one from each eurozone country.
The Eurogroup acts like a sort of bad cop to balance out the ECB. Meaning that if Greece were to borrow money again from the Monetary Union, the Eurogroup would keep an eye on Greece, so that if it started biting off more than it could chew, the Eurogroup could force it to raise its taxes and cut spending, thus avoiding Greece from creating too much debt again.
This, essentially, is what happened from 2009 to 2016 in Europe, however the effects of the sovereign debt crisis are still devastatingly present still to this day: Spain has one of the highest unemployment rates in the EU, followed by Greece and then Cyprus. On top of that, in Dublin, Ireland, the number of homeless people has skyrocketed as housing prices are far too high compared to people’s living wages.
And if that wasn’t enough, in 2015 Europe was also met with thousands of refugees looking for homes as they escaped from war torn areas like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The EU did its best to offer its immigrants asylums (protection) and displace them to different EU countries where they could legally stay. Even so, refugees suffered from dire abuse and racism, years of unrest, and frightful journeys across the Mediterranean Sea, which killed up to 4,000 people in 2015 alone.
On June 23rd 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, the decision is know as ‘BREXIT’. The split between the EU and the UK was a surprise for everyone, but it has actually been going on for a while. But why? It all goes way back to the establishment (in 1957) of the EEC (European Economic Community).
In the aftermath of the second World War, the continent of Europe sought a political and an economic partnership to pool their assets and secure a forever lasting peace! In this, six nations signed up : West Germany, Belgium, France, Netherlands, Italy and Luxembourg. The Britishers were uncertain and unsure about this arrangement at first. The UK was not in a mood of working with the rest of Europe, but it finally became part of the EEC in the year 1973 as a way to support its economy. The reaction from the public can be described as tepid. The Political Parties that were functioning in existence were mostly in favor of England’s membership within the European Economic Community, but a vote (right) was given to people anyway. Should Britain stay or leave? At that time, 67% voted to stay (one of these votes came from a star in the ‘Party of Conservation’/ ‘Conservative Party’ who was the Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher!)
By the time Ms. M. Thatcher had become prime minister (in 1979), she had grown critical of the arrangement. She complained that the huge amount of money the United Kingdom paid into the EEC’s treasure chest , relented very little benefit (compared to the return of other countries). She requested for a rebate and finally received one on June 26th 1984. Another important thing that she believed was that England’s (country in the UK) independence and success suffered under the Centralized European Authority! Thatcher clearly had no interests in being part of a united family of Europe.
The upcoming rift produced two sides: the Europhiles (who were open for integration with Europe) and the Eurosceptics (who wanted to live in an independent nation). The Guardian reports that she said this on her views on Europe: “Europe will be stronger precisely because it has France as France, Spain as Spain, Britain as Britain each with its own customs, traditions and identity! It would be folly to try to fit them into some sort of identikit European personality.” Her position annoyed the Europhiles within her political party and this caused her to do something very expected in the year of 1990: resignation!
In the 1990s Ms. Thatcher’s successors (John Major and Tony Blair) pushed to unify with Europe. In the year of 1993, the EEC’s members expanded the power of their own governing styles, taking in the various European Communities into the newly formed political and economic union: the European Union and laid the new currency of the euro! Some unfortunate events start piling up as the fall of 21st century comes. In 2008, the global economy crashed, hitting the euro workers really hard, causing a lot of them to fly to England for jobs. Unrest in the Middle-East lead to the influx of asylum seekers off to the European shores. EU’s economic and border policies start being blamed. Calls to exit the EU reach a high fever pitch lead by a nationalist party (right winged) : the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). In 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron, gave a speech that echoed Thatcher’s speech! He offered the public : “To stay in the European Union on these new terms or to come out altogether!”
Following the pressure given to the Conservative Party (from the UKIP), Cameron held the second ‘remain or leave’ referendum on June 23rd, 2016 and this time 52% voted to leave the European Union. It was predicted that senior citizens would vote leave, college students would vote remain and the people with fewer qualifications would vote to leave! Mr. David Cameron resigned from his post in about 2 weeks as his nation began the long and complicated process of saying goodbye to the European Union.
2020 – present
The EU, as you have just read, has had a vast and complicated history of decision making and governance. Naturally though, the EU’s liabilities aren’t only a thing of the past; every day the Council, Parliament and European Commission meet to decide and discuss the topics shaping our world today. For example, in 2020, the novel coronavirus pandemic dominated the EU’s attention. However, handling COVID-19 wasn’t the only task that EU politicians faced this past year.
In order to protect the economy, the EU had to come up with coordinated responses to the pandemic, relax EU budget rules, raise up to 7.4 billion Euros for the development of diagnostics, treatments and vaccines through the Coronavirus Global Response, and initiate programs such as SURE (Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency).
On top of this, the European Commission strengthened the EU’s health and safety framework by building a European Health Union. Furthermore, travel restrictions were imposed and lifted throughout the year, and proposals were made for a major recovery plan for Europe in order to repair the economic and social damage brought by the pandemic.
Not only was the EU fending for its own security; it also allocated more than 15 billion euros to support partner countries in tackling the pandemic and set up a humanitarian air bridge to transport workers and emergency supplies to some of the most vulnerable communities worldwide.
Additionally, after the deadly explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, the European Commission pledged 30 million Euros to help address the immediate needs of those affected by the disaster.
Some may also remember the tragic beheading of Samuel Paty that took place in France in October, which EU leaders heartily condemned.
The pandemic wasn’t an excuse for EU politicians to simply ignore the many other issues facing the world today. For example, the European Commission worked on multiple proposals to curtail global warming.
By the end of 2020, the EU had added new global limits on sulphur contents for marine vehicles, imposed new rules for vehicle manufacturers to reduce CO2 emissions and proposed the first ever European Climate Law to solidify the EU’s political commitment to be climate neutral by 2050. The Commission also adopted a new Circular Economy Action Plan.
On top of that, the EU approved new rules to increase water reuse in agriculture, presented a new Biodiversity Strategy, and announced plans to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 (which is only nine years away!).
Last but not least, the EU presented a series of policies to attain a climate neutral Europe, including Renovation Wave, which aims to double the renovation rate of buildings in Europe by 2030, and Chemical Strategy, which is the first step towards a toxic-free environment.
While we all hoped for some sort of social contact again as we sat in our online classes at the beginning of this year, the EU was busy making our dreams come true as they signed a new contract with BioNtech-Pfizer, ensuring the delivery of 1.8 billion doses of vaccines for 2021-2023.
On top of trying to ensure the most effective vaccine roll out for its own member states, the EU provided medical equipment including oxygen cylinders, ventilators, tests and masks in response to Nepal’s request for support, as well as India’s – given the disastrous effects that the pandemic had on developing countries. In addition, the EU invested funds in building, logistics and rollout of vaccines in war torn areas of Africa that are difficult to reach, in hopes that: not only will the EU be able to return to ‘normality’ again, but that the rest of the world will recover at a similar pace as well.
What can we look forward to from the EU in the future? What are some of their ideas for a better future ?
Every year, a conference is held, where they debate about the future of the EU and discuss possible plans. The Commission’s analysis shows that in order to have a better chance of sustaining the average increase in temperature below 2°C, global greenhouse gas emissions will have to be stabilized by 2020 before they get reduced by up to 50% by 2050 from 1990 levels. However, the EU is not waiting to act. It has the firm intention of becoming a low-carbon and thrifty economy in energy.
In the end, we will never exactly know what will happen, since there might be countries that will join and leave the EU.