Short History of European Integration since the 1970s

By László Molnárfi, S7HUA, EEB1 (Adapted from an essay for History).

Since its inception in 1957 with the Treaty of Rome, the European Economic Community (ECC) as it was called then was in a state of constant flux, soon becoming the European Community (EC) with the Merger Treaty of 1967, following the amalgamation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and the EEC. By many, this is regarded as the beginning of the European Union (EU), the union that officially came into existence in 1993 with the so-called Maastricht Treaty – these changes would eventually usher in an era of closer cooperation as envisioned by Robert Schuman in early 1950s. Indeed, the period following the Merger Treaty from the 1970s onwards saw the EC undergo major transformations, from tighter economic interlinking to moves towards a federal union and closer-knit sociocultural cooperation. The reasons for this are multifold and include changes in leadership near the late 60s, a rekindled wish for economic stability and subsequent rethinking of the union’s structure due to economic and energy crises in the 70s, a rapid expansion of the union in the following decades as right-wing dictatorships and the former Communist states across Europe crumbled, mounting concerns about the environment, the Presidency of Jacques Delors in the 80s coupled with the need for institutional reform against a growing union, and what researches have dubbed ‘neofunctionalism’. Even today, as growing right-wing voices threaten the union’s existence, there are increasing calls by up-and-coming political parties towards a real federation as contemporary crises such as global warming, the migration panic of 2015 and the Covid-19 pandemic shed light on the shortfalls of the current “Europe à la carte” model.

The cessation of Charles De Gaulle’s empty chair politics marked the beginning of a new era in Europe. For years, the anti-British De Gaulle boycotted European integration and expansion, vetoing the membership of Great Britain two times, first in 1963 and then in 1967 due to fears that its accession would undermine European cohesion through importing US-interests to the continent. Furthermore, in 1965, the European Commission’s French Presidency during the Hallstein Commission boycotted proposals for financing the Common Agricultural Policy, for increasing the budgetary powers of the European Parliament and for endowing the European Council with majority voting instead of unanimous decision-making out of ideological differences, as these moves would imply the advancement of a supranational model foregoing the status quo of intergovernmentalism. With his resignation in 1969 and the appointment of Georges Pompidou – a moderate French conservative in favor of British, Irish and Danish entry – a pathway opened towards the intensified economic, political and social integration of Europe.

Two years prior, in July 1967, the Merger Treaty signed by the “Inner Six” member states comprising of Benelux, Italy, France and West Germany amalgamated the ECSC, the EEC and EUROATOM into the European Community. Soon thereafter, in 1968, the planned customs union was brought to completion as promised by the Treaty of Rome in 1957. This combined with the contemporary economic situation provided fertile ground for future developments after the De Gaulle roadblock was cleared, and integration was fast-tracked. This is evidenced by the Hague Summit in December of 1969, a few months after the resignation of De Gaulle in April, where enlargement, politico-social unification and plans for a monetary union were rekindled. Watered by the successes of economic cooperation – in the 60s, France and West Germany saw the growth of production rates at 75% and 90% respectively due to increased cross-border trade and mechanisms such as the Common Agricultural Policy (1962) ensuring food security by subsidizing production – these discussions materialized in 1973 with the expansion of the European Community, as an ascension treaty was negotiated with the UK, Ireland and Denmark. However, aside from leadership changes, new issues came into play in the early 1970s which demanded further integration to ensure economic stability across the continent.

In what became known as the first oil shock, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) proclaimed an oil embargo in October 1973 on those who they perceived to be supporting the Israelis in the 3-week long Yom Kippur War, bringing the world economy to its feet. This included Canada, Japan, Britain, the Netherlands but also for example the United States (as they had sent military aid to Israel against the Palestine Liberation Organization-supported armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria), causing the price of oil to rise by nearly 400% by March 1974 on the world market. Both the Western Bloc and Eastern Bloc of Arab-dependent Europe were affected by the quadrupling of oil prices, which translated into inflation and thereby reduced standards of living (e.g. in Britain, citizens were asked to heat only one room in the winter and the Netherlands imposed rationing on energy), and more importantly, a shift of perspective in viewing energy security as a global issue rather than a local one. Since the European Communities imported around 80% of their oil from Arab countries and were thus dependent, they sought to restore diplomatic relations with their oil producers, resulting in the common realignment of foreign policy and tighter political integration in what Pompidou called the Euro-Arab Dialogue (EAD) as part of the so-called Global Mediterranean Policy. Interestingly, while the issue was divisive for the European Institutions as it implied the wounding of EU-US ties by turning towards Pro-Arab policies, the crisis and subsequent dialogue started in March 1974 brought Europeans closer together on the political sphere.

In addition, this era also served as a wake-up call for intensifying economic integration. On August 15th, 1971, the United States under economic and international pressure led by President Richard Nixon backed out from the Bretton Woods Accord, turning the gold-backed dollar into a free-floating currency. Now unpegged, the countries that adjusted their exchange rates to dollar were also inclined to annul the gold standard, and the system ceased to exist. As the dollar deprecated (decreased in value in relation to foreign currencies) due to the Nixon Shock, the 1973 oil crisis hit especially hard, since the OAPEC still valued its oil pegged to gold and thus the real income of oil producers (i.e. what they could get in dollars from oil) decreased. As a result of all these conditions, the first major economic downturn since the Second World War took place, ending thirty years of economic growth between 1973-1975. There was both high unemployment and high inflation, and thus the crisis was dubbed a stagflation. To illustrate the severity of the crisis, one needs only to look at the inflation charts for many common raw materials on the market in Western countries. Within the first few years of the 1970s, the average yearly inflation was 5%, for the whole decade 9%. In the latter time period, the price of aluminum rose by 165%, that of pig iron by 200% and that of silver by a staggering 1095%. In the UK, for example, the GDP decreased by 3.9% from 1973 to 1975. The response of the European Community clearly displays that these economic crises of the early 1970s led to further economic integration, insofar as reviving plans for a monetary union.

By 1970, European leaders already saw the imminent collapse of the staggering Bretton Woods system. At the Hague Summit in 1969, the Werner Report was prepared to ensure the continuing peace and stability of the European Community should the gold standard cease to act as a stabilizing mechanism for the world market. Amongst the proposals were the fixing of exchange rates, a single currency and the centralization of monetary policy within the union. These ideas would later serve as a basis for the Smithsonian Institute Agreement in December 1971 which saw margins of fluctuations restricted to 2.25% of the currencies of the “Inner Six”, Japan, Canada, the US and the UK. This was dubbed the “Snakes in a tunnel” method, a metaphor for how central banks cooperate to cap market volatility for economic stability through the European Monetary Cooperation Found (EMFC) created in April 1973. However, as the sudden oil crisis took its toll from 1973 onwards, this system also began facing difficulties (by 1973, France, Italy, Britain and Ireland could not maintain their exchange rates fixed), and it was clear that even more was needed to be done in order to ensure a stable Europe. It is at this point that European capitalists, trade unionists, businessmen and bankers took the stage, who increasingly called for the immediate implementation of an Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) within the European Community as promised at the Hague Summit to be done by 1980, illustrating just how important the economic crisis of the 70s was with regards to the union’s development. Closely connected with various European Institutions, the European League for Economic Cooperation (ELEC) is a pro-European independent political think-tank representing multinationals. In March of 1975, a report by the ELEC’s Commission on Monetary Affairs handed to the European Commission concluded that since a return to the Bretton Woods system is impossible, “the only alternative was the creation of a coordinated zone of exchange stability with a pragmatic application of the theory of an optimal monetary zone.”. This report, which advocate for virtually the same as the one ELEC drafted after the second oil shock (1979) following the Iranian revolution in Paris in June 1981, had argued against Keynesian economics (i.e. liberalizing economic directives) when dealing with crises, by rejecting its principles and furthermore agitated for robust solidarity mechanism between member states and thus a stronger economic union through close-knit political cooperation, including common policies in the field of energy security for a transition to renewable sources.

The debate so created certainly managed to affect the structure of the European Community. As an example, soon thereafter, due to newly joined Britain’s egging on from 1973 onwards and mounting pressure from capitalists, the European Regional Development Fund was set up in 1975 to curb inequality across core and peripheral regions in the EU’s member states. Three years later, in September 1978, the European Monetary System (EMS) was announced. It would buttress a real monetary union later on in the coming decades. At its most simple, it was an early framework for cooperation between banks and member states to manage intra-community exchange rates and to finance exchange market interventions through a common accounting unit, the European Currency Unit (ECU). It meant that member states had to give up economic sovereignty more than they had to with the customs union; the so-called Mundell–Fleming trilemma (also known colloquially as the impossible trinity) in economics states that it is impossible to maintain a fixed exchange rate, free movement of capital, and an independent monetary policy at the same time. From 1986 until 1992, for example, the de facto anchor was the Deutschmark, the currency to which all member states’ currencies were more-or-less pegged, meaning that they had to, for example, reduce inflation levels to those that the Bundesbank decreed.

During the same period, as stated the ELEC report, energy insecurity was felt for the first time by the member states of the European Community, leading to further cooperation in the energy- and environmental-sector. It must be noted that many of these developments were ad-hoc makeshift solutions at first, and operated quasi outside of the jurisdiction bestowed upon the European Institutions; they would only become enshrined in legal texts in later treaties, such as the Single European Act (1986) or the Maastricht Treaty (1992) under Jacques Delors’ Commission. These are as such not intentionalist models of integration but rather a case of necessity begetting ingenuity and are related to the spillover effect associated with neofunctionalism. In Paris in October 1972, the European Council declared the creation of a common EU Environnmental Policy based on the idea of the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Coincidentally, the 1973 oil crisis sparked renewed interest in energy efficiency (e.g. the first car-free Sundays were organized throughout Europe) and on the 14-15th December of the same year, a summit of the Heads of States in Copenhagen introduced a Common Energy Policy (CEP) in the field of hydrocarbons, alas not legally-binding, but still furthering political integration.

Meanwhile that the European Community primarily struggled with economic and environmental questions, the student movements of the 60s raged on, demanding democracy – more individual rights and participation in politics – and catalyzing widespread social transformation. The European Community started feeling the spectre of lacking democratic legitimacy in face of its expanding jurisdiction on national matters, and thus – egged on by federalists who mobilized in the wake of De Gaulle’s exit from the political scene – they started working on negotiations with the European Council for universal suffrage to the European Parliament. On the 26th of September 1976, the Council approved the creation of a 410-MEP Parliament, directly elected by EU citizens on a five-year basis for the first time three years later in 1979. This gave another push towards de facto federalism of the European Community.

In addition, against this backdrop of student protests, the right-wing dictatorships of Greece, Portugal and Spain collapsed in short succession. In July 1974, the military Junta came to an end in Greece, reestablishing a republic; in April 1974, the fascist Estada Novo crumbled and Portugal experienced democracy for the first time; in November 1975 Franco’s death in Spain sent a wave of political reforms that culminated in the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. As a result, these countries now became eligible to join the European Community and another enlargement was on the horizon. In 1981, Greece became the tenth member state of the EC, soon followed by Spain and Portugal bringing the total number of participating countries to 12 by 1986.

As the jurisdiction and size of the EC grew, there was a clear need for institutional reform of the European Institutions so as to make them operate more efficiently and to formalize contemporary de facto roles into de jure rules for the Commission, the Council and the Parliament. For example, Leo Tindermans, Belgian Prime Minister, had called for formalized reform in 1975 but his pleas fell on deaf ears. Similarly, Gaston Thorn in March 1982 at the 25th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, President of the European Commission at the time, had denounced the modus operandi of European integration, saying that they are ‘on the fringes of the Treaties, if not entirely outside them’ and said that a ‘new Messina Conference’ is needed. Luckily, it was around this time, in 1985, that Jacques Delors was elected President of the European Commission. His leadership until 1994 was characterized by rapid progress of the European integration process, the legitimization of prior de facto changes and the quasi-federalization of the European Community. Many of his initiatives are rooted in the sprouts of the 70s, such as the EMS which was gradually turned into the Eurozone by 2002, such as the ERDF which was standardized with the Single European Act (SEA) in 1986 or such as the Common Energy Policy’s requirements for transparent electricity and gas pricing which was made legally-binding following the SEA. In any case, the 80s and 90s were decades of progress, catalyzed by the changes of the 70s and the Presidency of Delors.

“In ten years, 80% of the legislation related to economics, maybe also to taxes and social affairs will be of Community origin,” said Jacques Delors in 1988, illustrating his dynamism in dealing with the European question. His progressive initiatives manage to recreate, reform and rekindle the flame of European unity. The first achievement he is credited with (although others, like federalist Alberto Spinelli’s Crocodile club, an informal group of MEPs in the Parliament established in January 1982 and his Spinelli report undoubtedly provided impetus for it; and so was the Commission supported by the European Round Table of Industrialists, which was sort of like ELEC, and who developed proposals for a common market), the Single European Act of 1986 was a watershed moment in the history of European Integration. Its aim was to solve the de facto lack of free trade between member states by creating an internal market based on Lord Cockfield’s, the European Commissioner for Industry’s White Paper by January 1993, as there were at the time still physical (borders), technical (restrictive regulations) and fiscal (different tax rates) barriers to the creation of a common market as set out in the Treaty of Rome (ToR) in 1957. To do this, deeper economic but also political integration was required. As such, this first revision to the ToR also strengthened the Parliament by giving it powers to veto new member states from joining, it implemented Qualified Majority Voting in the Council so as to make passing new policies more efficient and it set out a framework for foreign policy cooperation. In addition, the Parliament was bestowed with cooperation procedure, a system of consultation between the Council and the Parliament whereby if the Parliament refuses to adopt the opinion of the Council, the Council can only proceed with unanimity in its decision making (thus giving more power to the Parliament). This allowed the European Community to, for example, apply Europe-wide industrial consumer and environmental protection rather than relying on restrictive and complicated national laws, thus stepping slowly towards the creation of the liberalized Single European Market finished by 1993.

‘There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen,’ said Russian socialist revolutionary Vladimir Illyich Lenin in the late-1910s. This powerful quote aptly demonstrates the cascading progress of the European Community in the 1980s. With the newfound politically legitimate power bestowed upon European Institutions by the Single European Act, progress materialized equally in social, environmental and technological spheres of European history. To take an example, in 1986 Britain was forced to amend their Sex Discrimination Act so as to comply with Council Directive 86/378/EEC (July 1986) that demanded equal treatment of women in the workplace. Another example would be the 1989 Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, which laid down workers’ rights such as unionizing, health and safety precautions and guarded against discrimination – this charter would be ratified by all member states with the exception of Britain by 1990, with the British government signing in 1998 post-Thatcherism. All this demonstrates that the European Community was in a period of intensifying economic, but more importantly political cooperation in the 1980s.

The Single European Act of 1986 catalyzed further integration of European countries and soon sparked the need for another treaty, eventually birthing the European Union. In the first half of the 1980s, the driving force behind European integration was, aside from leadership changes, the dire need for institutional reform to legitimize the ad-hoc changes of the crisis-ridden 1970s and of course the end of right-wing dictatorships in Europe. As for the second half of the 1980s, the reasons for increasing European integration are threefold, comprising of the looming demise of the Communist bloc, shortfalls of the European Monetary System, the latter especially in light of the implementation of the Single European Act’s common market. In 1988, the Delors Report was published by the second Delors-led European Commission, with special regards to the Sword of Damocles’ that was the Soviet Union’s and Eastern Bloc’s certain collapse. The collapse of Communism across Europe would provide two reasons for deepening integration. Firstly, more efficient decision-making processes would be required to sustain the union should these countries join – which they most likely would be interested in, as their economic and social development lagged behind vis-a-vis their capitalist counterparts – and the prospect of German reunification worried European leaders, as Germany was already the most powerful member state of the Community (the Deutschmark being the anchor for the EMS), and its reunification with a population of 82 million in total would bring her even more power in the political processes of the union. Thus, some way of diluting Germany’s extreme sway over European institutions had to be found and was put on the table.

The Delors Report of 1988 proposed the creation of a European Central Bank (ECB) to direct a common monetary policy across members of the European Monetary System (EMS). Shortly thereafter, however, the EMS came under pressure, as participating countries were unable to control inflation, leading to the removal of the British Sterling and the Italian Lira in the fall of 1992. By 1993 the fluctuation margin of currencies became a dazzling 15% (for reference, the then-defunct Smithsonian Institute Agreement stipulated a baseline of 2.25% in 1971). The origins of this market crash started in Britain, on “Black Wednesday” (September 16th 1992), when Britain’s economically unsound and political policy to try to keep its currency above 2.773 German Deutschmarks to the pound took its toll on the markets; the British government upped their interest rates to shadow (i.e. keep up with the price, low inflation rates and stability of) the German currency, even though their inflation rates were three times as high as Germany’s by 1989, which speculators like George Soros began taking advantage of by shorting, soon syphoning 1 billion dollars from the pound (in total 3.14 billion pounds were lost by the UK government). As such, they were the first to withdrew from the EMS’s Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), launching the cascade. This crisis suddenly provided impetus for reworking plans towards a real monetary union – rather than simple price control mechanism that the EMS acted as – and for the development of a common market. If the EMS remained unstable, it would be difficult to envisage the creation of a successful common market as set out in the Single European Act of 1986, and thus a different direction had to be taken. The combination of the Delors Report and the geopolitical-economic situation that was at hand resulted in a rekindled interest to meet these goals and birthed the Maastricht Treaty drafted in December 1991.

On the 1st of July 1990, exchange controls were abolished as per the roadmap of the Delors Report, thus taking the first step towards liberalized capital flow across European borders. Following this, the Maastricht Treaty established as a goal the creation of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), merging the goals of a common market coupled with an economic zone, and defined the convergence criteria (essentially, a list of conditions member states must meet to join the EMU, relating to inflation, debt, etc., so as to ensure a stable monetary zone). In addition, as the economy is inherently intertwined with politics, the Maastricht Treaty set out to deepen political integration as well. To illustrate how the proposed monetary union, or the so-called Eurozone is political, one only needs to take the example of Greece in aftermath of the 2007-2008 financial crisis. It is called a sovereign debt crisis for a reason. Greece, as part of the Eurozone, lacked monetary flexibility (see the Mundell-Flemming trilemma), but still owed debts to the European Union (EU). When it risked defaulting in 2010, the EU (and the International Monetary Fund) forced it to adopt austerity measures to repay the 240-billion-euro loan they gave Greece. Thus, a monetary union is undoubtedly a political union as well, because it interlinks sovereign economies into a united zone, thus the weakest link threatens the existence of all other participating members. In a similar way, a single market has knock-on effects (neofunctionalist spill-overs) in political integration due to influencing different policy areas. A unified European market would mean the abolishing of border controls so as to ensure free flow of goods, capital, services and labor. In turn, the removal of barriers would mean that countries would have to establish common policies to deal with immigration control, visa policies, fighting cross-border crime and curbing the illicit drug trade and so on and so forth.

Thus, there were necessary political goals owing to the necessity of political and sociocultural cooperation due to the ambitions of both a Single European Market and the Eurozone, as described in the previous paragraph. As such, the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 did much to push the Europe towards a de facto federalist union, which, by 1993, when the treaty in question was ratified, was called the European Union. Amongst its political changes were the creation of a European Citizenship, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) which superseded the weaker European Political Cooperation (EPC) set up in 1970, the Committee of the Regions (CoR) for synergetic relationships with local governments and the beginnings of judicial cooperation through the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) which superseded TREVI (an intergovernmental network outside of the EC set up after the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre) eventually panned out with Europol. This meant that there was from then on increased cooperation in the judicial, foreign policy, military and criminal justice areas. It also set up the co-decision procedure (replacing the cooperation procedure), which meant that in order to pass legislation, the Council must find a compromise with the Parliament through the so-called Conciliation Committee (this meant that Parliament was now able to block legislation via voting but was still powerless to enact legislation). These ambitious goals were reified and were well received, especially with the euphoria that swept across Europe as the European Single Market (ESM) was completed by 1993 – fueled by the Schengen Agreement (which was in turn influenced by early ambitions to create a single market) signed by six of the ten EC member states in 1985 that already planned to abolish border controls – , with free movement of goods, services, capital and labor; this was formalized in 1994 with the European Economic Area (EEA).

Thus, with the Schengen Agreement’s implementation on the horizon (completed by 1995) and the Single European Market’s existence by 1993, the Eurozone progressed quickly, at first birthing the frontrunner to the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Monetary Institute (EMI) on the 1st of January 1994 charged with creating the monetary union. In June 1997, the Council adopted the Stability and Growth Pact which laid down budgetary rules for the handling of the Euro currency and set up the ERM II exchange rate mechanism for converting between the Euro and national currencies. Shortly thereafter, in June 1999, the European Central Bank (ECB) was created and by the 1st of January 2002 most members states had the Euro in circulation.

Meanwhile, the first cracks in the Iron Curtain began to appear as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster shattered confidence in the Soviet Union in April of 1986. In parallel, Mikhael Gorbachev’s Perestroika (restructuring), Glasnost (openness) and his Sinatra Doctrine of October 1988, which was essentially a policy of non-interventionism (reversal of the Brezhnev Doctrine from 1968), paved the way for discontent to show in Eastern Bloc Soviet-led satellite states, and by April of 1988 civil unrest led the Hungarian government to begin dismantling its 240-km wide fence with Austria, leading to the first Pan-European Picnic in August of 1988 as 900 East Germans fled to Hungary and then through Austria towards West Germany. Another symbol of European reunification was the collapse of the Berlin Wall that was erected in 1962 in November of 1989 and following that the reunification of West with East Germany on the 3rd of October 1990. These countries were suffering from underdeveloped economies, bad-quality infrastructure and tottering civil societies and thus were interested in joining the European Union.

This meant that further enlargement was on the horizon. In June 1993, a meeting of the European Council in Copenhagen led to the creation of the Copenhagen criteria, a list of conditions that aspiring countries must meet to join the European Union. It included the prerequisites of stable democratic institutions (i.e. rule of law), a working market economy capable of coping with the union’s single market and the willingness to realign national policy with European-level directives. By 1995, Austria, Sweden and Finland joined the European Union. The Central and Eastern Europe Countries (CEECs) such as Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Czech and Slovak Republics were granted the so-called Europe Agreements to negotiate their accession projects into the EU. This would culminate on the 1st of May 2004 with the with the biggest enlargement of the European Union yet, seeing that by that time the seven former Communist countries part of the ten (A10) were economically sound enough to meet the Copenhagen criteria. The 2004 enlargement would also be joined by Romania and Bulgaria on the 1st of January 2007, which the European Commission labeled as the fifth wave of enlargement overall.

From the 1990s onwards, this prospect of enlargement was a key driving force behind European integration. In addition, the Yugoslav War – a series of bloody conflicts in the former Communist state of Yugoslavia between individual constituent republics with a wish to secede versus those military organizations who promoted unity from 1991 to 2001 – made European leaders realize that there was a need for a stronger cooperation in foreign policy matters. Finally, as mentioned before, the Schengen Agreements implemented in 1995 also presupposed, and even subjected participating countries to a robust mechanism for foreign policy cooperation. In addition, the late 1990s marked a decisive victory for the Labour Party of Britain, led by Tony Blair, and the usual roadblock of traditional-leaning Britain to EU integration was thus temporarily surmounted.

As such, the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999 reaffirmed the role of the European Union to legislate on matters concerning immigration, civil law and civil procedure in relation to the free movement of persons within the EU and incorporated the Schengen Agreements into its legal system. It was also the first time that the EU considered cooperation in defense-related issues, insofar as peacekeeping and humanitarian missions go by increasing links with the Western European Union (WEU) post-World War II military alliance; in 1999, the WEU’s mandate was transferred over to the EU and became the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). This was advanced by the Saint-Malo declaration in 1998, which was a response to the Kosovo War in the late 1990s as part of the Yugoslav War – it was signed by the French President Jacques Chiraq, and British prime minister Tony Blair, whose party, the Labour Party, had just won an election in May 1997. It called for increased cooperation in defense-related issues. It must be therefore said that the 1997 election in Britain played a key role in turning the traditionally conservative nation into supporters of EU integration, and that without the Labour victory progress would have been much slower (e.g. they ceased opting out from the 1989 Social Charter in 1997, allowing the discussed treaty to incorporate it within its legal text). In addition, the High Representative post for the CFSP pillar of the EU, who acts as a representative of EU policies to the outside world was created, marking a step away from intergovernmentalism in favor of supranationalism. Finally, to combat the so-called democratic deficit of the EU and to make the institutions function more efficiently, it extended the co-decision procedure and Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) onto more areas such as foreign policy (this means that no unanimity was required, thus deepening integration), introduced enhanced cooperation to allow member states to cooperate outside of EU treaties and implemented constructive abstention for security and foreign policy issues, meaning that an opt-out from one country does not automatically impede implementation in other member states.

Following this, the Treaty of Nice of December 2000 specifically dealt with the prospect of enlargement, with a focus on the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the system. It removed national vetoes from thirty-nine areas of decision-making and extended Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) in the European Council (thus deepening integration and fixing the impracticality associated with unanimous voting for a large number of member states), while also capping the number of Commissioners to below 27 should the number of member states reach 27. As to the European Parliament, it was given the mandate to confirm or reject the election of the Commission’s President and the ability to sack individual Commissioners, thus giving more power to the most democratic element of the decision-making process. Another reform to make the European Union more efficient was weighted voting, which essentially stated that member states’ votes would be based on the percentage of the EU’s population that they represent. In addition, it was around this time, one year later again at the Council meeting in December of 2001, that judicial cooperation intensified due to the September 11th attacks in the USA; EU leaders quickly agreed on a European arrest warrant (managed by EUROPOL) and a common definition of terrorism, ushering in a new era of cross-border cooperation in criminal matters.

Amending the above-mentioned treaty was the Treaty of Lisbon (2009), which was drafted after a series of consultations following the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty in 2004 based on the Penelope Project launched by Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, following the European Council meeting in December 2001. It retained the goals of the rejected federalist Constitutional Treaty, namely streamlining political action, making the institutions more accountable and simplified, and strengthening cohesion between member states and EU-set policies. For this, QMV was extended to another 40 areas (e.g. external affairs, justice and home affairs), it granted the EU legal personality (this means that e.g. in 2012 the EU could receive the Nobel Peace Prize), extended the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (in Luxembourg) to home affairs, made the Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR) legally binding and created a permanent President of the European Council (position currently held by Charles Michel). The Parliament became co-legislator with the Council (i.e. it can adopt, amend and request legislation through the ‘legislative initiative’ to be formulated from the Commission and also decides on equal footing with the Council matters concerning the annual EU budget), and the power to confirm or deny the Council-nominated President of the Commission based on an absolute majority vote was reaffirmed. The European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) was introduced, allowing EU citizens to petition the Commission for developing a proposal should the number of signatories be 1 million individuals. In other words, it was a definitive step towards de facto federalism, albeit it removed all references to the flag and European anthem which the rejected Constitutional Treaty included, so as to not imply a de jure supranational state. Thus, by this time, the roles of the bodies as originally set out in Treaty of Rome of 1957 underwent major changes; the originally-consultative Parliament was now beginning to be on equal footing with the proposal-formulating Commission and the decision-making Council, as all three were now deeply ingrained in the decision-making process.

Finally, another push towards further economic integration was the global economic crisis that started in 2007, when US-based mortgage companies (i.e. those who give loans for real estate) ignored credit risks of buyers, leading to the bail-out of US banks in September 2008 as the housing bubble burst. As a consequence, European banks were also affected, which eventually cascaded into the Eurozone crisis lasting 5 years from 2009 up until 2014. As a response, many mechanisms were developed which allowed the European Union to swiftly regain its economic stability. Firstly, the Stability and Growth Pact of 1999 (SGP) as part of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) was reformed to be stricter, since the Commission was given more powers to enforce it and its budgetary surveillance, and in addition it was extended with the ‘European semester’ system (per-country fiscal policies set centrally by the EU to encourage growth and stability across the whole of interlinked Europe). The latter included increased macroeconomic monitoring (via the Sixpack legislation which entered into force in December 2011, which is aimed at for example curbing public deficit in the European fiscal union) and solidified socioeconomic cooperation (via the Euro-Plus Pact of March 2011, in policy areas such as competitiveness, employment, fighting tax fraud, etc.). In addition, the Banking Union was launched in 2012, and its first mechanism, called the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) began monitoring Europe’s largest banks by November 2014. It is a mandatory scheme in which all Eurozone countries must take part in, and it subjects all European banks under the authority of the European Central Bank (ECB). Essentially, they monitor the macroeconomies of the participating banks (122 big banks are currently under direct supervision, smaller ones are indirectly monitored) and intervene should stress tests find cracks in the economic viability of their branches – if so, the SSM enacts fiscal policies and directs the banks in question to avoid bankruptcy (e.g. setting capital limits or changing up the management). However, if a bank must bail-out, the Single Resolution Mechanism (SRM) in force from January 2016, will help through the Single Resolution Fund (SRF) to restructure and recover from the potential economic disaster associated with a bail-out. In other words, it was after the 2007-2014 periods of instability that the European Union transitioned even further towards economic integration, not only being an economic and monetary union but also a fiscal union, whereby financial policies are also harmonized to a great extent.

Today, European integration seems to have come to a standstill as institutions are paralyzed under the political tensions of a divisive era. In other words, as of late there is a renewed interest in European politics, but at the same time, the political divide has grown ever wider, especially since the 2010s. From 1979 onwards, interest in voting by EU citizens for MEPs has seen a steady decline, even though the European Parliament is the only directly elected European institution. To understand the extent of the issue, in 1979 63% of those eligible voted, while by the 2014 election this number was 43%. However, the 2019 election came as a reversal of this trend with 50.66% voting, a turnout that is borne out of the various geopolitical crises and tensions that threatened Europe in the last decade. The results of the latest election show the fractures present in the European Union, with a staggering 73 seats for far-right nationalists and another 105 for Eurosceptics in the 751-seat Parliament. At the same time, the pro-Europe Greens (including federalists like VOLT) have taken 75 seats in a swooping victory and the Liberals 108 seats, but the moderate right-wing Christian-Democrats and the traditional left-wing Social-Democrats have lost a combined 69 seats (when compared to 2014), highlighting that as times of hardship or propaganda-manufactured fear enshroud an era, citizens tend to lean towards more extreme political parties.

There are many reasons behind this ever-growing division of Europe. The faltering of the core Franco-German diplomatic relationship (e.g. the debate between German strict fiscal discipline and French debt mutualization), Brexit (‘British exit’) in February 2020 following a referendum in June 2016 but also prior gradual disengagement, politically paralyzed countries and those who are rife with nationalistic tensions leading to possible break-ups (e.g. the federation of Belgium), the lack of enforcement mechanisms for policies (that which federalists lament and call ‘Europe á la carte’ or Multi-Speed Europe, e.g. how Poland’s coal industry is hampering the EU’s ability to progress towards a zero-emission future), the rise of the right-wing in Eastern European countries due to post-communist syndrome (e.g. Orban in Hungary), secessionist movements like in Catalan and the socioeconomic differences between European core and peripheral areas (similarly between the 17 Eurozone and 9 non-Eurozone member states) all contribute to the loss of political harmony. However, there are also three events which have ignited tensions across the hemisphere in the past few years, and which, for some show the need for further social, political and economic integration of Europe, and for others, a return to sovereign nation states.

Firstly, the migration crisis in 2015 showed that the EU has difficulties with responding to events in a united manner (e.g. the migrant relocation scheme to take pressure off the frontline states of Greece and Italy fell considerably short of its quota, 120000, with only 33 582 relocated by February 2018 as member states simply refused to participate). In turn, this crisis, its handling and related events (e.g. Paris Attacks in November 2015, 2015–16 New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Germany) strengthened far-right and nationalistic sentiment across the continent (e.g. Alexander Gauland’s Alternativ Für Deutschland, Orban’s Fidesz and his 523-km long border barrier, Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord, Marine Le Pen’s National Front etc.), but also rekindled left-leaning, green and federalist votes in the 2019 election as a wave of fear spread over the sudden rise of the right-wing. Secondly, the climate protest movements led by Greta Thunberg also contributed to the rise of the Pro-European Greens in 2019, as her worldwide movement showed the need for a coordinated and united climate plan to tackle the dangers of global warming across the world. Finally, the response of nation states to the COVID-19 crisis was often ad hoc and uncoordinated, which led to many problems, such as increased death toll, overburdening hospitals, and the failure to quickly flatten the curve and left something to be desired in terms of a Europe-wide, harmonized and coordinated response. It is these events that play a major role in European politics today, and it is these events that pit ideologies against each other, such as the debate between nationalism and European internationalist integration, between the right-wing and the left-wing, between radical environmentalist policies and conservativism, etc. The only logical solution, some would say, is European federalism, for it ensures that countries unite together to defend against threats by forming a uniform response, whereas nationalism only makes individual countries more vulnerable to them. As such, the future of the European Union may look ephemerally uncertain, but at a second glance, keeping in mind Europe’s history it does not seem hopeless at all, since glimmers of future integration are on the horizon, borne from the difficulties that fractured Europe faced in the 2010s, just like how all previous threats eventually led to the strengthening of relations between countries from the 1945 onwards.


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