The EU started as a peace project to bring an end to the troubled relations between the countries of Europe which had led to World Wars in less than 50 years. The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was formed in 1951 under the Treaty of Paris. In the words of Robert Schuman, the ECSC would make war “not only unthinkable but also materially impossible” by creating a common market for coal and steel. This had the effect of neutralising competition between European countries over natural resources. The ECSC had six founding members: France, Italy, West Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Following the success of the ECSC, the six founding members extended cooperation to other economic areas and to atomic energy. This led to the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC) and EUROTOM. Later these three organisations merged to form one European Community (EC).
In 1973 Ireland joined the EEC along with the UK and Denmark – the first enlargement. Greece, Spain and Portugal joined in the 1980s, followed by Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995.
Over the next four decades, the EC evolved into the European Union. The Maastricht Treaty 1993, also known as the Treaty on European Union, created the Union as we know it based on three pillars: the European Community (Pillar I), the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) (Pillar II) and cooperation in the fields of justice and home affairs (Pillar III). It was supported by a single institutional structure, consisting of the Council, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Court of Justice and the Court of Auditors.
The largest enlargement of the EU took place in 2004 (during the Irish Presidency of the European Council) with the accession of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus and Malta on Europe Day, 9 May. Two more former Soviet bloc countries, Bulgaria and Romania, joined in 2007 followed by Croatia in 2013 bringing the membership to 28.
The Treaties of Nice and Lisbon were introduced in the 2000s to allow the EU to adapt its structures and institutions to take account of its larger membership and the Union’s increasing role on the world stage.
In 2016 the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU by a small majority.
2017 marked 60 years since the signing of the Treaty of Rome. In March of that year, the European Commission published a White Paper to start the conversation on the Future of Europe. The paper set out five scenarios on how the EU could evolve. On 25 March, the European leaders marked the 60th anniversary with the Rome Declaration which commits the Union to addressing contemporary challenges.
The European Elections held in May 2019 wielded the largest turnout in 25 years as millions of citizens across Europe took to the polls. In November 2019 the European Parliament declared a climate emergency and in December 2019 the EU Commission presented the European Green Deal.