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An historical perspective

The EU timeline

The process of building the European Union began in the aftermath of the Second World War, with the aim of ensuring security and prosperity in Europe. Over fifty years on, it is still a work-in-progress to which all European citizens can contribute.

The EU timeline


After nearly six years of fighting in Europe, the Second World War came to an end.


French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman presented a plan for cooperation between European states, ‘The Schuman Declaration’. This plan led in April 1951 to the Treaty of Paris, which set up the European Coal and Steel Community. It included six countries: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). It brought them together as equals, cooperating within shared institutions.


Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed the Treaty of Rome, which launched the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or Euratom). A Common Market was created where goods, services, capital and people could move freely.


The Customs Union was created: all import tariffs among the six EEC countries were eliminated.


The first election of the European Parliament took place through direct elections.


The Single European Act was adopted, setting out a timetable for the completion of the Common Market by 1 January 1993.


The Iron Curtain fell, creating an opportunity to unify Europe. This led to the reunification of Germany on 3 October 1990. Democracy took root in the countries of central and eastern Europe.


The Maastricht Treaty was signed, which created the European Union (EU). It set new ambitious goals: monetary union by 1999, European citizenship, new common policies – including a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) – and cooperation in matters of internal security.


The Treaty of Amsterdam was signed, which further developed the CFSP as well as employment and social protection policies.


The Treaty of Nice was signed, which reformed the institutions and reinforced fundamental rights, security and defence and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.


Euro notes and coins came into circulation in a number of Member States as national currencies were phased out. The euro continues to be adopted by more and more EU countries – the seventeenth and most recent country to adopt the currency was Estonia.


The Lisbon Treaty came into force in December. It strengthened the EU’s ability to act on the global stage, and gave a greater voice to the European Parliament, national parliaments and citizens.

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