Chapter 1 The historical development of the EU


  • The aftermath of the Second World War led to several initiatives for European cooperation on the military, political and economic front.  The major challenge facing European reconstruction was how to rebuild Europe and ensure a peaceful recovery of German as an independent country.
  • While most of the organisations that were set up were intergovernmental in nature, France proposed an innovative scheme by introducing a plan for a supranational community in which a High Authority would be authorized to manage the common market of coal and steel.
  • The French proposal resulted in the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community through the Treaty of Paris in 1951 with six founding members: France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries. In 1957 the Treaties of Rome established the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).
  • The basic institutional structure of the early Communities consisted of a Commission entrusted to oversee the execution of policies, a Council of Ministers representing the member states, a Court of Justice to adjudicate conflict and a European Parliament representing the citizens of the member states. From the mid 1970s the European Council – bringing together the heads of state and government of the member states – emerged as the institution providing further political direction to the EUs activities.  
  • Since the 1950s European integration has consisted of a gradual incorporation of new policy areas, the establishment of new institutions and the inclusion of new member states. The integration process was marked as much by progress as it was by setbacks. While treaty changes provided the clearest indications of further integrative steps, other events such as the rulings of the Court of Justice or decisions of the European Council have been at least as significant for integration as well. 
  • The political struggles that were fought over the course of the EU’s history tell us a lot about politics in the EU today. A major issue facing every integrative step is what the adoption or change of policies will mean for the powers of the different institutions and the possibilities to safeguard the interests they represent.

© Herman Lelieveldt and Sebastiaan Princen 2011

Cambridge University Press