Following the Second World War Europe found itself devastated. Thirty to forty million people had perished during the conflagration, cities lay in ruins, agricultural and industrial output was dramatically reduced, infrastructure destroyed, and communications disrupted. Occupied countries had suffered heavily. Britain was bankrupt, transformed in the space of five years from the world’s biggest creditor to the world’s biggest debtor. Germany and Italy were under allied occupation, their economies ruined. The continent was divided into two hostile ideological camps, and Europe found itself subject to external influence from either the United States or the Soviet Union. Europe needed to rebuild its economies, social relations, political systems, and infrastructure, while ensuring it was protected from economic security, poverty, and the threat of the Cold War.
The key to providing this according to the French economist and diplomat Jean Monnet was economic integration among European states. “There will be no peace in Europe, if the states are reconstituted on the basis of national sovereignty… The countries of Europe are too small to guarantee their peoples the necessary prosperity and social development. The European states must constitute themselves into a federation,” he argued in 1943 at a meeting of the National Liberation Committee, the French government in exile. Monnet’s initial plan of 1945 was focused on rebuilding France’s economy and industrial base, to the detriment of Germany by placing the Ruhr under French control and handing the Saar coalfields to the French.
Alongside Monnet other pan-Europeanists called for greater co-operation among European states. In 1948 the Congress of Europe proposed political and economic union, a European assembly, a pan European college, and a European Court of Human Rights. This was shortly followed by the creation of the Council of Europe by the Treaty of London on May 5, 1949. The Council’s main achievement was to produce the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights in 1950.
Tensions between Germany and France resulting from the 1947 removal of the Saar from Germany in the form of a protectorate under French control, and the British and American desire to remove postwar restraints on German heavy industry led Monnet to propose a pooling of coal and steel production in Western Europe under common institutions. The Monnet authored Schuman Declaration of 1950 proposed a supranational community with the aims of making war between its member states impossible, of creating a single market across Europe, and of being a first step on the road to the unification of Europe.
By the Treaty of Paris, 1951, Belgium, France, , Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and West Germany formed the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) which aimed to remove all barriers on trade between its members on coal, coke, steel, pig iron, and scrap iron. Though limited in its scope the ECSC was a political vehicle in economic disguise. Monnet and Schuman further proposed a European Defence Community, which came to nothing at the time.
In 1957 the Treaty of Rome introduced the European Economic Community (EEC) which aimed at creating a common market by removing restrictions on internal trade, agreeing a common external tariff, developing a common agricultural and transport policy, and ultimately removing all barriers on the movement of goods, services, capital, and people between its founding members, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and West Germany. In 1958 the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) was created to develop and oversee a specialist nuclear energy market in Europe. In 1967 the three organizations were merged to form the European Communities (EC). The EEC Council of Ministers, a policy Commission, and a European Parliament and Court of Justice formed the executive and legislative organization for the EC and gave it a federal constitution in embryo, albeit limited to social and economic affairs. In 1973 the first round of EC expansion saw Britain, Ireland, and Denmark become members, followed by Greece in 1981, and Spain and Portugal in 1986. In 1987 The Single European Act established a timetable for the completion of a common market, and in 1992 the European Union (EU) was created by The Maastricht Treaty.
Key to the make-up of the EU were three main components; enhanced cooperation in domestic affairs, a common foreign and security policy, and the reinvention of the EC as the European Community, with a broader authority. The treaty also established EU citizenship, which allows citizens to vote in and run for elections in their country of residence regardless of nationality. In 1999 a common currency, the euro, was adopted by eleven member states. Further expansion occurred in 2004 with the entry of the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007. In 2009 The Lisbon Treaty was finally ratified, establishing the constitutional basis of the EU as it exists today.
In 2007, before the global economic crisis, The Economist declared Europe, “a sclerotic under-achiever: a slow growing work-shy and ageing continent that is destined to be left behind by the United States, China and India.” In contrast the EU economy generates a GDP of US$ 16.57 trillion, making it the largest economy in the world. Though China’s GDP of US$8.23 trillion underlines its economic power, figures for GDP per capita tell a different story. The average European enjoys per capita GDP of US$ 32,999, the average Chinese just US$6,091. The EU is also currently the world’s largest trading block, attracts the most inward and outward international investment, is the top trading partner for eighty countries, and its trade in goods and services exceeds that of the United States and China. By other measures Europeans are among the healthiest, the best educated, and the most personally satisfied people on the planet.
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