In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

On the EU: The Binds of History


What is the history of the EU? (Edited: Foreign Policy Blogs)

The battle has begun. The Prime Minister David Cameron has called for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, to be held on June 23rd 2016 [1]. The government supports our continued membership of the EU.

To understand our future choice we must understand the history. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the idea of a unified European continent underwent a resurgence. In contrast to earlier attempts at empires across the continent, including that of Germany under the Third Reich, this unity would be built by mutual association. Most European countries had lost their status after the Second World War, leaving a contest between the two superpowers of the United States of America and the Soviet Union, who were ideological antitheses.

The Schuman Declaration

In 1948, the Treaty of Brussels was signed between Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France and the United Kingdom [2]. This treaty contained a clause on mutual defence, expanding upon the Dunkirk Treaty signed by Britain and France in the previous year.

The Schuman declaration of 1950, named after its speaker French foreign minister Robert Schuman, proposed a European Coal and Steel Community, in which the production of coal and steel would be pooled between the signatory members. Mr Schuman said [3]:

The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any wear between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible. The setting up of this powerful productive unit, open to all countries willing to take part and bound ultimately to provide all the member countries with the basic elements of industrial production on the same terms, will lay a true foundation for their economic unification.

The Economic Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was established by the Treaty of Paris in April 1951 [4]. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the nascent defence group, absorbed the Western Union Defence Organisation’s role between December 1950 to April 1951.

After amendments to earlier treaties, the Treaties of Rome founded the European Economic Community (EEC) on the 1st January 1958 and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) around the same time [5,6]. Its founding members were Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany.

The Treaty sought a customs union between member states and a mutual reduction in customs duties, with common markets of goods, workers, capital and services among member states. The Treaty of Rome also established the European Commission. The European Atomic Energy Community desired the development of nuclear power in Europe.

As an alternative to the EEC, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) was an intergovernmental trade organisation established in May 1960 [7]. This trade bloc was for countries were either unable or unwilling to join the EEC. The Outer Seven — Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom — were the founding members of EFTA.


Today, EFTA has only four members. (Source: Global Edge)


By 1965, the Merger Treaty [8], which was also signed in Brussels, merged the executive bodies of the three pan-European entities — ECSC, Euratom and the EEC — into a single institutional structure.

The British Referendum

In 1970, Iceland joined EFTA; three years later, Britain and Denmark left the EFTA in order to join the EEC. In 1975, there was a British referendum on their continued membership of the European Economic Community, putting forward the question [9]:

Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?


The original referendum has meant a constant clamour for another membership referendum. (Source: BBC)

The Labour government backed continued membership, led by Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Several Labour members of the Cabinet campaigned to leave. The government pamphlet, Britain’s New Deal In Europe, was sent to every household by the Post Office, read [10]:

We are only at the start of our relationship with the Community. If we stay inside we can play a full part in helping it develop the way we want it to develop. Already Britain’s influence has produced changes for the better. That process can go on. The Common Market can be made better still.

In 1985, the Schengen Agreement led to the establishment of Europe’s Schengen Area, which is without border checks [11]. The initial signatories were Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany.

Single European Act

By 1987, the Single European Act came into effect [12]. It was the first major revision to the Treaty of Rome, setting the task of creating a single market within its member states, codifying the European Political Co-operation. There were delays in signing the Single Act, from Danish parliament who believed it would increase the powers held by the European Parliament [13], and the Italian government believed it would give insufficient power to the European Parliament. The Irish constitution meant the Single European Act could only be ratified following a referendum. Irish voters backed the SEA by 69.9% on a 44.1% turnout [14].

The 1992 Maastricht Treaty sought to integrate members of the European Community, changing its name to the European Union [15]. The treaty was based around three pillars: the supranational community (built from the Euratom, ECSC and EEC); the justice and home affairs pillar; and the common foreign and security pillar. It also set the rules around the new single European currency, the euro.

The United Kingdom had entered the Exchange Rate Mechanism — which tried to align monetary policy of its adherents — in October 1990. Two years later, the United Kingdom exited the programme, after the pound sterling was pressured by currency speculators. The most prominent of these was George Soros, who made over £1bn profiting from short-selling sterling [16]. The day when Britain crashed out of the ERM is often called ‘Black Wednesday’, severely damaging the Conservative reputation for economic governance.

The consequent strong performance of the British economy has led to some revisionism of this event. The signing of the Maastricht Treaty caused two waves of opposition in the House of Commons [17]: Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs opposed the opt-out from the treaty’s social provisions, and the treaty itself was opposed by rebels within the Conservative governing party.

Amsterdam and Nice

The Amsterdam Treaty, signed in 1997, set out major amendments to the EU institutions, accounting for recent expansions, and a commitment that the EU “shall respect the national identities of its Member States” [18].

(Video: AP Archive)

The subsequent Nice Treaty was meant to fix deficiencies in the Amsterdam Treaty, which was originally intended reform the EU institutions in preparation for eastward expansion [19]. This Treaty provided for the creation of subsidiary courts below that the European Court of Justice, in order to deal with specialist legal matters. There was also strong disagreement between Germany and France, with Germany favouring Council votes being weighted by population size [20].

The Nice Treaty was rejected by Irish voters in a 2001 plebiscite, on the basis of a low 34% turnout. Irish voters were then asked again, following a declaration of Ireland’s policy of military neutrality, due to concerns around a common defence policy [21].


Coming into force in 2009, the Lisbon Treaty amended both the Maastricht Treaty and the Treaty of Rome, and so is typically called the Reform Treaty [22]. Salient changes include votes taken on the basis of double majorities — 55% of the Council members who represent at least 65% of EU citizens — in many policy areas, and the European Parliament was endowed with co-decision powers.

The Treaty of Lisbon made the Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding within the EU. Importantly, the Treaty of Lisbon gave its signatories the explicit legal right to leave the European Union, and provided a formal procedure.

Today, the European Union stands at 28 members.

The European Union has suffered from tumult in the eurozone, and its responses to the European migrant crisis has inflamed reactions across the continent.


[1] BBC, 2016. EU referendum timeline: Countdown to the vote. Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[2] NATO, 2001. NATO the first five years 1949-1954. Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[3] EU, 2015. The Schuman Declaration – 9 May 1950. Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[4] CVCE, 2016. Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (Paris, 18 April 1951). Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[5] CVCE, 2016. Treaty establishing the European Economic Community (Rome, 25 March 1957). Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[6] EUR-Lex, 2016. Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community. Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[7] EFTA, 2014. History. Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[8] CVCE, 2016. Treaty establishing a Single Council and a Single Commission of the European Communities (8 April 1965). Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[9] BBC, 2005. 1975: UK embraces Europe in referendum. Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[10] Harvard Digital, 2016. Britain’s New Deal in Europe. Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[11] EUR-Lex, 2016. The Schengen Acquis. Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[12] CVCE, 2016. . Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[13] Boore, O., 1986. The Danish referendum on the EC Common Act. Science Direct. Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[14] Referendum Ireland, 2016. Referendum on Ratification of the Single European Act (1987). Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[15] CVCE, 2016. . Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[16] Litterick, D., 2002. Billionaire who broke the Bank of England. The Telegraph. Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[17] Goodwin, S., 1993. The Maastricht Debate: Major ‘driven to confidence factor’: Commons Exchanges: Treaty issue ‘cannot fester any longer’. The Independent. Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[18] European Parliament, 2016. Treaty of Amsterdam. Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[19] CVCE, 2016. Treaty of Nice (26 February 2001). Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[20] Laursen, F., 2006. The Treaty of Nice: Actor Preferences, Bargaining and Institutional Choice. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Lieden/Boston. Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[21] House of Commons Library, 2001. The Irish referendum on the Treaty of Nice. Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]

[22] Europa, 2014. Treaty of Lisbon. Available from: [Accessed: 27th February 2016]



This entry was posted on March 14, 2016 by in European Politics and tagged , , , .
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