The European Union
Europe's long history of conflict reached a crisis in World War II (1939-1945). In the wake of that destructive war, two goals emerged: to rebuild the nations' shattered economies and to prevent new conflict. Some people believed the best way to achieve both goals was to unify Europe. As you read the Case Study, consider the pros and cons of that idea.
Steps Toward Unity
In 1951, France and West Germany began the process of unification by signing a treaty that gave control of their coal and steel resources to a multinational group, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Italy and the Benelux countries also joined the ECSC. The six countries' leaders thought this alliance would have many positive results. Because the nations would depend on each other for industrial resources, their economies would suffer if they fought again. No country could prepare for war secretly because each knew what the others were manufacturing. In addition, the ECSC would set a tone of cooperation that would help Europe rebuild its economy. The next step toward unity came in 1957 with the formation of the European Economic Community (EEC), also called the Common Market. This alliance removed trade barriers, set common economic goals, and allowed people to live and work in any member country. Between 1958 and 1968, trade among the EEC nations quadrupled. In 1967, the EEC merged with the ECSC and another European alliance to become the European Community (EC). In 1973, the EC began to admit other European nations.
The European Union Today
In 1993, the Maastricht Treaty took effect, and the European Union (EU) replaced the EC. With 25 member nations, the EU faces many issues. They include settling political and economic differences, replacing national currencies with the euro, and expanding EU membership.
ECONOMICS AND POLITICS EU
members wonder how the union will affect their national economies. For example, workers may move to areas with higher wages, creating shifts in national populations.
Further, some countries believe that switching to the euro will mean losing control of economic factors such as interest rates. Others don't want to give up the national identities associated with having their own currencies. But many people believe the euro has benefits. These include greater business efficiency and increased international trade. In 1999, financial institutions began to calculate transactions in euros. Euros began to be used in everyday life in 2002.
The EU also affects politics. For example, on February 4, 2000, Joerg Haider and his Freedom Party became part of a coalition government in Austria. (In a coalition government, several parties share power.) In the past, Haider had made statements that were sympathetic to Nazi Germany, so EU nations criticized Austria for its support of Haider. Haider did step down, but some observers fear that a controversial leader like Haider could some day tear the EU apart.
EXPANDING THE EU
One of the complex issues facing the EU is growth. In time, it might expand to 28 countries that presently have about 475 million people. Running such a huge alliance could be difficult.
Many of the more recent members were once Communist nations. In general, they are less prosperous and have little experience of democracy. Such differences may create tensions that the EU will have to resolve.
On the following pages, you will find primary sources about the EU. Use them to form your own opinion.