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The History of the European Union

The history of the European Union as a supranational organisation with 27 member states begins a few years after World War II. While the eastern half of the continent was cut off from all further democratic development by the Iron Curtain, the countries of western Europe recognised economic integration as one means of safeguarding peace.

It started with the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) founded by Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands with the intention of preventing another war by integrating these key industries. Economic cooperation was deepened with the founding of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957, which aimed to create the basis for a common market in which goods and workers could move freely under the same conditions as on a national market.

The first round of major expansion took place in the early 1970s, although Austria did not join until 1995. However, the EEC Treaty had already been amended prior to Austria’s accession by the Maastricht Treaty, which came into force in 1993 and began the transformation of the EEC into the European Union. This Treaty for the first time defined a common foreign and security policy (CFSP) in addition to economic cooperation. After the collapse of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, this marked the beginning of the shift away from a purely economic to a political union. This development culminated for the time being in 2009 with the Treaty of Lisbon, which set out common European values.

However, critics complain that the citizens and nation states have been forgotten on this long road to European unification. In addition to the growing tendency towards centralisation in Brussels, the question of the EU’s future borders, i.e. Turkey, are also the subject of massive criticism.

After a referendum in 2016, 51.89 % of the British population voted to leave the EU. On January 31, 2020, this withdrawal, also known as Brexit, was completed.

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