HONOURS GEOGRAPHY
The European Union

*In the 20th century, Europe has not been unified, as it once was, by a common religion, a common culture, or a dominant empire.  However, after World War II, many European leaders saw a need for greater unity.  As early as 1946, Winston Churchill called for the creation of a ‘United States of Europe.’ 

*In 1951, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg (also known as Benelux) joined with France, West Germany, and Italy to form the European Coal and Steel Community, which placed all those countries’ coal and steel industries under joint management (in part to make sure they were too dependent to ever go to war with each other again).

*In 1957, the six nations of the ECSC formed the European Economic Community, which was designed to create a full customs union among its member nations.

*In 1960, other nations of Europe formed the European Free Trade Association to do the same thing for their nations, but were less successful, and eventually many of them (starting with Great Britain) left EFTA for the EEC.  Today EFTA only has Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein as members, and (except for Switzerland), they now take part in the European Common Market, but are not politically integrated into the EU.

*Britain first began negotiating to join the EEC in 1961, but the French President Charles De Gaulle feared this would let the USA into Europe too freely, as he wanted to create a united Europe that could compete with the United States.  Britain was not allowed to join the EEC until 1973.  At about the same time, Ireland and Denmark voted to join, and Norway considered it but its people rejected the move.

*In 1981 Greece joined the EEC, and in 1986, Spain and Portugal did as well, prompting fears that the European labour market would be flooded by cheap labour.

*Things changed significantly after the end of the Cold War, when Western Europe no longer had to fear the military and economic power of the Soviet Bloc.

*In 1992, the Maastrict Treaty was signed (in Maastrict, in the Netherlands), under which the EEC was renamed the European Community, and made a part of the European Union, which added political centralisation to the economic regulations and free trade rules of the EEC.

*In 1995, Austria, Sweden, and Finland joined (and Norway again chose not to in its 1994 referendum).

*In 2004, the EU almost doubled in size, from fifteen to twenty-five members, as Cyprus, Malta, Slovenia, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, and Latvia all joined the EU.

*Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007. 

*Croatia is being considered for admission to the EU, but negotiations were delayed by Croatian non-cooperation with the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.  Currently, Croatia is expected to join the EU in 2009, but it may be later.

*The other Balkan nations would also like to join the EU, but only Macedonia is currently on track to do so, and there is no scheduled date for that due to disputes with Greece. 

*Ukraine also desires to join the EU, but this is not likely to happen soon.  Switzerland has even considered admission (and Norway periodically does), but has still not joined the EU, although it is moving towards closer integration. 

*Turkey is officially under consideration for admission, which concerns many Europeans, because it will expand the EU beyond Europe, and will add a Moslem country to the EU (and a country that is relatively poor by European standards, even if it is moderately well-off by worldwide standards). 

*The EU has no official capital, although many of its government functions are performed in Brussels, and that is often regarded as its capital city.  Strasbourg, France, Luxembourg City, Frankfurt, Germany, and The Hague in the Netherlands also have government offices and structures.

*The EU does not have a constitution, but rather a complex series of treaties that have created the union out of the original ECSC, typically with each treaty amending (while recognising) earlier ones.  The EU tried to ratify a constitution, but all member states must agree to one, and in spring of 2005, France and the Netherlands (two countries typically strongly in favour of European integration) opposed it, partly out of fear that increased integration would cause their countries to be overrun by cheap labour from Eastern Europe (a million Polish plumbers).

*The EU has a flag, blue with a circle of 12 stars.

*The EU has its own currency, although currently only 15 member states use it.  This is the Euro (€), divided into 100 cents, and it is one of the strongest currencies in the world.  It is controlled by the European Central Bank, located in Frankfurt, although every member nation (as well as Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican City) mints and prints its own version of the bills and coins—all with a common obverse and a national reverse. 

*The nations that use the Euro are Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Slovenia, collectively known as the Eurozone.  Other EU countries (and Andorra) most adopt the Euro over the next few years, although Britain and Denmark are exempt from that rule, and Sweden shows no signs of trying to follow it.  It is also accepted in some other countries in and out of the EU.

*The European Union is in some ways a federal government, and in some ways it is a confederation. 

*Its monetary policy is federal (except for Britain and Denmark’s refusal to use the Euro). 

*Its agricultural policy—subsidies called the Common Agricultural Product—is run from Brussels (this is sometimes criticised by non-Europeans as unfair competition against poor third world growers, and is also resented by some rich European countries who grow tired of supporting poor farming countries or regions, and also the fairly wealthy nation of France—in fact, the UK receives a special rebate to make up for the fact that it would otherwise pay so much more than it gets in the CAP). 

*There is also a Common Fisheries Policy, which restricts fishing rights (which is one reason Iceland and Norway are reluctant to join). 

*The EU also has federal environmental and trade policies, and manages many workplace laws and regulations for all of Europe.

*Despite these broad powers, the EU is also a confederation, in that each country still has a wide range of latitude for national action, particularly on local social and economic policies and almost anything that takes place solely within that nation’s borders.

*Europe has a Parliament that meets in both Brussels and Strasbourg, with Members of the European Parliament (MEP) elected by each nation (in whatever way each nation chooses, with certainly guidelines), in numbers loosely based on population. 

*The Parliament is combined with the Council on the European Union (also known as the Council of Ministers and meeting in Brussels) to form the legislative branch of the EU government.  The Council on the European Union is made up of government officials from member states.

*The President of the Council on the European Union (sometimes called the European President) rotates every six months to a politician of one of the member nations on a pre-planned roster.  This president is not particularly powerful, however—he is not an executive, but more of a chairman.

*The closest Europe has to an executive is the European Commission in Brussels, which is a body that proposes new laws and enforces laws and treaties.  It currently has one member from each member nation, appointed by the national governments.

*The judicial branch of the EU is the European Court of Justice, based in Luxembourg.  It rules on claims that EU states are not obeying EU laws, on claims that the EU is intruding into national affairs, and on the constitutionality of EU laws and the laws of member nations—which worries some nationalists, since the ECJ ruled in 2001 that parts of Germany’s constitution were unconstitutional.  Each member nation nominates one judge to the ECJ (although at times when there were an even number of member states, extra judges were nominated to keep an odd number on the court).

*The most powerful nations in the EU are France and Germany, which overcame their ancestral hatred to try to rule Europe between them, with Germany supplying the economic power for the EU and France speaking for Germany, which does not want to look too assertive.  The other major nations are Italy, the UK, and Spain, as these five are the most populous and productive of European nations.

*The EU does not have an army of its own, but it is trying to create something like one (although not a standing army), and soon may have a European Union Rapid Response Force of 60-80,000 troops contributed as individual, national units from the member nations.

*If the EU as it stands today were one country, it would be the 7th largest in the world in area, 3rd largest in population, and have the world’s highest GDP.  To many Europeans, the EU is meant to be a counterbalance to the military, political, cultural, and economic power of the United States, although some Europeans feel that it is doing so at the expense of national sovereignty (or even the friendship of the United States, which some Europeans still value, particularly the British, who have always felt the have a special relationship with the USA).



This page last updated 5 March, 2008.