1960 - 1969: A Period of European Economic Growth

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  • 0:01 Europe in the Sixties
  • 0:34 Background
  • 2:22 Growth
  • 3:38 Agriculture and Trade
  • 4:37 Growth
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the growth of the European Union concept in the 1960s, when the six nations who had founded the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951 grew quickly and integrated their economies further.

Europe in the Sixties

Have you ever gotten chills on a summer day? Perhaps it was because you were sick, or perhaps you just caught the wind an awkward way. Either way, it's a weird feeling, being momentarily freezing in the midst of sweltering heat. This oxymoronic condition is similar to the political situation in Europe in the 1960s; as the Cold War ratcheted up the heat between the capitalist West and communist East in Germany, relations between several Western European countries improved as they continued to build upon the new economic agreements that had been forged after WWII.


WWII devastated both the European economy and countryside. With the help of monetary aid from the United States and other countries, Western Europe was able to rebuild itself relatively quickly. In 1951, using the infrastructure that had been put in place to disburse the U.S. aid, six countries, West Germany, Luxembourg, France, Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy, formed the European Coal and Steel Community, or ECSC. The ECSC built stronger bonds between the six nations and pooled important industrial resources like steel and coal.

Later in the 1950s, these same six nations looked to integrate their economies more than just pooling resources, creating the European Economic Community and EURATOM in 1957. The European Economic Community (EEC) tried to begin the process of turning the economies of these six nations into one common market, trying to reduce tariffs, while also making it easier for people to cross the borders to live and work.

Ironically, these six countries were making it easier to cross each other's borders just as the Soviet Union was making its own borders harder to cross. In 1961, in barely two weeks, the Soviet Union constructed the Berlin Wall to keep East Berliners from fleeing the communist East to the capitalist West. Tensions in the 1960s in Europe were high as incidents like the 16-hour standoff at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin and the Cuban Missile Crisis threatened to cause another global war - with Europe the most likely battlefield. In 1968, a student demonstration in Prague turned into a countrywide protest for democracy in Czechoslovakia. Within a few short weeks, the Soviet Union had quashed the uprising and reinstalled a hardline communist government.


In the midst of all this acrimony, the six western European countries that made up the EEC continued to build upon the cooperative successes of the 1950s. The pooling of industrial resources and reducing of tariffs had encouraged fast economic growth in the six nations of the EEC, and before long, a competing body was founded. The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) was founded in 1960 by Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The EFTA was founded with similar principles as the EEC; however, the association of these nations was strictly for economic benefit, whereas the EEC continued to integrate further.

Indeed, in 1961, the economic growth fostered by EEC cooperation naturally caused other nations to want to join the body. Ireland was the first to apply for membership in 1961, and the UK and Denmark soon followed despite being members of the upstart EFTA. Norway applied the following year. Despite these applications, the EEC did not accept any new, full members until the 1970s. This was in part due to the will of French president Charles de Gaulle, who was suspicious of Great Britain and the effect the entrance of its large economy into the EEC might have on the other states.

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