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2000 - 2009: Europe Expands Further

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  • 0:02 The EU in the 21st Century
  • 0:37 The Euro & International Lead
  • 1:40 Further Expansion
  • 3:39 Financial Collapse
  • 5:56 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 history of the European Union (EU) in the 21st century, from its further expansion into Eastern Europe to its growing role internationally.

The EU in the 21st Century

When was the last time you were the captain or leader of something? Whether it's on a committee at work after 20 years on the job or on the soccer pitch as a teenage midfielder, many people at some point in their lives are respected enough to be handed the lead on something. In the 21st century, after over four decades of increased cooperation and integration, the European Union (EU) was ready to be an international leader. Whether through increased expansion into Eastern Europe or playing a greater role in international politics, the EU emerged in the 21st century as the premier political body in Europe and a major international player.

The Euro and International Lead

The first major test for the EU in the 21st century came in the distribution of the coins and bank notes of the new European currency, the Euro. The Euro was introduced in 12 of the 15 EU member states, with Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom opting to maintain their own currency. While the Euro had already been adopted in commercial and financial transactions since 1999, the 2002 changeover from nationally independent bank notes like the French Franc or German Deutschemark to the Euro was a gargantuan operation. In all, more than 80 billion coins were distributed throughout the 12 nations adopting the Euro.

The introduction of the Euro helped integrate the functions of its member states even further. Going forward, these member states began using EU institutions to act as one international organization. For example, in 2003, the EU was a major international leader in the peacekeeping mission in the Balkans as the former state of Yugoslavia continued its two-decade-long breakup. EU troops and peacekeepers took the role that had formerly been played by NATO troops in the region, signifying the EU's increased regional importance and leadership.

Further Expansion

With a consolidated monetary system and a growing importance in the world, EU membership was soon appealing to other nations in the region. Several Eastern European states began negotiations in the 1990s for membership, and in 2004 the EU welcomed ten nations into the fold: Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, and Slovakia. With the exception of the two island nations, Cyprus and Malta, all of these nations were formerly communist nations under either Soviet or Yugoslavian control. At the same time, Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey all began the process toward membership as candidate countries. With the new additions, EU membership grew to 25 member states.

Later that same year, the EU attempted to extend its legal reach as well through the implementation of a European Constitution. The European Constitution not only encapsulated many of the basic rights that earlier treaties had guaranteed citizens of EU countries but also attempted to simplify several EU institutions to make governing the expansive coalition of countries easier. However, before the Constitution could be enacted, all 25 member states and its citizens had to ratify the document. France and the Netherlands voted no, forcing EU officials to put the Constitution on hold.

Instead of a European Constitution, EU member states signed the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007. The Treaty of Lisbon intended to make the EU more adaptable to changing global circumstances, such as climate change or international terrorism. In the process, it also planned to streamline and democratize EU processes within its member states and also improve bureaucratic transparency. The treaty took effect in December 2009. The same year the Treaty of Lisbon was signed, the EU expanded membership yet again, accepting Bulgaria and Romania as member states and beginning negotiations with Croatia and Macedonia, who joined Turkey as client states.

Financial Collapse

The biggest challenge the EU has yet faced in the 21st century was the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression: the 2008 financial collapse. Though the collapse began in the United States, involving the country's domestic housing market and banking practices, the downturn quickly spread to the rest of the world, including the EU. The crisis instigated greater cooperation across borders between banks and financial boards in various EU states, but the global economic downturn still proved too much for the economies of some nations to bear.

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