European Union Expansion: Events & Timelines

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  • 0:02 EU Today
  • 0:43 Early Beginnings
  • 1:43 90s Expansion and the Euro
  • 2:40 2000s, Today, and the Future
  • 5:12 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 briefly explore the piecemeal formation of the EU and discuss the nature of the Union today and its role as the political authority for most of Europe.

EU Today

To many today, Europe seems like a relatively peaceful place. The land of progressive social programs, delicious food, and loads of history, Europe is a prime travel spot for many Americans. However, this was not always the case.

As recently as the first half of the 20th Century, Europe was a volatile landscape, the arena for numerous wars, ethnic strife, and genocide. The main reason for the favorable view of Europe mentioned above is the increased European integration in the past half century. Indeed, in the recent past and moving forward, the bonds between European nations are poised to grow even stronger.

Early Beginnings

The roots of today's European Union can be traced back to the aftermath of World War II. Indeed, with Europe economically devastated during World War II, the United States and other western allies came to the region's aid with huge sums of cash through the Marshall Plan. To help distribute this cash wisely, 16 war-torn European nations formed the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (the OECD).

These organizations dissolved as Marshall Plan aid dried up in the early 1950s. Six nations (Luxembourg, West Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy) formed the European Coal and Steel Community in 1957, aiming to continue to foster growth in European economies. Their success caused other Western European nations to join the treaty organization over the following decades, and by the 1990s, the European Economic Community included the United Kingdom, Greece, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal.

90s Expansion and the Euro

The next major step in European integration and development of the EU came in 1993 when the European Economic Community officially became simply the 'European Community' as part of the Maastricht Treaty, which was signed the previous year. Indeed, no longer were the member states concerned merely with international economic cooperation in the region, but the transition from the EEC to the EC meant that these same states were intending greater cooperation at all levels of government, from agricultural development to foreign policy.

Going forward, the EU began to put more emphasis on all sectors of European life. For example, in 1997, the Treaty of Amsterdam stated that the EU's goal was to improve employment and general human rights in all of its member states, as well as reconfigure EU institutions in order to meet the challenges presented by its changing role. In addition, the Treaty set plans to explore the possible introduction of a single currency for all of Europe.

2000s, Today, and the Future

In 1999, the euro was introduced for electronic commercial and large-scale financial transactions, and in 2002, bank notes and coins were introduced as the euro became the sole currency of all of its member states with the exception of the U.K., which kept the British pound. The new currency made moving between countries even easier for the citizens and businesses of Eurozoned countries, and it gave the Eurozone one of the strongest currencies in the world.

Additionally, the Eurozone has expanded greatly in the last ten years, adding eight countries from formerly Communist Eastern Europe in 2004: Czech Republic, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Estonia, Slovakia, and Poland. Malta and Cyprus were also added the same year, Bulgaria and Romania joined only three years later, and Croatia became a member state in 2013. Turkey and Macedonia are still candidates for membership in 2014.

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