Jul 28, 2016

European Union Origins, Changes

Many are aware of the recent headlines of the 'Brexit' or British secession from the European Union (EU), but are not aware of what the European Union is, how young it is, and how it began and changed over time. Here is a quick summary of the volatility, tenuousness, and fluidity of the EU.


During 1986 the Single European Act was signed. It is a treaty which provides the basis for a six-year program aimed at reducing problems with the free flow of trade across EU borders and creating a single market. In 1993 the Single Market was completed with the four freedoms of: movement of goods, services, people, and money.

During that time, there was major political upheaval when, during 1989 the Berlin Wall was pulled down and the border between East and West Germany was opened for the first time in 28 years, leading to the reunification of East and West Germany. The collapse of communism across central and eastern European brought Europeans closer together.

The Maastricht Treaty (formally, the Treaty on European Union) signed by the then 12 member nations, entered into force in 1993 with the goal of creating an economic and monetary union by 1999 for all EU states except the UK and Denmark. It aimed at unifying policies of defense, currency, and citizenship among the member nations. It has been amended by the treaties of Amsterdam, Nice, and Lisbon.

The euro was introduced to world financial markets as an accounting currency during January 1999 and in 2002 notes and coins began to circulate, with legacy currencies exchangeable at commercial banks in the currency's nation generally until 30 June 2002.

The Treaty of Amsterdam, which amended the Single European Act, other treaties establishing the European Communities, and certain related acts, was signed during 1997, and entered into force on 1 May 1999. It also made substantial changes to the Treaty of Maastricht.

Under the Treaty of Amsterdam, member states agreed to devolve certain powers from national governments to the European Parliament across diverse areas, including legislating on immigration, adopting civil and criminal laws, and enacting foreign and security policy, as well as implementing institutional changes for expansion as new member nations join the EU.

The Treaty of Nice came into force on 1 February 2003. It provided for an increase after enlargement of the number of seats in the European Parliament, which has ceremonial precedence over all authority at European level to 732 (currently 751), which exceeded the cap established by the Treaty of Amsterdam. It also provided for the creation of subsidiary courts below the European Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance to deal with special areas of law such as patents, among others. The treaty caused much consternation and debate among members.

The Treaty of Lisbon amends the two main treaties which formed the constitutional basis of the European Union. The Treaty of Lisbon was entered into force on 1 December 2009. The stated aim of the treaty was to "complete the process started by the Treaty of Amsterdam and by the Treaty of Nice with a view to enhancing the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the Union and to improving the coherence of its action." It contained stronger powers for the European Parliament and a new role for national parliaments. One article called for "the word 'assent' shall be replaced by 'consent'". See my blog for definitions. LINK

The exact impact of the treaty on the functioning of the EU left many uncertainties which have led to calls for yet another new treaty to be drafted.

The European Union now consists of 28 countries, including Croatia, last to join the EU on July 1, 2013. Stay tuned folks as this remains a very fluid situation.