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Short history of the European Union

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Special: Agenda 2000: Will it increase nuclear safety in Eastern Europe?

(June 19, 1998) There are three treaties signed in the 1950s which are the beginning of the European Union: the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC-1951), the European Economic Community (EEC-1958) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom-1957). All three treaties had the same six members: Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, West Germany and Italy. This were the countries which received Marshall aid from the US after the Second World War.
In contrast to the ECSC, which expires in 2002, Euratom and the EEC were concluded for an unlimited period of time.

The background for European unity is the idea that only cooperation could put a definitive end to conflicts and wars in Europe. Since 1870 three wars of increasing destruction originated in Western Europe. France and Germany were the countries always involved. Therefore they had to be part of any European Union, be it economic, political or military. After World War II, the call for European cooperation became louder and the idea was supported by the US, especially after the beginning of the Cold War.
Many proposals for one form or another of European cooperation were launched. Not all of them made it or were successful.

  • In 1948 the West European Union (WEU) was formed, a Defense Community initially between the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, joined in 1954 by Germany and Italy. The WEU never played an important role, although it tried to revitalize in times of crises in European cooperation.
  • Also in 1948, the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) was founded by 16 European countries; the countries not belonging to the Soviet sphere of influence. The OEEC organized the implementation of the Marshall Plan. In 1960 it was transformed into the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and most Western countries and Japan became members. At present, 29 countries are OECD members, plus the European Commission. The OECD has its own organization to promote nuclear energy: the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. All these 29 countries, except New Zealand and Poland, are members of the OECD/NEA.
  • In 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed, with the US, Canada and nine West European countries, joined by Greece and Turkey in 1952 and by West Germany in 1955.
  • In 1950, a European Defense Community was proposed.

On April 18, 1951, at the prompting of French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, the treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was signed. For the first time one of the central areas of policy, until then a matter exclusively for the nation state, passed into the hands of a supranational organization. This comprehensive economic integration of the coal and steel industries was intended to lead eventually to a political union.

On May 9, 1950, the Schumann plan was proposed, to coordinate the French-German production of steel and coal. This date is seen as the most important step in the process towards European unification.
In 1957 the so-called Treaties of Rome (Euratom and EEC) were signed. One of the aims of the EEC was a common market to allow the free movement of persons, services and capital. The Euratom Treaty was meant as a new impetus for European cooperation and was set up to promote nuclear energy.
In fact the idea for Euratom came from the side of the US, which liked the idea of a large, unified European nuclear market. The US launched its "Atoms for Peace" policy in 1953/4 to promote civil nuclear energy. The US was the main exporter of nuclear knowledge, nuclear installations and nuclear materials. The US idea for a European nuclear union was taken over and became part of the 1956 Spaak report (named after a Belgian politician) for the creation of a common European economic market and a separate nuclear common market: the Treaties of Rome.

As one of the main reasons for a separate treaty for nuclear energy, was the mainly French wish to develop nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, independent of the US and the UK.
In June 1956, the French Parliament made the possibility to develop nuclear weapons a precondition for its support for Euratom. By permitting the development of French nuclear weapons, the French fear was dispelled. In contrast to the IAEA, the Euratom Treaty allows civil as well as military use of nuclear energy. The Euratom safeguards have only to ascertain that "nuclear materials are not used for other than the intended use". So it depends on what the "intended use" would be. If the European nuclear weapon states - France and the UK - declare to Euratom safeguards inspectors that they want to use nuclear materials for the production of nuclear weapons, then the inspectors cannot object.

Together with the Treaties of Rome, an Assembly of the European Community was set up, responsible for the ECSC, Euratom and EEC. The European Parliament (consisting of 142 members) was established in March 1958, with Schuman as its first chairman. Although in the Treaty of Rome direct elections were already promised, it would take 20 years before those took place in June 1979. Before that, the members of the European Parliament were chosen by the national parliaments.
The Merger Treaty of April 8, 1965, which came into force on July 1, 1967, established a single executive for the ECSC, the EEC and Euratom. The term European Community (EC) describes the coming together of the institutions of these three organizations.
On January 1, 1973, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the EC. The parliament grew to 198 members.
In January 1981 Greece joined the Community, and in 1986 Spain and Portugal followed. The parliament continued to grow; from 410 (since 1979) to 518 members.
In 1986 the Single European Act (SEA) was signed. Its aim was the completion of the common market no later than December 31, 1992. This changed the legislative procedure and brought the system of political cooperation in the field of foreign policy. Furthermore, the economic and financial cooperation was strenghtened. The SEA makes concrete progress towards European unification. The parliament gained some power:

  • It can vote `yes' or `no' in discussions on new member-states, and
  • It gets influence in the budgeting procedures.

On February 7, 1992, the Treaty on European Union was signed (known as the Maastricht Treaty). This treaty is seen as the most comprehensive reform of the Treaties of Rome. It also produces a clear timetable for further progress on the road to economic and monetary union (EMU), involving the introduction of a single currency no later 1999 and a European Central Bank. Due to difficulties among member-states, the treaty came into force in November 1993, almost a year later than planned.
In 1994, the EU and the seven-member European Free Trade Association (EFTA) formed the European Economic Area, a single market of 19 countries. The EU completed membership negotiations with EFTA members Austria, Finland, Norway (which did not ratify the accession treaty in 1995) and Sweden.
Austria, Finland and Sweden join the EU on January 1, 1995. EP grew to 626 members.
The year 1997 saw the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Conference and the signing of a new Treaty in Amsterdam on October 2, the completion of the final preparations for the third stage of economic and monetary union and the introduction of the euro, and the establishment of a new Union strategy for employment.
The December Luxembourg European Council took the decisions needed to launch the enlargement process. It stressed that the process must be allembracing, inclusive and responsive to events, and would proceed in stages at different rhythms depending on the degree of readiness of each of the applicant countries.

European Union's Governing Bodies

The European Commission (EC) proposes policies and is the only one allowed to take initiative leading to legislation (except in the fields of common foreign and security policies and justice and home affairs, where national governments are also allowed to take initiative). It is also responsible for administration, and ensures that the provisions of the treaties and the decisions of the institutions are properly implemented. The current Commission (1995-2000) consists of 20 commissioners, including the president, who are appointed by common agreement among the member-states and approved as a body by the European Parliament. Commissioners hold portfolios of responsibility and act in the interest of the Union, independently of national governments.

The European Council enacts legislation binding throughout EU territory and directs intergovernmental cooperation. The Council is composed of ministers representing the national governments of the 15 memberstates. Different ministers attend the Council meeting depending on the agenda. The decisionmaking procedure is difficult and discussed over and over. The 15 Member States have a total of 87 votes
in the Council, distributed according to the size of the countries. The votes are currently weighted as follows:

Germany, France, Italy, United Kingdom 10 each
Spain 8
Belgium, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal 5 each
Austria, Sweden 4 each
Ireland, Denmark, Finland 2 each
Luxembourg 1

In all the cases where the Council has to vote on a proposal done by the Commission, the system of qualified majorities has to be acted upon. A minimum of 62 of the 87 votes constitute a qualified majority. All environmental issues are decided upon by the system of qualified majorities.
However, for the very important sectors which have influence on the nuclear policy (industry policy, the regional and cohesion funds, and all R&D programs) unanimity is a condition. The Council can adopt, reject or change a Commission proposal. The presidency of the Council rotates among the members-states every six months.

The European Parliament (EP) is composed of 626 members, directly elected to five-year terms. They form political rather than national groups. The EP now has a limited legislative role thanks to the co-decision procedure introduced by the Maastricht Treaty. The Parliament acts as the EU's public forum, debating issues of public importance and questioning the Commission and the Council. The Parliament can amend or reject the EU budget but has, in general, very little influence on Commission and Council policy.

The Court of Justice interprets EU laws and its rulings are binding. The Court is composed of 15 judges, assisted by nine advocates-general.

The Budget
The Union has its own automatic sources of revenue. These `own resources' are comprised of a part of the Value-Added Tax (VAT) collected by the member-states, customs duties on industrial products and levies on agricultural imports, as well as a contribution by each member-state based on its Gross National Product. The EU budget represents about 1.2% of the combined Gross Domestic Product of the member-states.
The budget finances the common policies like agriculture, research and development, programs linked to the single market, as well as overseas assistance and other external activities of the European Union. In addition, more than one-quarter of the budget goes to redistribute wealth from the richer to the poorer countries via the so-called Structural Funds. A new Cohesion Fund, designed to accelerate this process, was agreed to as part of the Maastricht Treaty.

Financing of the 1996 general budget by Member State

Germany 30.0%
France 17.6%
Italy 12.1%
United Kingdom 10.8%
Spain 6.4%
Netherlands 5.8%
Belgium 3.8%
Sweden 2.9%
Austria 2.9%
Denmark 1.9%
Finland 1.5%
Portugal 1.5%
Greece 1.5%
Ireland 0.9%
Luxembourg 0.2%


Sources: Europe from A to Z: A Guide to European Integration; European Documentation, 1997 / Het Europese Parlement; European Parliament, February 1992 / General Report 1997; European Union, January 1998 / Bonn und die Bombe, Deutsche Atomwaffenpolitik von Adenauer bis Brandt; Matthias Kuentzel 1992.