History of the European Union

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Development of the European Union 1973 to 2013

The history of the European Union is characterized by a network of competing motives and development tendencies, each of which has had a directional effect on the development of the community at different times. What is significant is therefore the implementation of what is possible and feasible in the given historical situation, not the straightforward implementation of a precisely defined plan.

The structures of the European Union are subject to a long-term, confusing conglomerate of treaties. Since its inception, this structural deficit has given rise to a high degree of complexity , which has increased considerably from compromise to compromise and from enlargement to enlargement of the Community. For the Union, this results in both a problem of acceptance among EU citizens , to whom “Brussels” appears increasingly opaque, as well as the difficulty associated with membership growth in ensuring that the individual organs are able to function and act within the existing institutional structure .

The far-reaching process of change brought about by the end of the East-West conflict has led to the European Union, which has a common currency in the form of the euro and which now also largely includes the states of Central and Eastern Europe. The design and continuation of the European integration process remains an extraordinary test , even under the conditions of the Reform Treaty of Lisbon . More recent escalations in this regard result from the euro crisis since 2010, the refugee crisis from 2015 and the UK's exit from the European Union, which was decided in a referendum in June 2016 .

Schematic overview

in force
European Act
  Pix.gif Pix.gif Pix.gif Pix.gif Pix.gif Pix.gif Pix.gif Pix.gif
European Communities Three pillars of the European Union
European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM)
European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) Contract expired in 2002 European Union (EU)
    European Economic Community (EEC) European Community (EC)
      Justice and Home Affairs (JI)
  Police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters (PJZS)
European Political Cooperation (EPC) Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)
Western Union (WU) Western European Union (WEU)    
dissolved on July 1, 2011

Early plans for European unification

The first almost concrete ideas of a united Europe on the occasion of the defensive struggle against the Ottoman Empire emerged in the 17th century. It was Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully , who in his Mémoires ou Oeconomies royales d'Estat , published posthumously in 1662, designed a supranational structure with his Grand Dessin , which the European republics (including a newly founded Italian republic as well as Venice , the old Confederation , the United Netherlands ), inheritance ( England , France , Spain , Sweden , Denmark , Lombardy ) and choice monarchies ( Papal States , Holy Roman Empire , Bohemia , Poland , Hungary ) should include. This concept of European unification was essentially based on the medieval prerequisites of the Christian religion and the Latin language, which in turn provided a common framework for the marriage policy of the European nobility , but also for the large-scale wandering of journeymen and artists as well as for the exchange of ideas between scholars. Expanding this and anchoring it sustainably had been an essential feature of the rulership of Charlemagne (* 747 or 748; † 814, king from 768, emperor from 800) of Charlemagne of the Franks centuries before (see imperial idea ).

The design by William Penn (* 1644, † 1718) for a unification of the European world of states went beyond the grand design . In his essay toward the Present and Future Peace of Europe (written 1691–1693), Russia and Turkey were also treated as potentially belonging, a notion that goes well beyond the territorial expansion of today's EU.

Immanuel Kant's work On Eternal Peace (1795) can also be counted among the forerunners of European unification in a broader sense, as it saw a federal union of republican states as a prerequisite for world peace.

The French writer Victor Hugo , as chairman of the second international peace congress in 1849, called for the "United States of Europe". However, none of these ideas had any chance of realization in the given historical context. Hugo's advance was even directed directly against the prevailing political tendency of the time, which glorified the sovereign nation-state and soon drove Europe into competition with imperialist powers.

The European unification movement as a consequence of two world wars

Commemorative plaque for Churchill's speech in the auditorium of the University of Zurich

The fateful mechanisms of the First World War, the mass deaths in the material battles of positional warfare and the weakness of the continent as a result of the war brought about more broadly based European unification movements for the first time in the 1920s. The Paneuropean Union , founded and led by Richard Nikolaus Graf von Coudenhove-Kalergi , who came from the defunct Austro-Hungarian monarchy , had a distinctive profile in terms of content . In the Pan-European Manifesto of May 1, 1924, he conjured up three dangers: another European war, the conquest of Europe by a dictatorially led Russia rising to a world power, and the economic ruin of Europe, combined with the prospect of continuing to exist as an American economic colony.

“The only salvation from these impending disasters is: Pan-Europe; the amalgamation of all democratic states of continental Europe into an international group, a political and economic association. The danger of a European war of annihilation can only be averted through a pan-European arbitration treaty; the danger of Russian rule can only be averted through a pan-European defensive alliance; the danger of economic ruin can only be averted through a pan-European customs union. "

Despite the support that the Paneuropean Union received from its honorary president, the multiple French Foreign and Prime Minister Aristide Briand , it did not succeed in getting economic interest groups and other international peace movements on board. National and nationalist currents retained the upper hand - especially in the turmoil of the global economic crisis . In Germany the Social Democratic Party (SPD) called for the “United States of Europe” in its Heidelberg program in 1925 and was accused of betraying national interests. It was only after 1945 and 1972, respectively, that the Paneuropean Union under Otto von Habsburg developed into an organization that, in addition to striving for unification , made Central Europe "forgotten" in the East-West conflict an issue.

The goal pursued by Adolf Hitler in World War II of transforming Europe into a " Greater Germanic Reich " under National Socialist leadership, in which, according to the racist Nazi doctrine, Aryan " master men " should have ruled over non-Aryans who had been degraded to " sub- men " , dissolved immediately after the end of the war new activities for an equal union of European states. The Union of European Federalists founded in the post-war period since 1946 and the European Movement since 1948 played a key role in this. Winston Churchill gave a speech on September 19, 1946 at the University of Zurich in which he - like Victor Hugo - spoke of the “ United States of Europe ” based on the model of the “United States of America”.

Dutch cinema news about the 1948 European Congress in The Hague

The American Committee for a United Europe supported the European Conference on Federation , which first met on May 7, 1948 under the chairmanship of Winston Churchill in The Hague and was attended by members of parliament from the 16 recipient countries of the Marshall Plan . Work was carried out on a draft constitution for the United States of Europe , and the Council of Europe was founded in Strasbourg in 1949 . At first this hardly touched the sovereignty of the member states (with the exception of the European Court of Human Rights created in connection with it ). The original hope that the Council of Europe could become the core of a united Europe, however, soon died out due to the intentions of Great Britain, which still saw its future more in the global Commonwealth of Nations than in Europe.

The Western European Integration Approach (1951–1989)

The motifs of European unification mentioned by Coudenhove-Kalergi could nevertheless be linked almost seamlessly. With the Marshall Plan money given between 1948 and 1952, the USA sent a signal that it wanted to quickly rebuild the continental European economy and thus provide positive impetus for the unification process. In 1948, 18 Western European countries founded the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC), through which these countries were involved in the decision-making process on the use of funds from the Marshall Plan. The decisive factor for the finally successful start of the European reconstruction program was that the governments of the founding states now made the unification project their own. The German federal government under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was able to break through the international isolation and initiate the desired ties to the West ; France had the chance to protect itself permanently from German economic power and the desire for revenge : the end of the “ hereditary enmity ” was looming.

The foundation: "Coal and Steel Union" (ECSC)

Quai d'Orsay

On 9 May 1950 which gave French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman on the Quai d'Orsay named after him, but essentially of Jean Monnet developed Schuman Plan announced the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC, " Coal and Steel Community ") intended as the foundation stone for the economic and political unification of Western European states. The establishment of the coal and steel union was seen as a sensational turnaround in French foreign policy, as France had until then relied on Great Britain as its most important European partner in preventing Germany from regaining its strength. This idea still carried the Western Union in 1948. But the British, who for the time being felt closer to their Commonwealth , had boycotted all supranational-European initiatives. In order to eliminate the potential of the German iron and steel industry as a starting point for a threat to French security interests in the future ( Ruhr question ), Monnet relied on joint production conditions and control under the umbrella of a supranational high authority.

For the German side, who wanted to overcome the shackles of the Ruhr Statute , which had provided for the mining industry in the Ruhr area to be steered and supervised by an international Ruhr authority in Düsseldorf since 1949 , and for Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who sought a balance with France according to the magnetic theory , the prospective coal and steel union was at the given time an unexpected and immediately seized opportunity. The Benelux countries and Italy joined for political reasons, despite concerns about the competitiveness of their own steel industry; Not being involved in a European unification process seemed to them to be the greater risk.

Flag of the ECSC

During the negotiations, which lasted almost a year, at the initiative of the smaller states, a Council of Ministers made up of representatives of the participating states and a parliamentary assembly to control the democratic legitimacy of the Community authority were set up alongside the “High Authority”. On April 18, 1951, the foreign ministers in Paris signed the contract for the coal and steel union, which after ratification in the member states could begin on August 10, 1952 with the establishment of a common market for coal and steel. The ECSC Treaty, which entered into force on July 24, 1952, expired on July 23, 2002 as agreed after 50 years.

France's wavering: The failure of the EDC

With the beginning of the Korean War on June 25, 1950, American demands became more pressing to re- arm West Germany and to demand that the Federal Republic contribute to the military defense of Western Europe against the threat from the Eastern Bloc . For French and other Western Europeans, who were still under the impression of German occupation during World War II, the rebuilding of West German military units operating under their own command seemed hardly acceptable. On the other hand, snub the Americans, who vouch for Western European security, was out of the question. In this dilemma, the French Prime Minister René Pleven came up with an idea that without these specific circumstances undoubtedly could not have been thought seriously for a long time. The Pleven Plan envisaged a European Defense Community (EDC) in which German military associations and the armed forces of other nations should be integrated:

"An army of a united Europe, made up of men from the various European nations, should, as far as possible, bring about a complete amalgamation of the men and equipment that are grouped under a single political and military European authority."

The Pleven Plan only met with clear reservations with the approval of the partners, who viewed the instrument of a European army as too inefficient and, due to the associated need for negotiation and coordination, delayed. The US government was therefore able to enforce that, as an alternative to the EVG plans, negotiations on the formation of German combat troops and their subordination to NATO command can also be conducted. This variant was clearly favored by the German government because it promised more quickly the desired equality and the replacement of allied rights of reservation. But Monnet was able to convince NATO Commander in Chief Dwight D. Eisenhower that only the EVG solution would be acceptable to Western Europeans, so the Americans suspended their alternative model.

After two years of political wrangling over improvements, the failure of the EVG and the European Political Community (EPG) linked to it ultimately led to the negative vote of the French National Assembly , which rejected the ratification of the EVG Treaty on August 30, 1954 . Contributing to this were the expected costs of the EVG participation, which would have taken up around 25% of the French state budget and blocked France's path to becoming a nuclear power . The consequence of the French rejection of the EVG was that the American alternative model was implemented at short notice and when the Federal Republic of Germany joined the WEU and NATO in 1955, the Bundeswehr was founded .

The economy as a motor for integration: EEC and EURATOM

Jean Monnet, who had already developed the Schuman and Pleven Plans, was not discouraged by the failure of the EDC, but found new starting points in 1955 and, in the Belgian Foreign Minister Paul-Henri Spaak, the right mediator to help with the hard-to-get-started European unification process to provide new impulses. The French and the community had moved on with the major EVG and EPG projects, so that more manageable integration steps based on the example of the ECSC seemed sensible and possible. The fields of economic policy therefore came back into focus, with the peaceful use of atomic energy in particular offering itself as a symbol of progress and new beginnings. Monnet's business-oriented communitarization approach was supplemented by the entry into macroeconomic integration on the basis of a customs union , favored by the Dutch Foreign Minister Beyen .

At a conference of foreign ministers in Messina in 1955, these proposals were supported and perspectives for the gradual unification of the national economies, the creation of a common market and the harmonization of social policy were formulated. Nonetheless, unsolved problems and considerable resistance had to be overcome here as well. France feared the inadequate competitiveness of its industry and sought an advance regulation of the use of nuclear power. In West Germany , Economics Minister Ludwig Erhard , who was already on the world market, and Atomic Minister Franz Josef Strauss , who had greater expectations of cooperation with the USA in this regard, turned against this expansion of European integration.

Founding hall in Rome

The French resistance could be neutralized by the fact that a common agricultural market beckoned with good opportunities for the French farmers. And in the Federal Republic, Chancellor Adenauer made use of his authority to issue directives in order to oblige the recalcitrant ministers to follow his line, while the USA made their willingness to cooperate with the Federal Republic dependent on their joining the European nuclear community. The Suez Crisis in 1956 did the rest to make it more advisable to the French government to move closer to the Federal Republic, and so on March 25, 1957 in Rome, representatives of the six states (Foreign Minister Paul-Henri Spaak , Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer , Foreign Minister Christian Pineau , Prime Minister Antonio Segni , Prime Minister Joseph Bech and Foreign Minister Joseph Luns ) of the coal and steel union, the treaties on the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom or EAG) are signed. These so-called Rome Treaties came into force at the beginning of 1958 .

The EEC Treaty resulted in three new Community financing instruments:

In contrast to the ECSC, where the High Authority acted as the decision-making body, in the EEC it was the Council of Ministers which issued regulations and directives . The European Commission was attached to this interest body of the member states as a community body , the members of which are appointed by mutual agreement of the member states, but which exercised the monopoly of initiative for Community lawmaking independently of the government. The Commission was accountable to the European Parliament , which, unlike national parliaments, initially had few binding rights and played the role of a democratic fig leaf, while the democratic legitimacy of the community was mainly determined by the influence of national elections and parliaments Government officials dined in community institutions. The European Court of Justice , which was established in connection with the ECSC and has its seat in Luxembourg , acted as the judicial body .

Brussels was chosen as the meeting place for the EEC and EURATOM Commission. The ECSC kept its seat in Luxembourg and the Consultative Assemblies (soon afterwards: European Parliament) met at the seat of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg ; Monnet's plan to create a European capital modeled on Washington, DC was therefore not carried out.

In contrast to the EEC, which had already become the engine of integration because of the customs union being realized faster than foreseen in the treaties, EURATOM lost its influence early on because the member states, especially France as the only aspirant to nuclear weapons , ultimately operated their own nuclear energy programs more strongly than that Joint project and because nuclear energy did not meet the high expectations overall.

From blockade to expansion

1958 was not only the year in which the Rome Treaties came into effect and were pending probation, but also the year of the state crisis caused by the Algerian war and the constitutional reform in France, in which Charles de Gaulle became the strong man of the Fifth Republic . It was also to become the determining factor for European unification in the following decade - albeit in a braking function. This became apparent immediately when the UK-initiated merger of the EEC and OEEC into a large free trade area failed due to his resistance. De Gaulle was not a friend of more extensive supranational structures either, but as a counterweight to the British initiative he presented the plan for a political union of the community with strong national sovereignty reservations in the sense of a "Europe (s) of fatherlands". Both initiatives did not succeed , so that on the one hand there was only an EFTA free trade zone without the EEC, and on the other - after the Benelux countries for de Gaulle's plans - his increased interest in further reconciliation and closer cooperation with the Federal Republic of Germany. This was sealed on January 22, 1963 in the Élysée Palace with the signing of the Franco-German friendship treaty by Adenauer and de Gaulle.

In the meantime, Great Britain and Denmark had applied for membership to the EEC for the first time in August 1961, which only de Gaulle vigorously stood in the way, as he wanted to maintain France's leadership role undiminished. In doing so, however, he also aroused resistance in the community, which resulted in its sharpest crisis to date: In view of the impending transition from the unanimity principle in the Council of Ministers to an increased number of majority decisions (i.e. increased supranationality), de Gaulle took the failure of the French ideas on agricultural market financing as an occasion , on July 1, 1965, to withdraw the French representatives in the Council of Ministers and thus to put the further development of the community on hold (" empty chair policy "). The Luxembourg compromise of January 1966, which ended the French offside, did little to change this. Because the majority principle in the Council of Ministers was weakened just as permanently as the commission, which was restricted in its creative function. A second British application for membership in 1967 failed at the outset due to de Gaulle's obstruction. The merger of the ECSC, EEC and EURATOM to form the European Communities (EC), which was decided in the same year, changed little in the existing structures. The goal of the customs union was achieved in 1968.

New perspectives for the community did not emerge until after de Gaulle's resignation as a result of the unrest in 1968. At the summit meeting of the heads of government in The Hague in 1969 , when they took the initiative collectively for the first time as pointers for the EC, signals were both for deepening and deepening set for community expansion. It is true that there were still considerable political and economic hurdles to be cleared on all sides - in Great Britain, Norway and Denmark, those in favor of and opponents of membership fought bitterly with each other for a long time. In 1972 the heads of state and government of the EC states decided in Paris to transform the "totality of relations between the member states into a European Union". However, the form and content of the European Union have not been made binding. A report on the European Union published on behalf of the European Council in 1976 did not provide any new impetus either, although it set relatively limited goals for the European Union. On January 1, 1973, accession finally took effect for Great Britain, Ireland and Denmark. Only the Norwegians had voted against membership in a referendum (and were to repeat this in 1994). Greenland , which had joined Denmark as an autonomous part of Denmark, left the EEC after a referendum on February 1, 1985, mainly because of the overfishing of Greenland waters by European fishing fleets (see Greenland Treaty ).

Overcoming " Eurosclerosis ": EMS and EEA

Even after the end of the de Gaulle era and in the membership expanded since 1973, the further development of the European unification project mainly depended on the willingness of the heads of government to work together and to make compromises that were compatible with the primary national interests of all member states. In the European Council, which did not exist for a long time as the official organ of the Community, only modest results were therefore generally possible after tough negotiations, which were perceived by the European public as lazy compromises and an expression of cow-trading . A frequently recurring focus of action by the EC was the common agricultural policy , which subsequently threatened to paralyze the community. In the mid-1970s, the EC spent almost 90% of its budget on subsidies for agriculture . The high agricultural share was due to the fact that no other subsidy area was shifted to the EC level.

Since the summit in The Hague at the end of 1969, the main prospect of greater integration has been an economic and monetary union (EMU). The destabilization of the US dollar as the world's leading currency (the Bretton Woods system collapsed in 1973), which put the currencies of the European economies under speculative upward and downward pressure, made the project of a currency union of the EC members to stabilize the exchange rates attractive ( Werner plan from October 1970). But the lack of harmonization of economic conditions in the member states, the lifting of the gold backing of the US dollar and the first oil price shock in the wake of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 turned out to be so disadvantageous that the project did not withstand the waves of speculation: The exchange rates of the member currencies were released again and in most countries currency policy dominated again in their own national interest.

The project received a new impetus in 1977 from the British Commission President (and former Treasury Secretary) Roy Jenkins , who presented it as a suitable means of tapping the potential of the domestic market, curbing inflation and promoting employment . Only the support of the Franco-German tandem Helmut Schmidt and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing gave this initiative the necessary impetus. On January 1, 1979, the European Monetary System (EMS) came into force, within which the member currencies should only have fluctuations in exchange rates of +/- 2.25% and, if necessary, by the central banks through a newly created support fund (European Fund for Monetary Policy Cooperation) should receive help. The ECU ( European Currency Unit ) was introduced as a community-internal accounting unit in payment transactions and budget setting, which served its purpose until it was replaced by the euro . The expectations aroused by Jenkins of the EMS were actually confirmed in the medium term, even though the British government refused to participate in it as an over-reaching integration step.

The Community faced new challenges when it dealt with the membership applications of the European "southern states" Greece, Spain and Portugal, which had changed their political system. The respective authoritarian regimes had been replaced by western-type democracies, so that the long oppressed populations could now also assert political and moral claims to be included in the European integration process. The Greeks, who had applied for membership as early as 1975, were formally admitted in 1981, while the accession negotiations with Spain and Portugal dragged on because of the economic and financial concerns of the old members on the one hand and demands for special regulations and privileges on the other. At this point it seemed very questionable whether the backward industrial production of the new generation would be able to face competition from the community. Conversely, the economically particularly important agricultural sectors of these candidates were viewed as very problematic by the old members. B. in wine and tropical fruits and also threatened by the Spanish fishery. A rapidly growing agricultural market would considerably increase the burden on the Community budget, which is already disproportionately high in this area due to price guarantees and support purchases. Greece, as the youngest member, was only able to negotiate its approval of the accession of Spain and Portugal, which finally came into effect in 1986, through considerable special concessions.

The very hesitant admission of the two Iberian states reflected a phase of internal paralysis that had afflicted the community in the early 1980s, when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called for the EC funding basis to be changed in favor of Great Britain ("I want my money back!" ) and made this a prerequisite for any willingness to cooperate in important questions of community development. It was only when the difference between high import duties, which Great Britain had to pay to the EC budget, and relatively low returns for British agriculture (both were related to the peculiarities of the island's economic structure, which is part of the Commonwealth of Nations ), through the so-called “ British discount” “1984 was generously compensated (a 40 percent discount on the British mandatory contributions to the EC budget, which had to be offset by the increase in EC own resources from VAT), this Eurosclerosis ended . In addition, two committees were set up in 1984 to help revitalize the process of integration: the “Citizens' Europe” committee headed by Pietro Adonnino and the ad hoc committee on institutional issues headed by James Dooge . Both committees presented their final reports in the following year: while the Adonnino committee proposed various reforms at the level of symbols, such as the introduction of a European anthem and the adoption of the flag of the Council of Europe for the EC, but also practical innovations such as the right to vote for all EC citizens When it came to local elections in their place of residence, the Dooge Committee advocated institutional innovations such as an expansion of majority voting in the Council of Ministers and a strengthening of the European Parliament.

European flag

With Jacques Delors of the European Commission stood since 1985 before a president who promoted the integration of the Community vigorously by the completion of the European internal market drove forward consistently. To this end, the Treaty of Rome of 1957 should be supplemented and the political decision-making structures improved in line with the Dooge report: Strengthening the majority principle in the Council and the position of the European Parliament, which was directly elected for the first time in 1979, by introducing the new procedure for cooperation between Council and Parliament. Signed in February 1986, the reorientation of the Community in the form of the Single European Act (EEA) came into force in July 1987.

The schedule stipulated that the European internal market should be achieved in all areas by the end of 1992. This program was implemented step by step through clear time limits and controls by the Commission in close coordination with the Council. The requirements of the community now had a significantly increased impact on national legislation in the member states.

The end of the East-West confrontation and the restructuring of the "European house"

Parallel to the development and entry into force of the Single European Act, the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev (first man in the state since March 1985) entered a phase of fundamental restructuring of its political and social system with glasnost and perestroika , which also had effects on an international level The bloc confrontation that existed at the end of the Second World War and the arms race were abandoned, as was the Brezhnev doctrine , which served to justify military interventions in the socialist “brother states” .

The Eastern Bloc dissolved in the autumn of 1989, followed by the breakup of the Soviet Union until the end of 1991 and the dissolution of Yugoslavia from 1991. The Eastern Bloc included the unified republics of the Soviet Union such as Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, the People's Republic of Poland, the GDR and Czechoslovakia , Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. The Iron Curtain that had divided the European continent into two blocks was lifted and the Central and Eastern European Nations ( CEEC ) regained their sovereignty. In the GDR , the turning point and peaceful revolution brought about the end of the SED government and resulted in German reunification .

For the victorious powers of the Second World War and the EC, there was suddenly and unexpectedly a foreseeable shift in weight and power in favor of Germany. In the medium-term perspective, the question arose as to how the inclusion of the now independent CEEC in the European integration process should be planned and managed. And with regard to Gorbachev's vision of a common European house , it was necessary to examine the dimensions to which the European “new or extension building” could or should expand.

The creation of the European Union

As in the founding phase of the European Community after the Second World War, the German question again became a catalyst for the European unification process after the end of the Cold War . The victorious powers France and Great Britain were initially skeptical and rather hostile to German reunification. But since the tendency was obvious and there were no seriously evident reasons to deny the Germans self-determination four and a half decades after the end of the war , the endeavor of the French President François Mitterrand at the end of 1989 was directed towards the future German power potential by deepening European integration tie. Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher shared this assessment - as a prerequisite for regaining German unity - and proved to be reliable European partners even after German reunification , so that since October 3, 1990, the EC treaties have also been applied to the five new countries . Together, Mitterrand and Kohl ensured that intergovernmental conferences on economic and monetary union (finance ministers) and political union (foreign ministers) were held in December 1990. According to their proposal, environmental policy, immigration and asylum law, health and drug control should be communitized, and European citizenship introduced and a common foreign and security policy (CFSP). The Treaty on European Union (commonly known as the " Maastricht Treaty " or "Union Treaty"), signed by the Foreign Ministers in Maastricht on February 7, 1992 , also stipulated cooperation in justice and home affairs and the introduction of a common currency at the latest Agreed on January 1, 1999. The role of the European Parliament was further enhanced by the introduction of the co-decision procedure , which put it on a par with the Council of the EU in a number of policy areas.

With the negative Danish plebiscite of June 1992, the Union Treaty got into a ratification crisis (the French only voted 51% positive in December 1992). Only after the Danes had allowed the Maastricht Treaty to pass in a second referendum, taking into account certain special interests (including non-participation in the monetary union) and the German Federal Constitutional Court had rejected claims against the transfer of sovereignty rights to the EU as - within the given framework - in conformity with the Basic Law, he could enter into force on November 1, 1993.

Soon after - on January 1, 1995 - three states joined the EU after swift accession negotiations - Austria , Sweden and Finland , which were prevented from doing so by their strict neutrality policy until the end of the East-West confrontation . The Switzerland and Norway (after neuerlichem negative vote of the citizens) remained on the sidelines, so that the European Union is now 15 members involved.

Even before the euro , the dismantling of border controls and border installations was able to arouse a feeling of European togetherness between the citizens of the member states participating in the Schengen Agreement , more than the Union citizenship , which only a few became aware of . The free movement of people, enshrined in the Single European Act as part of the internal market, was initially initiated by the Benelux countries, France and the Federal Republic of Germany through the Schengen Agreement in 1985, but without the necessary police cooperation and standardization of visas Would have already permitted implementation. In a second agreement (Schengen II) in 1990, such security-related regulations were made, but freedom of movement was not actually practiced until 1995. In essence, this is not a matter of EU contract law, as can be seen from the states involved. In the meantime, the Schengen area has grown significantly and will continue to expand in the future; Although it still does not include all EU member states, it does include some non-members (Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland).

The road to the euro as a common currency

The preparations for the final realization of an economic and monetary union had already entered a concrete stage before the end of the bloc confrontation in 1989, but despite all the subsequent crises and adversities, their implementation - like the Union Treaty - is hardly conceivable without the Franco-German Treaty Mitterrand-Kohl axis and without the dynamics of a fundamentally changed world and European political situation. For the French President, the economic and monetary union to be deepened with the introduction of the euro was important for his approval of the reunification of Germany .

It was Kohl who proposed Jacques Delors to lead the project in mid-1988; This in turn had the participation of the heads of the European central banks in the development of corresponding plans, in order to be able to bring the concentrated expertise of the top monetary authorities into the field against the expected resistance of individual governments. He actually succeeded in winning most of the participants over to a common strategy; Margaret Thatcher (British Prime Minister 1979–1990) lacked supporters for her resistance.

The Maastricht Treaty stipulated both the date of the start of monetary union (January 1, 1999) and the conditions ( EU convergence criteria ) that member states of the Union wishing to participate would have to guarantee by then. They concerned the price level, the national debt, the exchange rate and the interest rate level (each within specified limits) with the aim of macroeconomic stability.

When the Deutsche Bundesbank tried to counteract reunification-related overheating in July 1992 by raising interest rates, it triggered severe turbulence in the currencies of partner countries, which, like Italy, had to devalue after the Bundesbank failed to buy support or, like Great Britain, left the EMS entirely ( see pound crisis ; "Black Wednesday" ). A commitment by the Bundesbank to provide unlimited support for the French franc, which was also under massive devaluation pressure, presumably saved the monetary union.

However, the path up to the introduction of the euro (so named in December 1995) continued to be jeopardized by international currency crises and a lack of consideration of the convergence criteria in many EU countries. The turning point was not brought about by a stability pact implemented by the German side at the end of 1996 : in May 1998 the European Council found that 11 member states (and soon afterwards Greece) met the criteria for participation in monetary union. On January 1, 1999, the euro was introduced as book money , and on January 1, 2002 as the sole form of cash tender in all participating countries - in both cases there were no significant complications.

United Europe: The eastward expansion

The pressure to adapt that has gripped the EU after the end of the East-West conflict is reflected in the increasingly dense sequence of additions and changes to the community treaties. In addition to and after the even more solid European anchoring of the unified Germany, it had to be a matter of creating the prerequisites for the integration of the states of Central and Eastern Europe released from Soviet hegemony .

The large number of candidate countries stood in contrast to all the enlargements of the community that had taken place up to then. However, the completely different economic and social structures, living conditions and differences in wealth compared to the existing community had to be even more problematic . On the other hand, the former Yugoslavia, sinking into hatred of nations, civil war and ethnic persecution during the first half of the 1990s, showed how important the model and practice of European integration could be for stabilizing the changing post-communist world in the interests of both the candidate countries and the old members.

With the criteria adopted in Copenhagen in June 1993 , the EU set the conditions under which it was ready to accept further accessions (democratically established institutional stability, rule of law , human rights and protection of minorities , functioning and competitive market economy ). At the same time, however, it also provided aids and resources so that the candidates had the prospect of adopting the acquis communautaire ( acquis communautaire ) of contracts, legal acts, environmental and consumer protection standards, etc., and providing the evidence. In Agenda 2000 , published by the European Commission in 1997 , the financial framework for such aid was determined, so that from 1998 bilateral accession negotiations could be started with each candidate individually.

As in the previous rounds of accession, various old members brought their special interests into play on this occasion. So now feared z. For example, the Mediterranean countries Spain, Portugal and Greece in particular for the regional funding they have received from the EU budget, and their demands temporarily blocked the necessary adjustment reforms of the Community in the institutional area (e.g. weighting of votes in the Council of the European Union ). As in the agricultural sector and the free movement of workers, adaptation and transitional regulations were frequently discussed in the Council and at the summit meetings of the heads of government. The accession of twelve new member states to the EU took place on May 1, 2004 and January 1, 2007, respectively. On July 1, 2013 Croatia joined the European Union.

The EU also seeks to exert a stabilizing influence beyond the borders of the Union. On May 12, 2004 the EU Commission presented a strategy paper for a European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). It is intended to grant the neighboring countries in Eastern Europe, the southern Caucasus and the southern Mediterranean region economic privileges. To this end, cross-border cooperation is to be intensified. This also includes the resolution of regional conflicts , illegal migration from third countries, human trafficking and terrorism . On June 14, 2004 , Georgia , Armenia and Azerbaijan were the first countries to join the program.

The European Union in the 21st century

Campaign posters for the constitutional referendum in France in May 2005

In view of the complexity of the challenges and the variety of national special interests, it has become increasingly difficult within the EU institutional structure and particularly in the European Council to develop or negotiate sustainable compromises that promote the community. Even the Maastricht Union Treaty had to postpone open questions to a subsequent treaty conference. But the Amsterdam Treaty and the improvements made in Nice 2000 have remained piecemeal. After the failure of an EU constitutional treaty as a result of negative plebiscites by the French and the Dutch, the European Council instead adopted the Lisbon Treaty in October 2007, which - almost identical in its core content - also essentially aims at an institutional reform of the community. New questions about the further development of the EU arise as a result of the financial crisis from 2007 and the euro crisis , which were mainly reflected in the ongoing Greek sovereign debt crisis , as well as in the collective management of the refugee crisis , which was one of the causes of the British vote to leave the European Union in June 2016 is viewed.

Innovations according to the Lisbon Treaty

The line already followed in the previous treaties of strengthening the rights of the European Parliament and its increasingly equal position as the Union's decision-making body with the Council of the European Union is further expanded in the Lisbon Treaty. From now on it also has co-decision-making powers , especially in matters of the common agricultural policy and police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters .

The European Council is now chaired by a President of the European Council , elected for two and a half years , who is to concentrate entirely on this task and mainly to ensure continuity with regard to the Council agenda and the coordination between the heads of government. If re-elected once, he could hold the position for a total of five years. In the Council of Ministers, however, the principle of the presidency rotating every six months among the member states remains; unanimous votes are still required on foreign policy and tax issues. Otherwise, from 2014 onwards, decisions are to be made according to the double majority mode .

In future, the main responsibility for coordinating European foreign policy will be a “ High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy ”, who not only chairs the Council of Foreign Ministers, but also acts as Foreign Commissioner and Vice-President of the European Commission . As President of the Council and Commissioner, he can also independently take initiative and make policy proposals. According to the Lisbon Treaty, areas of increased future cooperation are the fight against climate change and energy solidarity as well as the common security and defense policy and armaments policy.

The freedoms of Union citizens are guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union , which is based on the European Convention on Human Rights . As a rule, it binds the Union as well as its member states in the implementation of European law . Union citizens have direct political participation rights with the option of calling on the European Commission to submit a draft law on a specific topic as part of a Europe-wide so-called citizens' initiative .

For future major changes to the EU Treaty, it is planned that the European Council will set up a European Convention consisting of representatives of the national parliaments and governments, the European Parliament and the European Commission. This Convention drawn up by consensus a reform proposal before then as before an intergovernmental conference drafted the amendment agreement, which must then be ratified by all Member States. In contrast, the enhanced cooperation enables separate steps in the integration of a group of EU members (as already given in the context of the Schengen Agreement ) if the project cannot be implemented in the entire EU. With a participation of at least one third of the member states, the EU institutions can set European law, which however only applies in the participating member states. On the other hand, the Treaty of Lisbon now also regulates the voluntary withdrawal of a state from the Union.

Slowed momentum - laboriously ratified progress on integration

Not only the failed introduction of an EU constitution, but also the extremely laborious, also threatened with failure and with all sorts of special regulations for individual member states ratification process of the Treaty of Lisbon show that the functionality and goal orientation of the European Union at the beginning of the 21st century stand to the test. In the same direction, it is also problematic that a rather decreasing political interest in the progress of European integration can be observed among EU citizens, at least in relation to the further decline in participation in the European Parliament elections.

Not only with regard to Ireland, where improvements and a changed political situation resulted in a positive citizen vote for the Lisbon Treaty only at the second attempt, but also in the opt-out clauses to the Charter of Fundamental Rights for Great Britain, Poland and the Czech Republic it can be seen that the Willingness to participate in the Union's progress on integration was not easy to achieve in many places. The ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court on the essentially confirmed compatibility of the Treaty of Lisbon with the Basic Law has also been interpreted as a brake on integration and has met with a very mixed response from the political public. In the judgment it says u. a .: "The European unification on the basis of a treaty union of sovereign states must not be realized in such a way that there is no longer sufficient space in the member states for the political shaping of economic, cultural and social living conditions." The law on the extension and strengthening of rights of the Bundestag and the Bundesrat in matters of the European Union were declared inadequate and an improvement was imposed.

Volker Kauder said for the CDU / CSU parliamentary group: “We welcome the court's decision. The landmark judgment will unfold its meaning across Europe. [...] It is also an important signal that the Federal Constitutional Court has assigned itself a stronger control function and will continue to watch over the future that the institutions of the EU do not clearly exceed their assigned powers. "

Former Federal Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer ( Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen ) wrote: “In the name of defending the principle of democracy, our highest court is calling for people to rely on intergovernmental cooperation and to keep away from further integration steps. But that means nothing less than strengthening governments in the name of democracy and popular sovereignty - and that is absurd. […] Karlsruhe locuta, causa finita? Oh, where from! With numerous setbacks and through deep crises, Europe will continue to advance as an integrating union of states , whether Karlsruhe likes it or not. Because this is and will remain the most important project for us Germans and Europeans. "

The long-time Federal Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher ( FDP ) also commented critically on the constitutional court ruling: “A closer look reveals that the ruling is entangled in an almost seminar-like way in the juxtaposition of the confederation and the federal state. The EU, however, is a sui generis legal figure - its very own, unprecedented and evolving nature, not comparable with forms of government or intergovernmental agreements or the United Nations. The EU is the fateful union of the European peoples who are moving ever closer to one another in the dynamic of the European integration process. [...] By entering a new world order characterized by global interdependence, the EU has received additional legitimacy. This requires the European institutions to be able to act and make decisions . Germany should continue to see itself as the engine of the European Union and not change from the Franco-German locomotive to a German brakeman's house. "

Unclear future prospects of the European Union

After the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, a number of questions and alternatives remain open for the development prospects of the EU in the 21st century:

  • Can it continue to function as a compatible model and welcome with open arms all those wishing to join who adopt its standards and meet the membership criteria?
  • Should it, in order to promote its internal stability and increase its global political weight, concentrate more on efforts to deepen the existing community and carefully sound out the necessary prerequisites for this?
  • Can she also do one thing without abandoning the other?

A look at the development of the integration process shows that there have been multiple changes between phases of dynamic upheaval and such relative stagnation. The states reached were always only provisional, aimed at improvement in the future. How should one imagine the European Union at its destination in today's world? Reaching agreement on this could be more difficult than moving from compromise to compromise. In light of some of the major achievements of the past few decades, the practices that have led to these results are not unfavorable:

  • the practice of the active, but always peaceful, reconciliation of interests in the national sense (who would still think a war between EU founding members is likely today?);
  • a single European market, which now includes 28 member states, combined with a Union-wide support program for structurally weak regions;
  • a common currency for more than half of the current Member States (" Eurozone ");
  • the integration of most of the states of Central and Eastern Europe, which, as “socialist brother states” under the influence of the superpower Soviet Union, had neither been able to benefit from the Marshall Plan aid nor were able to join the Western European unification process.

Europe's role and importance today is neither undisputed nor one-dimensional. But z. B. the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer given:

“It is also the coexistence of different cultures and languages, religions and denominations that sustains us. […] And here the multilingualism of Europe, this neighborhood of the other in a small space and the equality of the other in a smaller space, seems to me to be a true school. It is not just about the unity of Europe in the sense of a power political alliance. I think that it will be the future of humanity as a whole for which we all have to learn together what our European task is for us. "

Banking and euro crisis with socio-economic upheavals

The member states of the EU were affected to different degrees by the global financial crisis from 2007 and the subsequent euro crisis : the south more than the north, Greece particularly badly and persistently. With the failure of the previously plentiful bank loan financing, the over-indebted Greek state budget went from one emergency to the next - up to the threat of national bankruptcy . Last but not least, German and French financial companies had invested in Greek government bonds, which in turn put them at risk. In addition, the Greek crisis threatened to spread to other member states, especially in the Mediterranean region. At the beginning of May 2010, the EU finance ministers, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the EU Commission agreed on framework conditions for aid to Greece, whereby the scope of the guarantee of the individual countries was based on their capital share in the ECB and for Germany amounted to 22.4 billion euros. In return, Greece had to commit to a tough austerity and reform program to restore the country's competitiveness and debt servicing capacity. The troika consisting of the Commission, the ECB and the IMF should watch over this. In September 2012, an amendment to the Lisbon Treaty, which established a European Stability Mechanism (ESM), came into force, supplemented by the European Fiscal Compact that came into force at the beginning of 2013 .

None of the conditional aid packages negotiated by the EU have temporarily offset the economic and social decline associated with drastic austerity measures. Greece's remaining in the eurozone was also doubtful at times. A post-crisis phenomenon that is pronounced beyond Greece, for example in Italy and Spain, is high unemployment , especially among the younger age groups. But the danger of the European Union breaking apart in the course of the euro crisis, "which had arisen from mutual refusal to show solidarity - refusal of painful structural reforms in the crisis countries and refusal to support these reforms by the economic drivers [...] - seemed to have been averted at the end of 2012."

Autonomy and secession tendencies contrary to the Union

The latently anti-European pronationalist political currents of the Front National in France, the FPÖ in Austria or the Partij voor de Vrijheid in the Netherlands have received additional impetus as a result of the refugee crisis from 2015 onwards, as have national isolation measures against the influx of refugees in Eastern European countries and the supporters of a UK exit from the European Union by means of a referendum . After the majority of those who voted on June 23, 2016 voted in favor of Brexit, questions remain unanswered about the future position of the United Kingdom in Europe and towards the EU as well as the consequences for the further development of the EU itself. Hopes for a restabilization of the The European integration process was the reason for the election of Emmanuel Macron as French President, who combines short and medium-term reform plans with his initiative for Europe . Both the idea of ​​a coalition of the member states prepared for further integration steps in the sense of a core Europe and demands for the creation of a "European government" less dependent on national interests with a democratically legitimized European Parliament and a stronger decision-making authority of the EU Commission are being debated anew; other voices warn against expecting skeptical EU citizens to take further steps towards integration at all. The long-term pro-European Jürgen Habermas , on the other hand, argues: “The power of the Union is concentrated where the national interests are allowed to block one another. A transnationalization of democracy would be the right answer. In another way, in a highly interdependent global society, the lamented and actual loss of control that citizens feel cannot be made up for. "

Chronicle of European integration

See also

Portal: European Union  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of the European Union


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ John Gillingham: The French Ruhr Policy and the Origins of the Schuman Plan . (PDF; 8.2 MB). In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte , issue 1/1987
  2. Quoted from Brunn, p. 91.
  3. Path of no return. - Behind the facade of their Franco-German friendship, Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand fought bitterly for unity and the euro, as new documents from the Chancellery now show. Was the abandonment of the Deutschmark the price for reunification? In: Der Spiegel . No. 10 , 1998 ( online ).
  4. Mitterrand demanded euros in return for the unit , Spiegel Online from September 25, 2010, accessed on July 10, 2011.
  5. Brunn, p. 289 f.
  6. BVerfG , 2 BvE 2/08 of June 30, 2009 , guideline 3 of the judgment of the Second Senate
  7. uni-kassel.de
  8. Joschka Fischer : A national bar. In: ZEIT ONLINE . ZEIT ONLINE GmbH, July 9, 2009, accessed on March 25, 2020 .
  9. Hans-Dietrich Genscher Europe is our destiny . In: Der Tagesspiegel , July 14, 2009
  10. Hans-Georg Gadamer : The heritage of Europe . 2nd Edition. Frankfurt am Main 1990, p. 31.
  11. Loth 2014, p. 405
  12. Loth 2014, p. 414
  13. The players step down. Core Europe to save: A conversation with Jürgen Habermas about Brexit and the EU crisis . In: Die Zeit , No. 29/2016, p. 37 f.
  14. Cf. Manuel Müller: Review of: Kaiser, Wolfram; Varsori, Antonio (Ed.): European Union History. Themes and Debates. Basingstoke 2010 . In: H-Soz-u-Kult , March 30, 2011.