Magazine article Behind the Headlines

The European Union Fifty Years after the Treaties of Rome

Magazine article Behind the Headlines

The European Union Fifty Years after the Treaties of Rome

Article excerpt


On 25 March 2007 the European Union (EU) celebrates the signing in Rome--50 years ago to the day--of the two treaties that gave it birth. On that historic day the European Economic Community (EEC) Treaty and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) Treaty, together referred to as the Treaties of Rome, were signed by Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Luxemburg, Italy and the Netherlands. After ratification in the national parliaments of these six countries the treaties came into force on 1 January 1958.

The EEC treaty was the more influential of the two. It stated that the signatories would aim to "lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe." The treaty envisaged the creation of a customs union--a Common Market--dismantling external trade barriers among the member states over a period of 12 years and creating a common tariff for all goods from third countries. The customs union was completed ahead of time, in July 1968. Besides a common external trade policy, the EEC Treaty also envisaged the creation of common policies in areas such as agriculture, transportation, competition, and indirect taxation.

The Euratom treaty dealt with atomic energy through the creation of an integrated market. This included various dimensions of collaboration such as research and development, technical knowledge, safety standards, protection of workers, and the facilitation of investment, ensuring that all member states would have equal access to atomic energy resources.

The origins of the EU can be traced back to a third treaty, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which entered into force in 1952, with a time limit of 50 years. Once that period was over it was decided not to renew the treaty. (Another attempt at European integration, the European Defence Community (EDC), aimed at far-reaching collaboration in the area of defence, but in 1954 in the French national assembly refused to ratify it and it did not enter into force.)

These treaties established three Communities--ECSC, Euratom, and the EEC--creating the European Communities. In 1965 the so-called Merger Treaty integrated them, forming the European Community. Supranational institutions of the Community enabled cooperation among the nation states. These institutions went through various guises, starting in the 1950s. In today's terminology they are the Commission, the Council of the European Union (or Council of Ministers), the European Court of Justice, and the European Parliament. These bodies together govern the EU.

In 1993 the Treaty on European Union, the Maastricht Treaty, expanded the scope and depth of integration originally envisaged in the EEC Treaty (single currency, environmental policies, citizenship etc.) and added two new areas of intergovernmental cooperation--Common Foreign and Security Policy and Justice and Home Affairs. To emphasize the change a new name, European Union was adopted. …

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