In the post-1945 era, many international bodies have been formed which enable the nations of the world to cooperate with each other, some on a global scale, some more regional in character. They have ranged from the global United Nations and the World Trade Organization, to Western gatherings such as the Group of Eight (G8) industrial states and the Western European Union.
Countries have joined with one another in search of mutual benefit. Of the coalitions in Europe, the European Union has been by far the most significant. The very fact that so many new democracies in Eastern Europe have been attracted to the idea of membership in recent years shows that they recognise that it is now an important player not just on the European stage but on the wider international scene as well.
The Union was not the first attempt at European cooperation, but it has been the boldest in conception, the most developed and the most successful. In aim, method and achievement it goes further than any other body. It is not just a customs union. It has a number of distinguishing characteristics, including a very complete set of institutions and a wide range of policy responsibilities. But what makes it especially distinctive is the fact that members have been willing to hand over powers to some supranational authority and be bound by its decisions and policies. Its aim is also grander: an ever closer union of European peoples. As Nugent1 remarks: ‘These characteristics do not make the EU a state, but they do make it a highly developed political system’.
Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of the European Union, took the view that the sovereign states of the past could no longer solve the problems of the day. They could not ensure their own progress or control their own future. He disliked the intergovernmentalism of some bodies created in the years immediately after 1945, for he believed them to be ‘the opposite of the Community spirit’. In his view, ‘mere cooperation’ was not enough. Instead, he urged the creation of ‘new functional authorities that superseded the sovereignty of existing nation states’.2
Not all European statesmen shared his outlook, although his ideas were well received in much of continental Western Europe. In Britain, from the earliest days of postwar cooperation, there were doubts about the wisdom or desirability of the closer union that Monnet favoured. British ministers of either main party disliked the spirit of supranationalism which pervaded the European Coal and Steel Community, the first major initiative taken by the six nations who later went on to form the European Economic Community. They preferred the idea of cooperation in appropriate areas, where nations found working together to be to their mutual benefit.