Consolidating the European Union, 1993 to the
The period since the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty has been an eventful one in the
history of the EU. It includes two treaties, three further enlargements and the creation of
the eurozone. However, the abortive effort to gain approval for a Constitutional Treaty and
foreign policy divisions over Iraq have created difficulties for those who attempt to chart
its path. In this chapter, we examine the events between the Fourth and most recent
enlargements, to see how effectively the Community has been transformed into a Union.
The background to the latest period in the evolution of postwar Europe was the ending of the Cold War. The threatening might of the Soviet Union had provided strong motivation for the countries to the west of the continent to cooperate and unite. The breakup of the USSR and the collapse of Soviet rule in Eastern Europe arguably changed the situation in important respects. It reduced the need for the United States to remain as involved in European affairs as once it had been; it might no longer wish to police every trouble spot. It left a power vacuum to the east, with European leaders uncertain as to how political life in Russia and its neighbouring states would develop. Russia itself had the potential to become again a key player on the continent. But in the former satellites governments varied from the strongly nationalist to the vaguely reformist and it was unclear what path they would pursue.
As for the European Community, which had just become a Union, one of the justifications for closer integration had been removed, a point noted by the Thatcherites in Britain. They claimed that integration was becoming obsolete. It had been originally conceived as a means of fending off the Soviet threat. Now that this had been removed, there was a case for a wider and much looser Europe. This might well be realised, for the Union was attractive to the ‘new democracies’ of Central and Eastern Europe which viewed it as an area of peace and stability. They wanted to join and in Britain their membership was seen as particularly welcome. The countries of the ‘New Europe’ could become a counterpart to those of ‘Old Europe’, particularly the dominant Franco-German axis.
In the 1990s, the process of enlargement seemed to be accelerating. An increasing number of countries were queuing up to join the new Union, carrying the potential membership to between twenty-five and thirty. This was a very different situation from the first twenty-eight years, which is how long it took for membership to increase from six to twelve.