European unity has risen and fallen across the millennia, but our vast, rich history has always been shared and has undeniably shaped who we are today.
Classical Europe and Democracy
The vying governments and armies of the Greek city states around 400 BC were overshadowed as Alexander the Great forged the Macedonian empire from the Nile to the Indus. His conquests crushed local democracy in Greece, but they spread Hellenic influence across Eurasia to the young republic of Rome. Thus, the Graeco-Roman world, seen through the lenses of the Renaissance, is often described as the cradle of Western civilisation and the democratic values of which we are so proud.
Charlemagne, pater europae
Charlemagne, the king of the Franks, conquered most of today’s France, Germany, Benelux, Switzerland, Austria, and Northern Italy. He ushered in a stable form of government and a revival of learning termed the ‘Carolingian Renaissance’. His coronation as Holy Roman Emperor in 800 AD celebrated the return of peace, unity, and imperial glory to Western Europe – but also the triumph of Christianity, which had found a new champion over Roman and Germanic pagan beliefs.
From the 15th to the 16th centuries, Europe thrived culturally and scientifically by reviving the ideas of classical scholars such as those seen in The School of Athens by Raphael (1509-1511). Renaissance influence endures: humanist teaching methods and evidence-based science remain the bedrock of many national curricula around Europe; their paintings, sculptures and buildings are still admired by large crowds; their fascination with antiquity inspired the birth of modern political thought and diplomacy.
Congress of Europe, 1948
The Congress of Europe took place in May 1948 in The Hague, the Netherlands. Some 800 delegates - politicians from across the spectrum, intellectuals, trade unionists, journalists, academics and entrepreneurs - gathered from the entire continent at the meeting chaired by Sir Winston Churchill, himself a supporter of a "United States of Europe". The Congress demonstrated real support for such unity; it led to the creation of the Council of Europe and called for political, economic and monetary harmonisation.
Treaty of Paris, 1951
The famous Schuman Declaration was made on the 9th May 1950, calling for the creation of a supranational Europe. Less than a year later, the Treaty of Paris was signed by France, West Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries, establishing the European Coal and Steel Community. The ECSC pooled resources above national control, thus forging a common market and making war an economic impossibility. Moreover, the Treaty laid the foundations for the supranational European Union.
Treaty of Rome, 1957
The six members of the ECSC signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957 to set up the European Economic Community. Crucially, the EEC created a full common market and customs union with free movement of capital and labour. Furthermore, it established the European Parliament, European Commission, Council of Ministers (later Council of the EU) and the European Court of Justice. The UK, Ireland and Denmark joined the EEC in 1973, followed by Greece in 1981, then Spain and Portugal in 1986.
The Drive for Federalism
Deeper European integration and increasing power of our supranational bodies were once seen as the solution to social and economic crises - they still can be today. Federalism does not necessarily imply the creation of a single European nation; it means that some sovereign power is pooled by regions in return for collective strength in such areas as trade and currency - these qualities are visible in the original UK Act of Union, and in such prosperous federations as Germany, the USA and Switzerland.
Raising the Iron Curtain
The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9th November 1989 was a turning point for Europe. The ensuing re-unification of Germany and democratisation of the Warsaw Pact countries paved the way for the eastward expansion of the EU. In 1995, Austria, Finland and Sweden joined, Cold War neutrality no longer needed. The momentous enlargement of 2004 welcomed the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. In 2007, Romania and Bulgaria acceded, and Croatia in 2013.
Jacques Delors is the only person to have served three legendary terms at the helm of the European Commission. Between 1985 and 1995 he overturned the waning public participation in Europe and reinvigorated the then European Community. He ushered in the single market and the pivotal Maastricht Treaty in 1992, freed the stagnant Council with QMV, laid the foundations of the euro, and oversaw the Schengen Agreement, creation of the EEA, and the accession of East Germany and five new EU members.
Maastricht Treaty, 1992
The Maastricht Treaty saw the birth of the EU from three European Communities: the European Coal and Steel Community, European Atomic Energy Community, and the European Economic Community. These were merged into the first supranational pillar of the EU; the intergovernmental second pillar was for Common Foreign and Security Policy; the third intergovernmental pillar stood for Justice and Home Affairs. This EU structure existed until the Lisbon Treaty. Maastricht also drew up plans for the euro.
Treaty of Lisbon, 2007
The Treaty of Lisbon reformed the Treaties of Rome and Maastricht into the Treaties on the Functioning of the EU and on EU, respectively. To deal with growing size and influence, it legally consolidated the EU by replacing the European Communities and merging its three pillars. It created the President of the European Council and the European External Action Service. The Commission was scaled back and QMV expanded to aid smaller states. To improve EU democracy, the Parliament was empowered.
Perhaps today, people are losing faith in Europe again. With the global financial crisis imported from across the Atlantic, then the crisis in the Eurozone, and now the question marks over Greece, Euroscepticism has unsurprisingly crept in - the 2014 European elections made this clear. However, all is far from lost, for Europe has been up and down since 1945. EU resilience, transparency and democracy are advancing at the call of its citizens, so there is hope yet that we will return stronger once more.