The original impetus for the founding of (what was later to become) the European Union was the desire to repair Europe after the disastrous events of World War II, and to prevent Europe from ever again falling victim to the scourge of war.
In order to do this, many supported the idea of forming some form of European federation or government. Winston Churchill gave a speech at the University of Zurich on the 19th September 1946 [] calling for a "United States of Europe", similar to the United States of America. The immediate result of this speech was the forming of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe however was (and still remains) a rather weak organization, like a regional equivalent of the United Nations (though it has developed some powers in the area of human rights, through the European Court of Human Rights.)
Founding of the three Communities
The European Union grew out of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which was founded in 1951, by the six founding members. Its purpose was to pool the steel and coal resources of the member-states, thus preventing another European war. It was in fulfillment of a plan developed by a French civil servant Jean Monnet, publicised by the French foreign minister Robert Schumann. The British were invited to participate in it, but refused on grounds of national sovereignity; thus the six went ahead alone. (See the Schumann declaration []).
The ECSC was followed by attempts, by the same member-states, to found a European Defence Community (EDC) and a European Political Community (EPC). The purpose of this was to establish a common European army, under joint control, so that Germany could be safely permitted to rearm and help counter the Soviet threat. The EPC was to establish a federation of European states. However, the French National Assembly refused to ratify the EDC treaty, which lead to its abandonment. After the failure of the EDC treaty, the EPC was quitely shelved. The idea of both institutions can be seen to live on, in a watered down form, in later developments, such as European Politicial Co-operation (also called EPC), the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) pillar established by the Maastricht treaty, and the European Rapid Reaction Force currently in formation.
Following the failure of the EDC and EPC, the six founding members tried again at furthering there integration, and founded the European Economic Community (EEC), and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC). The purpose of the EEC was to establish a customs union among the six founding members, based on the "four freedoms": freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and people. The EAEC was to pool the non-military nuclear resources of the states. The EEC was the far more important of the three communities, so much so that it was latter renamed simply the European Community (EC). It was established by the Treaty of Rome of 1957.
The three communities have always had identical memberships, and similar institutional structures. Originally they shared the Court of Justice and Parliament in common, having separate Councils and Commissions (called the High Authority in the case of the ECSC); but the Merger Treaty of 1961 merged their Councils and Comissions into a single Council and Comission.
Britain, not wishing to join the Communities, established an alternative organization, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). EFTA was merely a free trade area, not a customs union. It also included Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Finland, Switzerland, Portugal, Lichtenstein and Iceland.
Britain later changed its mind, and decided it wanted to join the Community after all. Ireland and Denmark, both of whom being heavily reliant on British trade, decided they would go wherever Britain went, and hence also applied to join the Community. The initial application in the 1960s was vetoed by the French President Charles de Gaulle; however once he had left office they joined successfully in the 1970s. Norway also applied to join, but the Norwegian electorate rejected admission, an event that was to be repeated again twenty years later, when they attempted to join along with Austria, Sweden and Finland.
Admission of Spain, Greece, Portugal
The Single Market Program, and the Single European Act
Drive for Monetary and Political Union; the founding of the European Union
Founding of the European Economic Area
Admission of Austria, Sweden, Finland
Austria, Sweden and Finland were admitted in 1995. Norway once again attempted to join, but admission was again rejected by the Norwegian electorate. With the admission of Austria, Sweden and Finland, only Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein remained members of EFTA.
Enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe
Impetus: end of Cold War. Desire to reunite Europe. To tie Eastern Europe firmly to the West, to prevent it falling again into communism or dictatorship. Cyprus made candidate for admission because Greece threatened to veto all other countries unless Cyprus allowed to join. Turkey had originally been promised admission in the 1960s. Much concern about suitability of Turkey as a member, especially due to its disputes with Greece, but there has been a desire to use the promise of membership as a carrot to encourage Turkey to reform its economy, and improve its domestic human rights situation.