The idea of creating a united Europe has a long history. However, it was the Second World War and its devastating consequences that created the real basis for European integration.
The lessons of the war led to a revival of the ideas of pacifism and an understanding of the need to prevent the growth of nationalism in the post-war world. Another reality that laid the foundation of the process of European integration was the desire of the countries of Western Europe to restore the economic positions shaken as a result of the war. For countries that were defeated in the war (primarily Germany, divided into several occupation zones), the immediate need was to restore their own political positions and international authority. In connection with the beginning of the Cold War, rallying was also seen as an important step in containing Soviet influence in Western Europe.
Towards the end of World War II, two fundamental approaches to European integration took shape: federalist and confederate. Proponents of the first path sought to build a supranational European Federation or the United States of Europe, i.e. to the integration of the whole complex of public life, up to the introduction of a single citizenship. The second approach provided for limited integration based on the principles of interstate consent, while maintaining the sovereignty of the participating countries. For proponents of this approach, the unification process boiled down to a close economic and political alliance while maintaining their governments, authorities and the armed forces. The whole course of European integration is a constant struggle between these two concepts.
The starting point of the process of European integration is considered to be the declaration of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of France Robert Schumann of May 9, 1950. It contained an official proposal on the creation of the European Coal and Steel Association (EUSC). The agreement on the establishment of this community was signed by France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy on April 18, 1951. The EUSC aimed to create a common market for modernization and increase of production efficiency in the coal and metallurgical fields, as well as improving working conditions and solving employment problems in these sectors of the economy. The integration of this important economic sector at that time opened the way for the integration of other sectors of the economy as well, which resulted in the signing on March 25, 1957 by the members of the European Economic Community of Rome on the founding of the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).
The main objectives of the EEC Treaty were the creation of a customs union and a common market for the free movement of goods, persons, capital and services in the Community, as well as the introduction of a common agricultural policy. The countries that signed it pledged to begin rapprochement in their economic policies, to harmonize legislation in the field of economics, working and living conditions, etc. Euratom was created with the aim of joining forces for the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Even at the preparatory stage for the signing of the Rome Treaties, part of the West European countries considered the proposed federalist version of socio-economic integration excessive. Countries such as Austria, Great Britain, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland formed the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1960. Within this organization, integration was limited to building a free trade zone. However, with the successful development of the EEC, one after another, the EFTA countries began to strive for transition to the EEC.
The rapprochement of the states of the continent in the socio-economic sphere has become the core of the process of European unification. The formation of the European Economic Community has gone through several stages:
- Creation of a free trade zone with the abolition of customs duties, quotas and other restrictions on trade between the participating countries while maintaining their autonomy in customs and trade policies with respect to third countries (1957-1968);
- the creation of a customs union with the introduction of a common customs tariff instead of autonomous trade and customs policies and a transition to a unified trade policy for third countries (1968–1987);
- the creation of a single domestic market, which provided for, in addition to measures of the customs union, the implementation of measures ensuring the free movement of services, capital and labor (1987–1992);
- the creation of the Economic and Monetary Union, which provided for the introduction of a single monetary and monetary policy of the EU (1992–2002) with the replacement of national currencies with a single currency, the euro.
The project of the European Economic Community contained both elements of a federalist (customs, economic and monetary union) and a confederalist (free trade zone, single domestic market) approaches, which were strengthened or weakened depending on the political and economic situation.
A significant milestone on the path to the development of integration was the attempt of the federalists to create the European Defense Community (EOS) and the European Political Community (ENP). In 1952, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed the treaty establishing the EOS. According to this document, the military contingents of these 6 countries were to be integrated under a single command under the EOS, which meant the loss of state control over their own armed forces. The struggle of the federalists and confederalists during the ratification of this treaty led to the fact that in August 1954 the French National Assembly rejected the EOS Treaty. After this failure, the preparation of the ENP treaty was also stopped. The plans for creating a political union were not realized in the 1960–1970s (projects by Foucher (1961–1962) and Tyndemans (1975)).
The clash of two approaches to European construction reached its peak in late 1965 — early 1966, resulting in the so-called «Empty Chair Crisis». Then President Charles de Gaulle recalled the French representatives from the EEC bodies and blocked their work for several months until the Community partners agreed on the so-called “Luxembourg compromise”. It provided that France retained the right to veto the adoption of crucial decisions by six members of the EEC as a guarantee of maintaining state control over the development of the EEC.
Despite the opposition of opponents of deepening integration, the ideas of federalism were further developed. So, in 1967, the supreme bodies of the three Communities were merged (EEA, EEC, Euratom) into a single Council and Commission, which together with the European Parliament and the Court of Justice of the European Union (which initially dealt with issues of all three Communities) formed a common institutional structure. In 1974, a new Community Institute was created — the European Council at the level of heads of state and government, and in 1979 — the first direct elections to the European Parliament were held.
Achievements of integration in the socio-economic field, as well as global changes in the global economy and politics, required the creation of closer forms of interaction between integrating states. This was reflected in several initiatives of the 1980s, the main of which was the adoption of the Single European Act 1987.
EEA has proclaimed the beginning of a new stage of European integration — the creation of the European Union on the basis of existing Communities and the deepening of EU competence in the field of coordination of economic, monetary, social policies, social and economic cohesion, research and technological development, environmental protection, as well as the development of European cooperation in the field of foreign policy.
The signing of the Treaty on the European Union in 1992 in Maastricht (Netherlands) gave the European Communities not only a new official name — the EU, but legislatively secured the goals stated in the EEA. He also introduced the common citizenship of the Union.
These projects of the late 1980s and early 1990s bore the imprint of a federalist approach, although they contained some confederate elements (for example, the partial inclusion of social policy provisions in the EU’s competence).
At the same time, the federal path of development received more and more supporters. In 1973, Britain and Denmark — its traditional critics — became members of the European Communities. Even more supporters of this model appeared among other European states — Greece, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Finland and Sweden, which joined the EU in 1981–1995.
Due to the need to strengthen the role of the EU in the world arena, the fight against international crime and illegal immigration, as well as the prospect of the EU expanding into Central and Eastern Europe, the provisions of the Maastricht Treaty were twice revised and supplemented during the 1990s.
The Amsterdam Treaty (1997) reaffirmed the basic goals of the Union and supplemented the section on mechanisms for implementing a common foreign and security policy. A separate section was also included in the Treaty on the observance by the EU member states of the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, enhancing cooperation among member states in the fight against terrorism, racism, smuggling, crime, etc.
The Nice Treaty (2000) was a logical continuation of the Rome, Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties. He focused on three main issues:
- EU internal reforms (changes in the basic principles and decision-making procedures by a qualified majority with the possibility of blocking them by a minority, limitation of the application of the veto in 35 legislative areas);
- the admission of Central and Eastern European countries to the EU with the provision of seats and votes in EU institutions, which means automatic redistribution of seats between the «old» EU members;
- the formation of a common foreign and defense policy of the Union.
The future of the European Union, including the draft European Constitution, is discussed in the work of the Convention, which opened its work in late 2001.