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History: The Union's Origins

Economic integration was launched in the wake of World War II, as a devastated Western Europe sought ways to rebuild its economy and prevent future wars.

On May 9, 1950, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman announced a plan, conceived by French businessman-turned-advisor, Jean Monnet. To control the forces of war, Monnet proposed pooling European coal and steel production under a common authority.

The Schuman Declaration was regarded as the first step towards achieving a united Europe - an ideal that in the past had been pursued only by force. Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands accepted the French proposal, and signed the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) Treaty in Paris on April 18, 1951.

Jean Monnet
Jean Monnet

The Six set up the ECSC High Authority, to which member governments transferred portions of their sovereign powers. The ECSC was so successful that coal and steel trade between the Six increased by 129 percent in the first five years.

Encouraged by the success of the ECSC, the Six tried to pursue integration in the military and political fields. When these were derailed following rejection by the French Parliament in 1954, European leaders decided to first continue the unification of Europe on the economic front alone. At an historic meeting in Messina, Italy, in June 1955, the project to create a common market was launched. Two treaties were negotiated to establish:

A European Economic Community (EEC) to merge separate national markets into a single market that would ensure the free movement of goods, people, capital and services with a wide measure of common economic policies, and a European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or Euratom) to further the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The Six signed the treaties creating these two Communities on March 25, 1957 in Rome. Often referred to as the Rome Treaties, they were ratified the same year and came into force in January 1958.

© 2000 ILSP ( and MCRC