Building Europe Through Treaties

July 1952
European Coal & Steel Community
March 1957
Treaties of Rome (effective 1 Jan 1958)
Feb 1986
Single European Act
Feb 1992
Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty)
Oct 1997
Treaty of Amsterdam
Feb 2001
Treaty of Nice
Oct 2004
Constitutional Treaty
Dec 2007
Treaty of Lisbon


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The creation of the first "Community", the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), marked the point of departure of over 50 years of European treaties. No fewer than 50 treaties were signed between 1951 (ECSC Treaty) and 2001 (Treaty of Nice). This accumulation of treaties has led to a complex constitutional situation that is difficult for non-experts to understand. These successive treaties did not simply amend the original text but also gave rise to other texts that were combined with it. The far-reaching reform undertaken by the European Commission and completed by the Heads of State and Government in October 2004 in the form of a constitutional treaty is a response to the urgent need to consolidate the existing European treaties in a single text.

European construction is a dynamic process. The Union developed progressively by relying on partial interdependence that was progressively extended from the economy to political domains. This summary fact sheet reviews the key stages of European integration on the basis of a chronological approach.

Initially, European cooperation was little more than the continuation of certain military alliances dating from the war. For example, the Treaty of Western Union of March 1948 prolonged the alliance of France, Great Britain and Belgium. This alliance was widened and transformed into the Western European Union (WEU). Almost at the same time, European economic cooperation got under way with the creation in April 1948 of the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation, which was to become the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). European policy was born shortly afterwards with the creation of the Council of Europe (all languages available), which extended European cooperation to a wide range of political, technical, social and economic activities. However, broad though this cooperation was, it remained an inter-state construction.

Supranational Europe corresponds to a new concept of Europe formulated by Robert Schuman in his famous declaration of 9 May 1950. This so-called functionalist approach was designed to create de facto solidarity between the Member States. In the loose European conglomeration, this initiative paved the way to the creation of a hard core of states, "the Europe of the Six", and the birth of the European Communities.

The European Coal and Steel Community - ECSC (1951-2002)
The first fruit of the new drive towards integration was the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, with the aim of organising free movement of coal and steel and free access to sources of production. This Community brings together six countries - France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) countries. The Member States were subject to supranational bodies whose powers were limited to the domains of coal and steel but which were entitled, in these domains, to take decisions and to impose them. The High Authority and the Council of Ministers were responsible for decision-making, while the Parliamentary Assembly basically played an advisory role.

The Treaty of Paris created the ECSC for a limited period of 50 years. Hence the ECSC expired on 23 July 2002.
The European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community, known as Euratom (1957)
After the failure of the European Defence Community (EDC) in 1954, the extension of the ECSC was to remain confined to the economy with the establishment of the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community, better known as Euratom. These two Communities were created by the famous "Treaties of Rome" signed in March 1957.

The EEC brought together the six countries which were already members of the ECSC. Its objective was to integrate trade with a view to economic expansion. It created a common market, a customs union and provided for common policies (agriculture, trade and transport).

Euratom consists of exactly the same Member States. Its objective is to contribute to the formation and development of Europe's nuclear industries, so that all the Member States can benefit from the development of atomic energy, and to ensure security of supply. At the same time, the Treaty guarantees high safety standards for the public and prevents nuclear materials from being diverted for uses for which they are not intended.
Finally, three distinct communities coincided as from 1957. The three communities had certain common institutions, but others involved a duplication of effort and their unification became necessary at this stage. The Treaty of Brussels (1965) merged the executive powers of the three Communities into a single "Commission of the European Communities" and created a single Council replacing the councils of the three Communities.

During this period, there was a genuine calling into question of the basic principles of European construction. The sovereign states' resistance to European construction intensified. The advocates of a Europe of nations rejected the supranational concept of the Communities.

The failure of the Fouchet Plan (1961)
Despite the failure of the European Defence Community, the question of political cooperation between Member States once again came to the forefront. In 1961 an intergovernmental committee, chaired by Christian Fouchet, a French diplomat, was instructed to prepare concrete proposals with a view to promoting political union. The committee eventually proposed creating a union whose objective was a common foreign policy and a common defence policy. The negotiations failed on three objections: uncertainty as to the place of the United Kingdom, disagreement on the issue of a European defence system aiming to be independent of the Atlantic Alliance, and the excessively intergovernmental nature of the institutions proposed, which was likely to undermine the supranational aspect of the existing Community institutions.
The empty chair crisis (1965)
As from July 1965, in opposition to a slew of Commission proposals addressing, among other things, the financing of the Common Agricultural Policy, France boycotted the meetings of the Council and insisted on a political agreement concerning the role of the Commission and majority voting if it were to participate again. This episode in European history is known as the "empty chair crisis". This crisis was resolved thanks to the Luxembourg compromise (January 1966), which states that "when vital interests of one or more countries are at stake members of the Council will endeavour to reach solutions that can be adopted by all while respecting their mutual interests."

During this period the three Communities were enlarged with the accession of new Member States for the first time and the Community received a new breath of life thanks to concrete developments.
The United Kingdom joined the European Communities in January 1973, accompanied by Denmark and Ireland. Greece joined in 1980, followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986.
Community construction continued during the 1970s, but it was accompanied by two major world crises: the dollar crisis and the oil crisis. These crises forced the Community to reconsider its future. A wide range of tasks was completed. The most important include the Davignon report (1970), the Tindemans report (1975), the report of the "Three Wise Men" Committee (1978), the Spinelli project (1984), and the White Paper on the Internal Market (1985).
In parallel with these reflections, which already foreshadowed the Single Act, Community construction forged ahead with such developments as:
  • the affirmation of the role of the meetings of the Heads of State and Government, which led to the creation, as from 1974, of "European Councils", meeting three times a year;
  • the election of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage as from 1979;
  • the application of Article 235 of the EC Treaty to extend the EEC's domains of intervention;
  • the creation in 1978 of the European Monetary System (EMS), based on the existence of a common unit of account, the ECU, in order to resolve the problem of monetary instability;
  • the Treaties of 1970 and 1975 and the decision of 1985 concerning the budgetary and financial provisions made it possible to reach agreement on Community finances (system of own resources and execution of the budget).

Progressively, the need for far-reaching reform became evident. It emerged that it would indeed be very difficult to complete the internal market on the basis of the existing treaties, notably because of their institutional rules, which required unanimity within the Council in order to harmonise legislation.
The Single Act proposed a certain number of reforms whose aim was to facilitate harmonisation.
It enshrined as its prime objective the completion of the single market on 1 January 1993. It also provided for the extension of qualified majority voting, the growth of the role of the European Parliament (creation of a cooperation procedure) and the expansion of Community powers, notably in the economic and monetary fields, the environment and research. It formalised the existence of the European Council and enshrined the practice of cooperation in the field of foreign policy.

The Treaty of Maastricht is important because it marks the changeover to the political dimension of European construction.

It brought the European Union, the Communities, common foreign and security policy (CFSP), and cooperation in the fields of justice and home affairs (JHA) under the same umbrella. This Treaty is the basis of the famous "pillar structure".

The first pillar consists of the pre-existing Communities and operates thanks to the institutions on the basis of the so-called Community method, in other words the joint exercise of national sovereignty.

The second pillar consists of CFSP (Common Foreign & Security Policy: Title V of the Treaty on European Union) and the third pillar consists of JHA (Justice & Home Affairs: Title VI of the Treaty on European Union). These two pillars organise intergovernmental cooperation, which nevertheless uses the common institutions and which has certain supranational features, notably the involvement of the Commission and the consultation of the European Parliament.

With the Treaty of Maastricht, the EEC was renamed, becoming the European Community (EC). This reflects the signatories' determination to extend Community powers to non-economic areas.

In the Community domain the main innovations were
  • the launching of economic and monetary union, which was fleshed out by the decision taken in 1998 to establish a monetary union (euro),
  • the establishment of European citizenship,
  • the adoption of new policies (education, culture), and
  • the application of the principle of subsidiarity to regulate the exercise of powers.
  • Finally, a social protocol extends Community responsibilities in the social field.

At institutional level the role of the European Parliament was enhanced thanks to the establishment of a codecision procedure in certain areas and Parliament's involvement in the procedure for confirming the Commission.

This progress was not possible without some degree of differentiation between Member States. Hence, the United Kingdom did not sign the social protocol and remained free to decide on its participation in the euro, as did Denmark. The ratification of the Treaty was no easy matter - proof that this Treaty was a decisive step towards a Europe with a political dimension.

The years following the entry into force of the Treaty on the European Union were marked by the enlargement of the Union to include Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995.

The Treaty of Amsterdam was a major step forward.

It increased the powers of the Union. The focus was on a high level of employment and the coordination of employment policies.

The Community method now applies to important domains that were previously subject to the third pillar, such as asylum, immigration, crossing external borders, measures to combat fraud and customs cooperation.
For the first time, the Treaty of Amsterdam contained provisions allowing a certain number of states to take advantage of common institutions to organise enhanced cooperation. Besides, this Treaty reinforced the powers of the Parliament by extending the codecision procedure and its supervisory powers. It also provided for the opening of new negotiations paving the way to the institutional reforms necessary with a view to enlargement (composition of the Commission, the Parliament and vote at the Council) so as to preserve the democratic character and the effectiveness of a construction which would include more than 20 members. Hence it was only after the signature of the Treaty that it was possible to extend the enlargement process to the Central and Eastern European Countries as from 1998.

The Treaty of Nice was essentially devoted to the "leftovers" of Amsterdam, i.e. the institutional problems linked to enlargement which were not resolved in 1997. It dealt with the make-up of the Commission, the weighting of votes in the Council and the extension of the areas of qualified majority voting. It simplified the rules on use of the enhanced cooperation procedure and made the judicial system more effective.
On the other hand, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, prepared by a Convention, was proclaimed during the European Summit at Nice by the Presidents of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission.

As from the Treaty of Nice, it became obvious that the Union's architecture had to be defined in a global and stable manner so as to enable it to function properly after enlargement. It was this movement which led to the creation of the European Convention and the preparation of the Constitution.

The European Constitutional Treaty, often called the Constitution, aimed to repeal and replace with a single text all the existing treaties with the exception of the Euratom Treaty. This text consolidated 50 years of European treaties. Apart from this work of consolidation and simplification of the texts, the Constitution also introduced numerous innovations such as: attribution of legal personality to the Union, clear definition of powers, the possibility of a Member State's withdrawing from the Union, the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, simplification of the Union's instruments of action, creation of the European Foreign Minister, the formal institutionalisation of the European Council, which will be chaired by an elected president for a period of two and a half years, the definition of a new system of qualified majority voting at the Council, various policy modifications, the disappearance of the pillar structure, the extension of qualified majority voting at the Council and the ordinary legislative procedure (codecision).

The Constitutional Treaty was signed in October 2004. To enter into force, the Treaty establishing the Constitution had to be ratified by all the Member States in accordance with each one's constitutional rules, namely either parliamentary ratification or referendum. Following the difficulties in ratifying the Treaty in some Member States, the Heads of State and Government decided, at the European Council meeting on 16 and 17 June 2005, to launch a "period of reflection" on the future of Europe.

At the European Council meeting on 21 and 22 June 2007, European leaders reached a compromise and agreed to convene an IGC to finalise and adopt, not a Constitution, but a reform treaty for the European Union. The final text of the treaty, drawn up by the IGC, was approved at the informal European Council in Lisbon on 18 and 19 October. The Treaty of Lisbon was signed by the Member States on 13 December 2007.