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A short history of Europe

May 5th and May 9th

Once upon a time, World War II came to an end. Five years after its end, European nations were slowly recovering. It was time for peace! Real peace, this time. Not just some speech or formality, but actual, binding agreements between nations.

To be honest, peace is difficult to create. That is why diplomats and politicians thought of two main ways to build it. One is the “diplomatic way”, the other the “economic way”.

The diplomatic way

You all know who Winston Churchill is. The Prime Minister of the UK was a fan of international cooperation. This passion came in handy when US President Truman presented European States with the Marshall Plan to help them recover from the war. President Truman wanted the all States to collaborate on the Plan, and Prime Minister Churchill was eager to build a community of States that would work together to preserve peace, taking the example of the United Nations. He performed many speeches and worked hard to achieve the creation of a powerful international organization. In Zürich, in 1946, he cried: let Europe arise!”

That is how the Council of Europe was born: it started on the 5th of May 1949 with only ten countries, and collected a total of 46 States throughout the years. The goal of the Council of Europe is that of guaranteeing cooperation, good governance, respect for human rights, and social and economic progress. It is a network where States are encouraged to develop new, inclusive agreements, and to solve problems in a peaceful way. For sure, it has many flaws, but also many achievements: the biggest one being the creation of the European Court of Human Rights.

The economic way

Much like today, in the post-war period Germany and France were leading Europe. They were trying to get their economy going again, investing in new products and technology. However, they didn’t trust each other too much. That is why Robert Schuman, Foreign Affairs Minister of France, came up with a plan: the Schuman Declaration (or Plan), which had the goal of uniting France and West Germany in their coal and steel production. Why steel and coal? Not only they were important industrial products; they were also fundamental for the production of ammunition.

The alliance was made on May 9th, 1950, and two years later other European countries joined it, transforming it into the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC): an international organization based on a common, shared market space for steel and coal. I am proud to say that Italy was one of the founding members of the ECSC.

The ECSC evolved in subsequent decades: first, in 1957, the Treaty of Rome established the European Economic Community. It eliminated trade barriers, meaning that goods could circulate freely in the Community, made it easier for people to go work in a different country, and instituted a common agricultural policy, which is still one of the most important EU policies. More States joined the ECSC, and its main institutions took the form they have today: the European Council, the Council of the EU (originally the Council of Ministers), and the European Parliament.

The final change happened in 1992 with the Maastrich Treaty: the European Union as we know it was born. A full-on international organization working under many laws, institutions, and policy areas. A community of States and people, with many allies around the world and a major impact on international politics.

Croatia celebrates this summer the 10th year in the European Union. Do you have your roštilji ready for the special occasion?

Image from the Nationaal Archief, the Dutch National Archives, donated in the context of a partnership program

Find out more about the EU and Europe Day here.