Europe Day, May 9, which is celebrated as the birthday of the European Union, is the anniversary of the proposal known as the Schuman Declaration.
The evolution of the EU from a regional economic agreement in 1951 to today’s supranational organization of 27 countries across the European continent stands as an unprecedented phenomenon in the annals of history.
On May 9, 1950, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, in a speech on behalf of the French government, called for the pooling of the production and consumption of coal and steel, and setting up a European organization for the purpose of bringing France and West Germany together. He proposed an eventual union of Europe.
Schuman believed it was necessary to end the discord between the two countries by settling the question of coal and steel, which had often caused disputes between them, and that without peace and friendship between France and West Germany, there would be no peace in Europe.
The declaration led to the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in April 1951, comprising six countries — France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg — that signed the Treaty of Paris.
The declaration reflected the opinion of Jean Monnet, a French economist who had worked to build a future out of the ruins of the past by promoting the idea of gradually uniting the economic interests of democratic European nations. Monnet is often referred to as the “Father of Europe.”
In 1957, the Treaties of Rome created the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), and the six member states undertook measures to eliminate trade barriers among themselves by forming a common market.
In 1967, the institutions of all three communities — the ECSC, EEC and Euratom — were formally merged into the European Community (EC), creating a single commission, a single Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.
In 1973, the first enlargement of the EC took place with the addition of Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The 1980s saw further expansion, with Greece joining in 1981, and Spain and Portugal in 1986.
The 1992 Treaty of Maastricht laid the basis for further forms of cooperation in foreign and defense policy, in judicial and internal affairs, and in the creation of an economic and monetary union, including a common currency. This further integration created the European Union.
In 1995, Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the EU, raising the membership to 15.
A new currency, the euro, entered world money markets Jan. 1, 1999. It became the unit of exchange for all EU states, except the U.K., Sweden and Denmark.
In 2002, citizens of the 12 eurozone countries began using euro bank notes and coins. Ten new countries joined the EU in 2004 — Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia — and in 2007, Bulgaria and Romania joined, bringing membership to 27.
On Dec. 13, 2007, the Treaty of Lisbon, which amended existing treaties, making it possible for the EU to make important decisions by majority instead of unanimous vote, was signed. The treaty entered into force Dec. 1, 2009 and Herman Van Rompuy was inaugurated as the first president of the European Council.
In July 2010, the council decided to establish the European External Action Service (EEAS), aiming to make the EU’s foreign and security policy more coherent and efficient. The EEAS assists Catherine Ashton, who was appointed the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy under the Treaty of Lisbon.
On July 1, 2013, Croatia is scheduled to enter the EU as its 28th member.