History Of The European Union

What is the EU?

The European Union is a group of countries whose governments work together. It comprises a political and economic union of 28 member states that are located primarily on the continent of Europe. It has an estimated population of 513 million people across an area of 4,475,757km squared. 

It's a bit like a club. To join you have to agree to follow the rules and in return, you get certain benefits. Each country has to pay money to be a member. This is called an annual contribution, from which the UK can contribute to and benefit from joint projects. The EU uses the money to change the way people live and do business in Europe. Countries join because they think that they will benefit from the changes the EU makes. The UK also gets a rebate, a percentage of the contribution back as a refund. They mostly do this through taxes.

Economically, the EU has developed an internal Single Market. This guarantees the free movement of goods, capital, services and labour - the ‘four freedoms’ within the EU. The market includes all 28 states and has been extended to Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the European Economic Area, and through a bilateral treaty guarantees Switzerland access.

The Development of the EU 

There have been many revisions to the EU. The Single Market, for instances, was the outcome of the Single Market Act, the first major revision of the original 1957 Treaty of Rome, that established the EU. However, there were other changes to the EU. In short, it was established in 1957, after the Treaty of Rome. The UK refused to take part, showing a preference instead for continued trade outside the bloc, with the Commonwealth. The treaty was one of the two that formed the constitutional basis of the EU, the other being the Treaty on the European Union, or the Maastricht Treaty signed in 1992. The Treaty of Rome brought about the creation of the European Economic Community. Essentially, it proposed the reduction of customs duties, and the establishment of a Customs Union, establishing free trade for goods within the bloc. In effect, it prevented a trade war escalating between France and Germany, both countries being the cornerstones of the union. 

The Single European Act, referred to above, proposed the same frictionless trade, but for services, reflecting the evolving role of the EU. 

The UK and the EU

British relations with the EU have been strained. The UK initially refused to join in 1957, and it took a further decade to join after the first application in 1963. however, by 1973, the UK had officially joined the EC, the European Community as it was then known. However, by 1975, the then Labour government held a referendum on the continued membership, with the country backing remaining in the bloc. 

Clearly, the UK has not considered itself fully European. Indeed, Anthony Geddes, a prominent author on the UK in the European Union, has argued that British relationship with the EU has been one of ‘awkwardness’ over the last 40 years. Indeed, there have been two clear narratives in relation to British attitude towards the EU. Economically, the argument was for Britain in Europe, marked by increasing interaction since the 1950s. However, on the social side, there has been opposition towards perceived Europe in Britain, in particular, the Europeanisation of British politics and culture. 

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