European Union marks the most ambitious, peaceful, and successful integration of the disparate nations and cultures of the continent. Since the fall of the Roman Empire, which united much of Europe under common if not coercive rule, there have been several proposals for a unified Europe. Most of these proposals involved coercion through either political or military domination. In many cases, European integration was a response to external threats such as the Arab invasions and the Fall of Constantinople. Fear of a common enemy served to propel European integration forward. In 1728, Abbot Charles de Saint-Pierre presented one of the first clear proposals for a European federation, a proposal which was met with increased interest after the American Revolution. Several early attempts to form a pan-European economic, political, and military federation were based on hegemonic ambitions on the part of powerful Western European states, especially France and Britain. The rivalries between powerful European nation-states closely resembled their colonial and imperialistic ambitions abroad: their efforts at establishing dominion over land, culture, and people throughout the world.
France and Britain were and to an extent still are at the forefront of the conflicts that continue to thwart decision-making in the European Union. For example, in 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte proposed a French hegemonic rule and an embargo on British goods. Great Britain turned down the first invitation to join the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the main organizational predecessor to the current European Union. Then twice the British application for admission into the European Economic Community was turned down by the French Prime Minister.
The ECSC was originally formed during the Cold War, a political, military and economic response to the Soviet threat. Its six member nations were Belgium, West Germany, Luxembourg, France, Italy, and the Netherlands. The ECSC was a success and thus led to the further integration of resources and institutions. In 1957, the Treaty of Rome led to the creation of the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) and the European Economic Community (EEC), which would become better known as the European Community. These early federations were direct predecessors of the European Union, which was formally established through the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. The Maastricht treaty strengthened the powers of the intra-national federation and created cooperative realms of defense, agriculture, environmental law, transportation, human rights, and international trade. The single market and the single currency, the Euro, were also established after the Treaty of Maastricht.
Membership into the European Community and European Union has expanded consistently over the past several decades and continues. In 1973, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark joined. Greece became a member in 1981, and in 1986 Spain and Portugal became members. In 1995, Austria, Finland, and Sweden joined. In 2004, ten countries, many of which were former Soviet bloc nations, joined the European Union, and applications for the entry of Turkey, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Romania are pending approval. Due to the diversity of representation in the European Union, due to the wide range of issues the EU deals with, and due to the historical and continued domination of the EU by powerful Western European countries, conflict and dissention are commonplace in the EU decision-making process. Disagreements over economics, over foreign policy, foreign aid, agriculture, trade, and new member admissions plague the leadership of the European Union, which is a Western-European style bureaucracy. Thus, although the European Union is an undisputed success, it retains the character and flavor of Western European hegemony.
The History of the European Union.” Europa. Online at http://europa.eu.int/abc/history/index_en.htm.
History of the European Union.” Wikipedia. Online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_European_Union.
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