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The European Union

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 3, 2012

The European Union

The foundation of the European Union goes back to the 1957 Treaty of Rome. Astonishingly, this agreement was first set in motion by the two nations that had perhaps the deepest and longest-standing traditional enmity in Europe: France and (West) Germany. For the first time in centuries, the two largest and strongest nations of central Europe realized that they could accomplish much more as allies than they ever had as enemies.

The richest coal-producing region in central Europe lay on the Franco-German border. In 1950, France proposed to West Germany that an international organization be created to administer the region so that all of Europe could benefit from the coal. An immediate and enthusiastic agreement led eventually to the creation of what was then called the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Commission. In 1957, the EEC had six members: France, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Italy. In addition to overseeing coal production, the nations lifted tariffs among themselves, thus encouraging internal trade, and agreed to establish common tariffs for imports from non-EEC nations.

Soon other nations became eager to join the EEC and share its benefits. French concerns about possible American influence, and objections to certain British demands for special treatment, held up any expansion of membership until 1973. In 1991, the present-day European Union was founded, with fifteen member nations; between 2004 and 2007, membership was extended to almost all the nations of Eastern Europe.

Member nations of the EU are entirely separate and self-governing, but they share a common foreign and security policy and cooperate on domestic affairs and affairs of international justice. Since 1999, the EU nations also have had a shared currency, the euro. Member states are required to have stable, freely elected governments; to guarantee basic rights and protections to their citizens; to manage their economies; and to abide by EU laws and treaties.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

Fall of Communism Practice Test

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