More than sixty years after the historic signing of the Treaties of Rome establishing the European Communities in 1957, the process of European integration has developed and expanded step by step, and sector by sector, in the direction of an ever-increasing experience of “shared sovereignty” as a distinctive feature that still makes the Union unique with respect to the rest of the world. Characterized by phases of progress and settling, leaps forward, setbacks and strategic pauses for reflection, the process of European construction process is marked by a number of milestones. These are the main ones:
1941 – A federal, united, free and peaceful Europe. That was Altiero Spinelli’s vision of Europe in 1941 when he wrote, together with Ernesto Rossi, “For a Free and United Europe. A Draft Manifesto”. The Italian intellectual at the height of the Second World War, interned by the fascist regime on Ventotene, a small island in the Pontine archipelago, wrote what was to go down in history as the Ventotene Manifesto, a document recognised as the basis of the process for unifying Europe in a federalist sense.
1950 – On May 9, the then French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, proposed the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). As a tribute to Schuman’s Declaration, Europe Day is celebrated on May 9 each year.
1951 – On April 18, Schuman’s ambition came true with the laying of the foundations for the European Community’s construction: six European countries – France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg – signed the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), with the aim of introducing the free movement of coal and steel and ensuring free access to production sources. An independent supranational High Authority was established in Luxembourg, with the task of enforcing common rules set for production and trade.
1957 – On March 25, following the success of the European Coal and Steel Community, the Treaties establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) were signed in Rome. The so-called Treaties of Rome entered into force on January 1, 1958.
1962 – On July 30, the EEC introduced the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which enabled Member States to jointly control food production.
1968 – On July 1, the customs union was established, with the abolition of duties between the six Member States and the establishment of a common external tariff.
1972 –The so-called currency snake was created with the aim of strengthening coordination between the European countries’ exchange rate management policies and ensuring stability by setting fluctuation margins. The high inflation and exchange rate instability that characterised those years made the need for economic-monetary cooperation felt. Seven years later and through a genuine exchange rate agreement, the currency snake became the European Monetary System (EMS), the aim of which was to create an “area of monetary stability” in Europe.
1973 – On January 1, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the EEC, which therefore grew from six to nine Member States.
1975 – The European Council held in Rome in December, chaired by Prime Minister Aldo Moro, kicked off the single passport and universal suffrage for the European Parliament. The first elections were held in 1979.
1981 – On January 1, Greece joined the EEC, thus becoming the tenth Member State of the EEC.
1983 – On July 25, the Council laid the foundations for the first Community framework programme for research and development (for the 1984-1987 period).
1984– The European Parliament adopted by a large majority the draft Treaty establishing the European Union, a project supported by Altiero Spinelli, who was an MEP at the time.
1985 – France, Germany and the Benelux countries signed the Schengen Agreement, which was followed by the accession of other Member States. In December 1985, the European Council in Luxembourg decided to amend the Treaties of Rome and provide new momentum to the European integration process by drafting the Single European Act, signed in The Hague in February 1986. The Act carried out major institutional reforms and enabled progress towards the completion of the single market to continue.
1986 – On January 1, Portugal and Spain joined the EE, thus bringing the number of Member States to 12.
1987 – The Erasmus programme was created, upon the initiative of a group of European Commission officials led by Domenico Lenarduzzi from Friuli. By the autumn of 1987, three thousand students were already benefiting from the project.
1992– On February 7, the Maastricht Treaty was signed. The Maastricht Treaty gave birth to the European Union, an organisation based on three pillars: Pillar I on the pre-existing European Communities; Pillar II on foreign and security policy; Pillar III on justice and internal affairs. The Treaty signed in the city of the Netherlands also defined precise rules on the single currency and EU citizenship.
1995 – Europe grew again. On January 1, three other States joined, i.e. Austria, Finland and Sweden, thus bringing the EU Member States to 15.
1997 – With the Treaty of Amsterdam, which was signed in October 1997 and came into force two years later, the EU construction continued with steps forward in institutional terms, in relations between the Union and its citizens, and even in the areas of freedom, security and justice.
2001 – On February 26, the Treaty of Nice was signed by the Heads of State and Government at the European Council convened in the city on the Côte d’Azur. It was the result of eleven months of negotiations at an intergovernmental Conference opened in February 2000. The new Treaty entered into force on February 1, 2003, after its ratification by the fifteen EU Member States. It paved the way for enlargement.
2002– On 1 January1, the Euro was established. More than 80 billion coins were minted and distributed in twelve States. The banknotes were identical in all countries. On the front of those banknotes windows and doorways were shown while, on the back, bridges were shown, chosen as a symbol of union and openness between the States. For the coins, instead, one side was the same for all participating countries, while the other side bore a national emblem.
2004 – On May 1, ten countries joined the EU: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary. Cyprus and Malta also joined. It was the most important enlargement of the EU, involving approximately 100 million people. In October 2004 in Rome, the Heads of State and Government and the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of 25 Member States participated in the signing ceremony of the Treaty and the Final Act establishing a Constitution for Europe, a project that was subsequently discontinued in 2005.
2007 – On January 1, the EU welcomed two new members from Eastern Europe, namely Bulgaria and Romania. The number of countries joining the Union rose to 27. On December 13, 2007, the Lisbon Treaty was signed and came into force two years later, in December 2009. Besides clearly defining the competences of the EU and its Member States, the new Treaty gave more powers to the European Parliament; changed the Council’s voting procedures; introduced the citizens’ initiative; made the figure of the President of the European Council permanent; established a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European External Action Service.
2013 – On July 1, Croatia joined the EU, thus becoming the 28th member State.
2020 – On February 1, following a long and complex process that had begun with the British referendum in June 2016, the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union came into force. After more than 45 years of European integration, the UK officially became a third State.
2023 – On January 1, Croatia will officially adopt the Euro, thus becoming the 20th country to join the Eurozone.