A brief history of the European Union
The European Union started life in 1951 through the Treaty of Paris which founded the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and in the Treaty of Rome signed in 1957 which created the European Economic Community and Euratom. The two world wars which had ravaged Europe provided the impetus for founding such institutions. The wars had left the French deeply mistrustful of Germany and the continent short of food and resources. With the United States' (US) encouragement and inspired by Winston Churchill's call for a "United States of Europe", the ECSC, EEC & Euratom seemed to provide the solutions to Europe's problems: by uniting Europe's coal and steel industries the Germans defence industry was effectively tied into its neighbours'; the US had a central organisation in which its funds (the Marshall Plan) to help regenerate Europe could be distributed; and the shortages which European countries now faced could be rectified more effectively by united European industries.
From the original six founding nations that begun this journey, three more accessions have been made over the years and today there are twenty-five member states. With the accession of Eastern European states, the EU's success in providing peace and stability to Europe is staggering. This success was recently consolidated with the accession of two further countries, Romania and Bulgaria, on the 1st January 2007.
In 1992, following the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, the EU transformed into the EU and established its three pillars. The first pillar is composed of the European Communities, consisting of issues pertaining to the Single Market and the 'four freedoms'; free movement of persons; goods; services and; capital across borders. It also includes agriculture, the environment, trade policy and; the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). The second pillar consists of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The third pillar comprises police cooperation and cooperation in the area of criminal law. It is in the first pillar that the EU holds most of its power and, in certain areas, can push through legislation without the full support of all member states. Decisions taken on issues falling in the other two pillars are made mainly on an intergovernmental level and unanimity is mostly required. The principle of subsidiarity governs all EU activity to ensure that decisions are taken as close as possible to the level of the citizens by regularly checking whether actions taken in Brussels could equally well be taken at national, regional or local level.
Currently, an array of treaties governs the rules of the EU which are complex and long. It is partly for this reason that the Constitutional Treaty has been drafted. Inevitably, since it acts as a rule-book for twenty-seven independent Member States, it is still lenghty but nevertheless has successfully compiled and simplified Europe's treaties into one document (for more information please see section on the Constitutional Treaty).
The EU is the world's most successful political organisation of its type and subsequently it has inspired the founding of similar regional organisations throughout the world. Whilst its initial raison d'être is less pressing, the EU has found equally important new roles to take on and it now spearheads such causes as the environment and world poverty. It has even begun to consider common defence policy between willing nation states but undoubtedly it is the EU's soft power, in terms of its economic strength, which will continue to ensure that its voice is heard throughout the world.