The idea of European integration is as old as the European idea of the sovereign State. Yet the spectacular rise of the latter overshadowed the idea of European union for centuries. Within the twentieth century, two ruinous world wars and the social forces of globalisation have however increasingly discredited the idea of the sovereign State. The decline of the nation State has found expression in the spread of inter-State cooperation; and the rise of international cooperation has itself caused a fundamental transformation in the substance and structure of international law.
The various efforts at European cooperation after the Second World War formed part of this general transition from an international law of coexistence to an international law of cooperation. ‘Europe was beginning to get organised.’ This development began with three international organisations. First: the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (1948), which had been created after the Second World War by 16 European States to administer the international aid offered by the United States for European reconstruction. Second, the Western European Union (1948, 1954) that established a security alliance to prevent another war in Europe. Third, the Council of Europe (1949), which had inter alia been founded to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe. None of these grand international organisations was to lead to the European Union. The birth of the latter was to take place in a much humbler sector: coal and steel.
The 1951 Treaty of Paris set up the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Its original members were six European States: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. This first Community had been created to integrate one industrial sector; and the very concept of integration indicated the wish of the contracting States ‘to break with the ordinary forms of international treaties and organisations’.
The Treaty of Paris led to the 1957 Treaties of Rome, which created two additional Communities: the European Atomic Energy Community and the European (Economic) Community. The ‘three Communities’ were partly ‘merged’ in 1967, but continued to exist in relative independence. A major organisational leap was taken in 1993, when the three Communities were themselves integrated into the European Union. For a decade, this European Union was under constant constitutional construction. And, in an attempt to prepare the Union for the twenty-first century, a European Convention was charged to draft a Constitutional Treaty in 2001. The latter failed; and it took almost another decade to rescue the reform as the 2007 Reform (Lisbon) Treaty. This Lisbon Treaty has replaced the ‘old’ European Union with the ‘new’ European Union.
This chapter surveys the historical evolution of the European Union in four sections. Section 1 starts with the humble origins of the Union: the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). While limited in its scope, the ECSC introduced a supranational formula that was to become the trademark of the European Economic Community (EEC). The EEC will be analysed in section 2, while section 3 investigates the development of the (old) European Union founded through the Treaty of Maastricht. Section 4 reviews the reform efforts of the last decade, and analyses the structure of the – substantively – new European Union as established by the Treaty of Lisbon. Concentrating on the constitutional evolution of the European Union, this chapter will not present its geographic development.