Origins of the EU

1945-1959: A Peaceful Europe – The Beginnings of Cooperation

The European Union is set up with the aim of ending the frequent and bloody wars between neighbours, which culminated in the Second World War. As of 1950, the European Coal and Steel Community begins to unite European countries economically and politically in order to secure lasting peace. The six founders are Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The 1950s are dominated by a cold war between east and west. Protests in Hungary against the Communist regime are put down by Soviet tanks in 1956; while the following year, 1957, the Soviet Union takes the lead in the space race, when it launches the first man-made space satellite, Sputnik 1. Also in 1957, the Treaty of Rome creates the European Economic Community (EEC), or ‘Common Market’.

The historical roots of the European Union lie in the Second World War. Europeans are determined to prevent such killing and destruction ever happening again. Soon after the war, Europe is split into East and West as the 40-year-long Cold War begins. West European nations create the Council of Europe in 1949. It is a first step towards cooperation between them, but six countries want to go further.


Number 1 problem to be tackled: governmental failure and FRA-GER animosity since 1870. Twice in the 20th century governments failed to deliver peace and this led to ruin in Europe. 

European Integration was propelled by a distinctive set of historical circumstances and impulses and motivated by political, economic and security considerations.

          Wish to avoid a repeat of governmental failures culminated in two World Wars in the 20th century and expansionist nationalism (Nazi Germany).

          Economic devastation caused by wartime destruction.

          Emergence of two superpowers, the USA and the Soviet Union with competing economic and political ideologies.

          Division of Europe (East and West) and the need for security from Soviet threat and expansionism.

          Need for rapid development in standards of living and economic performance to establish long-lasting peace and security. Poor economic performance was perceived as providing a climate of political instability conducive to the growth of Fascism and Communism as the extreme ideologies.

          Franco-German reconciliation as the bedrock of stability within Western Europe.

9 May 1950 

French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman presents a plan for deeper cooperation. Later, every 9 May is celebrated as 'Europe Day'.

18 April 1951 

Based on the Schuman plan, six countries sign a treaty to run their heavy industries – coal and steel – under a common management. In this way, none can on its own make the weapons of war to turn against the other, as in the past. The six are Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

  • Founding Member States: Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

List of all EU member states and when they joined

Swiss architect Le Corbusier marks a new trend with the opening (1952) of his selfcontained ‘vertical city’ (Unité d’habitation) in Marseilles, France. The stark appearance of this concrete complex provokes the nickname ‘The new brutalism’.

In Hungary, people rise against the Soviet-backed regime in 1956. In November, Soviet tanks appear on the streets of Budapest to putdown the protests.

The Soviet Union beats the United States in the space race by launching the first manmade space satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957.Sputnik 1 orbits the earth at a height of 800 km. In 1961, Soviet Union wins again with the first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, whose spacecraft is just 2.6m in diameter.

25 March 1957 

Building on the success of the Coal and Steel Treaty, the six countries expand cooperation to other economic sectors. They sign the Treaty of Rome, creating the European Economic Community (EEC), or ‘ common market ’. The idea is for people, goods and services to move freely across borders.