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60-Year Anniversary of the Rome Treaties

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On March 25, 1957 – 60 years ago tomorrow – the governments of France, Germany, Italy, BelgiumNetherlands, and Luxembourg signed the “Treaties of Rome”, thereby establishing what would later become the European Union (EU). The “Treaties of Rome” consist of two different treaties: the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community (EEC Treaty) and the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom Treaty). In the following decades, the treaties were further developed and amended, the institutional structure was changed, and more Member States joined. With the future of the EU questioned after the Brexit vote, this anniversary presents a good opportunity to provide information about the history of the EU and what future direction it envisions for itself.

European Flag. Photo by Flickr user Rock Cohen. April 5, 2008. Used under Creative Commons License 2.0,
European Flag. Photo by Flickr user Rock Cohen. April 5, 2008. Used under Creative Commons License 2.0,

The Origins

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the governments of the six founding countries were looking for ways to rebuild the European economy and to further European integration in order to ensure lasting peace on the continent. In 1952, on the basis of the Schuman declaration, they created the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The ECSC was set up as a supranational community, meaning that the national governments transferred part of their sovereign powers to it. On July 23, 2002, the ECSC Treaty expired as provided in its Article 97.

Article 2 of the ECSC Treaty stated that the mission of the ECSC was to

contribute to economic expansion, the development of employment and the improvement of the standard of living in the participating countries through the institution, in harmony with the general economy of the member States, of a common market [for coal and steel]…

The Member States hoped that improving economic conditions would gradually lead to a more politically united Europe and ultimately to the “foundation of a European federation“. The common coal and steel market was seen as the first step towards achieving that goal. Plans for a European Defence Community (EDC) accompanied by a European Political Community (EPC) were soon presented. The French National Assembly, however, was opposed to the establishment of an EDC, in particular to a German remilitarization, and rejected the treaty in August 1954. As the EPC was supposed to be the institutional corollary to the EDC (EDC Treaty, art. 38), both plans were abandoned.

The Road to the Treaties of Rome

At the Messina Conference that took place in Italy in June 1955, the process of European integration was revived. The decision to work together in the economic field and set up a “common European market, free from all customs duties and all quantitative restrictions” ultimately led to the signing of the Treaties of Rome on March 25, 1957. The Treaties were concluded for an unlimited period. (EEC Treaty, art. 240; Euratom Treaty, art. 208). The Euratom Treaty is still in force today, whereas the EEC Treaty has been superseded by subsequent treaties.

The Euratom Treaty

The Euratom Treaty is focused on the atomic energy sector. The European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC) was designed to enable the Member States to pool their resources in order to make faster progress at lower cost. The Treaty set up a legal framework to coordinate their research programs on the peaceful use of nuclear energy in order to develop Europe’s nuclear industries and to ensure the supply of nuclear energy. (Euratom Treaty, art. 2). No major amendments have ever been made to the Euratom Treaty and the EAEC has not been merged with the European Union. It retains a separate legal personality. (Id. Art. 184).

The EEC Treaty

The preamble of the EEC Treaty provided that the governments of the six founding countries were “determined  to establish the foundations of an ever closer union among the European peoples”. This aspirational statement was to be achieved by establishing a Common Market among the Member States (EEC Treaty, art. 2) based on the four freedoms of movement (goods, persons, capital and services). The Single European Act of 1986 amended the EEC Treaty and codified the objective of the internal market in EU primary legislation (treaty law), defining it as “an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured”. (Single European Act, art. 13).

Furthermore, the Member States set up a customs union with a common trade policy (EEC Treaty, art. 3) and designated agricultural policy (Id. arts. 38-47), trade policy (Id. arts. 110-116), and transport policy (Id. arts. 74-84) as areas for joint policies. The EEC Treaty authorized the creation of additional joint policies. In addition, a European Social Fund to improve the possibilities of employment for workers and a European Investment Bank to provide investment funding were established. (Id. art. 3).

The institutions that were established to achieve the tasks of the EEC were a Parliamentary Assembly (now the European Parliament), the Council (not be confused with the European Council or the Council of Europe), the Commission, and the Court of Justice. (Id. art. 4).

The Commission is the executive body of the EU and is made up of one commissioner from each Member State. It proposes legislation and implements decisions of the Council and the European Parliament. The Council is made up of government ministers from each EU country with each country holding the presidency on a 6-month rotating basis. They meet to discuss, amend, and adopt laws, and coordinate policies. The European Parliament is the EU’s second law-making body, together with the Council. Its members are directly elected by voters in all EU Member States every 5 years.

Amendments and Renaming of the EEC Treaty

The EEC Treaty was amended several times over the years. One of the most important amendments is the adoption of the Treaty on European Union (Treaty of Maastricht) in 1992. The EEC was renamed the European Community (EC) and the European Union (EU) was created. The EU consisted of the following three pillars:

  • European Communities (supranational): EC, ECSC, Euratom
  • Common foreign and security policy (intergovernmental decision-making process)
  • Police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters (intergovernmental decision-making process).

Furthermore, to address the democratic deficit of the EU, the treaty expanded the role of the European Parliament and created the “co-decision procedure” which allows the European Parliament to adopt acts in conjunction with the Council.

In addition, to further European integration and the Common Market, the Treaty introduced the European Monetary and Economic Union (EMU) which was to be achieved in three successive stages. A single currency, the Euro, was created whose stability was to be ensured by focusing on price stability as a primary objective.

The Treaty of Maastricht was subsequently amended by the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997), the Treaty of Nice (2001), and the Treaty of Lisbon (2007). The Treaty of Lisbon changed the structure radically by abolishing the pillar structure and reallocating the competencies between the EU and the Member States. The EEC Treaty (EC Treaty) is now called the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Future Direction of the EU

On March 1, 2017, the EU Commission published the “White Paper on the future of Europe“. It sets out five different scenarios of what the EU might look like in 2025, ranging from “carrying on” as usual to “doing much more together” across all policy areas.

The EU has survived many challenges over the last 60 years. Among them are the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty in 2005 by the governments of France and the Netherlands and the Greek debt crisis. Crises have always been part of history, not only in the EU, and will continue to be. It remains to be seen whether the role of the individual Member States will be strengthened vis-a -vis the EU or whether there will be a newer and deeper dimension of integration, or even a multi-speed Europe.

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