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View series: Europe and nations since 1945

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Milestones in European Construction

This map is part of a series of 16 animated maps showing the history of Europe and nations since 1945.

The construction of Europe began in Western Europe in the early 1950s, when the continent was divided by the “Iron Curtain” between the mostly democratic countries in the West and the Communist regimes in the East. 

Acting on a proposal put forward by Robert Schuman, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, six nations - Italy, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Federal Republic of Germany – decided to establish the “European Coal and Steel Community” (ECSC) in 1951.

Six years later, in 1957, these 6 countries reinforced their economic relationship with the Treaty of Rome. This gave birth to the European Economic Community” (the EEC), which gradually dismantled the customs barriers between them.

This economic space was attractive to neighbouring countries and, in the following decades, went through a series of expansions, beginning in 1973 with the integration of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark.

In 1979, the EEC established its democratic institutions with the election of the European Parliament in Strasbourg by universal suffrage.

During the 1980s, the Community extended its boundaries southwards: Greece joined in 1981, followed by Spain and Portugal in 1986.

In 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall led to the collapse of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the break-up of the Soviet Union.

With the Treaty of Maastricht, signed in 1992, the European Economic Community changed its name to ”The European Union”.  

This treaty broadened the EU’s field of action and created European citizenship which gave every citizen the right to travel and live anywhere throughout all its Member States.

In 1995, the EU admitted three new countries: Sweden, Finland and Austria.

Nine years later, in 2004, the European Union welcomed eight Eastern and Central European countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia in addition to the two Mediterranean islands of Malta and Cyprus.

Romania and Bulgaria entered the European Union in their turn in 2007, followed by Croatia in 2013.

Over a period of 50 or so years, the European Union grew considerably, but these expansions made the Union difficult to govern, as its institutions were not set up to manage such a wide diversity of nations.

With the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, European Member States improved the system of decision-making, by introducing for example the ‘qualified’ majority for a certain number of issues, alongside the system of unanimous decisions. However, this simplification of the EU’s operations did not put a stop to the ‘euroscepticism’ expressed by some citizens.

In 2016 the British people decided by referendum to leave the Union. The official “Brexit” took place on 31 January 2020.

Throughout its expansion, the European Union has allowed a certain number of its Members to strengthen their cooperation on a voluntary basis.

Thus, in 1995, the “Schengen area” was created: within this area, there are no border controls. In 2020, it covers 22 EU Member States and several other countries including Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.

In addition to common borders, the European Union launched its single currency, the ‘euro’ in 2002. By 2020, 19 Member States have adopted the euro. Most of the countries that did not join the European monetary union are interested in adopting the single currency in the future, when their economic development allows.

The European Union, which now has 27 Member States, is seen as an attractive area where peace, democracy are well established and five nations are still officially candidates for admission to the Union.



The European Union, which now has 27 Member States, is seen as an attractive area where peace, and democracy are well established.