BRIA 21 4 c The European Union: Toward a “United States of Europe”?

America’s leaders also resolved to help Europe secure economic stability and permanent peace. In 1949, the United States worked with the Europeans to produce the Marshall Plan. This economic-aid program aimed to strengthen Western European nations threatened by communist takeovers.

As the United States helped rebuild Western Europe, it also strongly pressed the Europeans to eliminate national trade barriers like tariffs. Americans pointed to their own successful experience of forming a common market when the states adopt a federal union in 1789. This idea, however, seemed too radical for the highly nationalistic Europeans, and they resisted it at first. But gradually they came to view economic cooperation as a way to end national rivalries that so often had led to war in Europe.

In May 1950, the foreign minister of France, Robert Schuman, sought to defuse a dispute over coal, which was needed to rebuild Europe’s steel industry. Schuman boldly called for a limited common market, eliminating national tariffs, customs duties, and other barriers to trade on coal and steel. To do this, Western European nations would have to surrender some of their sovereignty (supreme authority) over their economies.

Backed by the United States, the European Coal and Steel Community began in 1952. Six European nations joined as members: France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Italy. Schuman remarked that this cooperative economic effort would be “a first step in the federation of Europe.”

Of the major Western European nations, only Britain refused to join the Coal and Steel Community. The British opposed any weakening of their national sovereignty. Even so, the Coal and Steel Community quickly proved to be an economic success. It also removed the traditional hostility between France and Germany, which had fought three major wars in less than 100 years.

The European Union

The success of the Coal and Steel Community encouraged further economic and political unification in Western Europe. In 1957, the six member nations signed treaties in Rome that established the European Economic Community (EEC). The EEC created a much broader common market fostering the free movement of goods, services, workers, and capital investment across the borders of the member nations.

The EEC also set up a structure of political bodies, appointed by the six nations, to propose, approve, and rule on laws. Most of the political power, however, remained firmly in the hands of the national governments.

The EEC established a European Parliament. Member governments appointed all its representatives, and its power was limited. The Parliament could only express an opinion on proposed bills. The bills only became law when the Council of Ministers, representing the six national governments, approved.

With the limited power of the European Parliament, critics claimed the EEC had a “democratic deficit.” In other words, many resented that a small elite group of national government leaders was deciding the future of Europe rather than elected representatives of the European people.

The economic advantages of the European common market led to its enlargement (see box). Britain joined in 1973 mainly for economic reasons. It remained skeptical about further political union.

In 1979, the EEC held its first elections to choose members of the European Parliament. The following year, Parliament won authority to vote its opinion on proposed EEC laws before the Council of Ministers could act. This forced the Council to consider Parliament’s views and reduced the “democratic deficit.”

In 1992, the EEC members took a bold step to unify Western Europe both economically and politically. The treaty signed at Maastricht, a city in the Netherlands, created the European Union (EU). The Maastricht Treaty provided for European citizenship, handed more authority to Parliament, and reserved some policy areas like agriculture to the EU rather than to the member nations. Another agreement scheduled the transition to a single EU currency, the euro.

To become law, all member nations had to ratify the Maastricht Treaty by either parliamentary action or voter referendum. For the first time, the French, who had led the European unification process, expressed doubts about yielding more sovereignty to a stronger European organization. French voters barely approved the treaty in a referendum, 51 percent to 49 percent.

What Is the EU Today?

The European Union today consists of 25 member nations (see box). Recently, eight former communist countries from Central and Eastern Europe have joined the EU. Bulgaria and Romania are on track for admission in 2007. Turkey, a Muslim country with barely a toehold on the map of Europe, has also applied.

The EU is stronger and more democratic than it was when six nations established the European Economic Community in 1957. Yet, the EU is still not a federalized “United States of Europe.” Its main institutions consist of:

The Commission: Headed by 20 commissioners appointed to five-year terms by the national governments, the Commission has the sole authority to propose legislation. The Commission also consists of more than 20 departments that work with national governments to implement EU laws. This institution most reflects the desire for European unification.

The Council of Ministers: This body consists of top officials from the national governments with the exclusive authority to vote on EU legislation and policies. A few votes must be unanimous; some are by a simple majority; others require a weighted ballot based on national population. This institution most reflects the desire to retain national sovereignty.

The European Parliament: This one-house legislature has more than 600 members organized by political parties on a multinational basis. European citizens elect members for five-year terms. The Parliament, now considered a “co-decision maker” with the Council of Ministers, still cannot propose legislation. This is the most democratic EU institution.

The European Court of Justice: Consisting of 15 judges appointed by the national governments for six-year renewable terms, the court makes rulings on EU treaties and laws. It also decides disputes among EU institutions, member nations, corporations, and individuals. The court has significantly ruled that member nations have limited their own sovereignty in some areas, making EU treaties and legislation supreme over national constitutions and laws. This institution, in effect, has created a “supremacy clause,” which specifically appears in the U.S. Constitution (Article VI), but does not appear in any of the treaties that established the EU.

The European Council: National heads of government, foreign ministers, and representatives of the Commission meet two or more times a year to set the EU agenda. They may also override decisions of the Council of Ministers. This institution operates somewhat above the regular EU structure as a sort of “board of directors.”

A federal union is a political system of shared sovereignty with significant central government powers and others that the states exercise. The United States is a federal union. Most agree that the EU is not yet one. Its member nations have mainly given up only some economic authority to enjoy the benefits of a common market. The EU still has no elected president, no military force, no foreign policy, and no real power to enforce its laws.

Toward a “United States of Europe”?

Since World War II, Europe has grown more unified. There is, however, widespread disagreement today on the future of the European Union.


Original European Economic Community (EEC) Members (1957)







First Enlargement (1973)




Second Enlargement (1981)


Third Enlargement (1986)



Fourth Enlargement (1995)




Fifth Enlargement (2004)

Czech Republic          Latvia

Poland                        Lithuania

Hungary                      Slovakia

Estonia                        Cyprus

Slovenia                      Malta

In modern times, the sovereign nation-state has dominated Europe. Europeans who oppose a more federalized EU argue against surrendering their sovereignty to a bland and undemocratic “super state.” Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Great Britain, once described such a federal European Union as a “remote, centralized, bureaucratic” organization unaccountable to the people. “Euroskeptics” like Thatcher agree with the idea of a common market, but believe that European nations should always have the right to “opt out” of any EU law or policy.

Those favoring an EU along the lines of the United States say that the idea of opting out is a recipe for destroying the EU. Currently, the combined economies of the 25-member EU equal that of the United States. To oppose further unification, say the “Eurofederalists,” will dangerously weaken Europe in the new era of global competition.

In 2005, Europeans voted on a constitution for the European Union. The proposed constitution included reforms to make the EU more efficient and democratic. It was also widely viewed as opening the door toward more federalization. The constitution could only become law if every member nation ratified it.

The “Eurofederalists” were disheartened when voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the constitution. Opponents cited a range of reasons for sinking the constitution—high unemployment, cheap immigrant labor, the fear of losing farm subsidies, and hundreds of pages of technical and confusing language in the document itself.

Right now, the European Union will continue as it is currently structured. The people of Europe will have to decide what sort of EU they want. Should it continue as it now operates? Should it go backward to an association of cooperating sovereign nations? Or, should it become a federal union, a “United States of Europe”? Despite uncertainty about the future, the process of creating the European Union has already achieved its most important goal. Europeans today hold little doubt that war will never again tear Europe apart.


For Discussion and Writing

1.         Why did European leaders begin a process of economic and political unification after World War II?

2.         How has the European Court of Justice become a force for the federalization of Europe?

3.         Should the EU become the “United States of Europe”? How would “Euroskeptics” and “Eurofederalists” answer this question? What reasons would they give for their answers?

A C T I V I T YTransatlantic Federal Union

Should the United States give up some of its sovereignty to join the EU nations in a “Transatlantic Federal Union”? The chart below shows how such a federal system might divide and share powers between a “Transatlantic Authority” and “Member Nations.”


1.         Meet in small groups to discuss the question above.

2.         Each group should then report its conclusion along with the reasons for it to the rest of the class.


Exclusive Powers           

Operation of a common market 

Labor standards       

Environmental protection  

Immigration regulations    

One currency  

One postal service  

Human rights enforcement  

Supremacy of Transatlantic treaties and laws   


Exclusive Powers

Type of national government

Type of economic system

Regulation of businesses

Civil and criminal courts



Family law and social welfare

Control of domestic natural resources

Shared Powers



Health care

 Military force


For Further Information


European Coal and Steel Community

Encyclopedia Articles:

Encarta: European Coal and Steel Community

Wikipedia: European Coal and Steel Community

Columbia Encyclopedia: European Coal and Steel Community European Coal and Steel Community

Encyclopedia Articles on Robert Schuman:

            Encarta: Robert Schuman

            Wikipedia: Robert Schuman

            Columbia Encyclopedia: Robert Schuman

   Robert Schuman

Spartacus Education: Robert Schuman

Foundation Robert Schuman “The French think tank on Europe.”


Yahoo Directory: Robert Schuman

The European Union

Encyclopedia Articles:

Encarta: European Union

Wikipedia: European Union

Columbia Encyclopedia: European Union European Union

Citizendium: European Union

HistoriaSiglo20: History of the European Union and European Citizenship

The Official EU Website

BBC News: EU Timeline

Civitas: EU Facts A web-based student resource and teaching aide on the European Union.

Europedia: Access to European Union A comprehensive guide to the history, development, laws, and policies of the European Union.


Google Directory: European Union

Open Directory Project: European Union

Yahoo Directory: European Union

Mahalo: European Union

Wikipedia: List of European Union Related Topics A good reference point to many topics.

News on the EU

Yahoo News Full Coverage: European Union

New York Times Topics: Archives of news articles on the following subjects:

European Union

European Parliament

European Commission

European Court of Justice


Google News: European Union

AlltheWeb News: European Union

AltaVista News: European Union

Ask News: European Union

Lycos News: European Union

Editorial Cartoons

Professional Cartoonist Index: No to European Union Large collection of political cartoons on the rejection of the constitution.

CSL News Cartoons: European Constitution

Governmental Bodies of the EU

European Commission

Encyclopedia Articles:

Wikipedia: European Commission

Columbia Encyclopedia: European Commission European Commission

The European Commission Homepage


Google Directory: European Commission

Open Directory Project: European Commission

Yahoo Directory: European Commission

European Parliament

Encyclopedia Articles:

Encarta: European Parliament

Wikipedia: European Parliament

Columbia Encyclopedia: European Parliament European Parliament

European Parliament Homepage


Google Directory: European Parliament

Open Directory Project: European Parliament

Yahoo Directory: European Parliament

Council of Ministers

Encyclopedia Articles:

Wikipedia: Council of the European Union

Columbia Encyclopedia: Council of the European Union Council of Ministers

Homepage of the Council of the European Union


Google Directory: Council of the European Union

Open Directory Project: Council of the European Union

European Court of Justice

Encyclopedia Articles:

Encarta: European Court of Justice

Wikipedia: European Court of Justice

Columbia Encyclopedia: European Court of Justice European Court of Justice

Homepage of the European Court of Justice


Google Directory: European Court of Justice

Open Directory Project: European Court of Justice

European Council

Encyclopedia Articles:

Wikipedia: European Council

Columbia Encyclopedia: European Council European Council

Homepage of the European Council

EU Treaties

Wikipedia: Treaties of the European Union

Europa: Treaties and Law

Treaty of Paris (1951)

Wikipedia: Treaty of Paris

Europa: Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community Overview of the creation, objectives, structure, institutions, tasks, and achievements of the treaty.

EU Constitution: Treaty of Paris Information on the preparation, negotiations, and ratification of the treaty as well as the treaty’s text.

WikiSource: Treaty establishing the ECSC Text of the Treaty of Paris.

Treaty of Rome (1957)

Wikipedia: Treaty of Rome

Europa: Treaty establishing the European Economic Community Overview of the creation, objectives, structure, institutions, tasks, and achievements of the treaty.

EU Constitution: Treaties of Rome Information on the preparation, negotiations, and ratification of the treaty as well as the treaty’s text.

HistoriaSiglo20: Treaties of Rome A brief history.

Treaty Establishing the European Community Text of the Treaty of Rome.

Single European Act (1986)

Wikipedia: Single European Act

EU Constitution: Single European Act Information on the preparation, negotiations, and ratification of the treaty as well as the treaty’s text.

Europa: Single European Act Overview of the creation, objectives, structure, institutions, tasks, and achievements of the treaty.

HistoriaSiglo20: Single European Act A brief history.

Maastricht Treaty (1992)

Encarta: Maastricht Treaty

Wikipedia: Maastricht Treaty

Europa: Treaty of Maastricht Overview of the creation, objectives, structure, institutions, tasks, and achievements of the treaty.

EU Constitution: Maastricht Treaty Information on the preparation, negotiations, and ratification of the treaty as well as the treaty’s text.

HistoriaSiglo20: Treaty of Maastricht A brief history.

Amsterdam Treaty (1997)

Wikipedia: Amsterdam Treaty

Europa: Amsterdam Treaty: A Comprehensive Guide Thematic fact sheets summing up the main changes brought about by the treaty.

EU Constitution: The Amsterdam Treaty (1997) Information on the preparation, negotiations, and ratification of the treaty as well as the treaty’s text.

HistoriaSiglo20: Treaty of Amsterdam A brief history.

Nice Treaty (2001)

Wikipedia: Treaty of Nice

Europa: Treaty of Nice: A Comprehensive Guide Thematic fact sheets summing up the main changes brought about by the Treaty of Nice.

EU Constitution: Nice Treaty Information on the preparation, negotiations, and ratification of the treaty as well as the treaty’s text.

BBC News: Nice Treaty

HistoriaSiglo20: Treaty of Nice A brief history.

Treaty of Nice Text of the treaty

The EU Constitution

Wikipedia: Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe

BBC News Articles on the Constitution:

What the EU constitution says

Q&A: EU — myths and realities

Quick Guide: European Union constitution

EU constitution: Where member states stand

Economist: EU Constitution Articles on this subject.

Jurist: The Future of the EU Constitution: Escaping the Ratification Maze Article by Dr. Laurent Pech, Jean Monnet Lecturer in European Union Law at the National University of Ireland.

The Proposed EU Constitution: The Reader-Friendly Edition With highlights, comments in the margin, and an index to aid navigation.

EU Constitution: The Constitution Information on the preparation, negotiations, and ratification of the Constitution as well as the Constitution’s text.

Text of the Constitution:

Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe

The EU Constitution (2004)

Lisbon Treaty (2007)

Wikipedia: Treaty of Lisbon

BBC News: Q&A: The Lisbon Treaty

Europa: Treaty of Lisbon Overview of the treaty, questions and answers, news, documents, speeches, articles, and the text of the treaty.

EU Constitution: Lisbon Treaty Information on the preparation, negotiations, and ratification of the treaty as well as the treaty’s text.

Treaty of Lisbon (PDF file) Text of the treaty.


Europe Recast: A History of European Union By Desmond Dinan.

Emerging European Union By David Wood.

The Government and Politics of the European Union by Neill Nugent.

The European Union Handbook By Philippe Barbour.

Democracy and Federalism in the European Union and the United States: Exploring Post-National Governance Edited by Sergio Fabbrini.

Constituting Federal Sovereignty: The European Union in Comparative Context By Leslie Friedman Goldstein.

Understanding the European Union: A Concise Introduction By John McCormick.



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