Concepts Explained: European Union

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When was the European Union created? And what is its purpose? The animation explains how and why The European Union (EU) was conceived as well as the major events and key players that helped form the idea from its inception through to obstacles it faces today. The video below charts the history of the European Union and, a transcript is provided below.


The European Union, explained

Source: Open University (2016). The European Union, explained  Duration: 03:32

The first thing to unify Europe was tectonic shift. Then, when humans finally evolved much of Europe was unified by the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Frankish Empire and the Holy Roman Empire – which was like the Roman Empire but a bit more pious.

In fact the patchwork of separate European states we know today are relatively recent inventions; The United Kingdom only became a United Kingdom in 1707. Modern Belgium and Italy came along later and places like Slovakia and Croatia only popped again up in the 1990s along with Latvia, Estonia and the Spice Girls. But the main step towards re-unifying Europe came after the devastating impact of the two World Wars, which led to all sorts of new international agreements, borders and structures.

After World War 2, Winston Churchill called for the creation of a ‘United States of Europe’ to save it from ‘infinite misery’ and ‘final doom’. The first big step towards this was ‘The Schuman Declaration’ – a declaration declared by French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman and what he declared was that, because coal and steel were so vital for war, those industries in France and Germany should be linked together to make war “not only unthinkable, but materially impossible.” But he said it in French. This led to the European Coal and Steel Community – also joined by Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

…and then the same 6 countries signed the Treaty of Rome, establishing the European Economic Community or EEC… Though later it dropped an E, and became the EC. The community established a common market for the free movement of goods, capital, services and people and was so successful that others wanted in. The UK tried to join in 1963 and 1967, but both times were blocked by France and General de Gaulle who just said “non”.

The UK were finally allowed to join in 1973, along with Denmark and Ireland. And, in 1981, Greece was the word. As the community grew, it evolved – Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed the Schengen Agreement in 1985, which began the process of removing border controls making the free movement of people that bit freer. They also got branding; picking a flag, an anthem and a motto – and in 1986 Spain and Portugal joined, followed by the freshly re-unified Germany in 1990 once the wall had come down and David Hasslehoff had left.

Then in 1992 – the big one – The Maastricht Treaty – signed by all the members of the European Community – creating the European Union… and also the Euro, even if choosing a name took a bit longer – and despite the UK and Denmark holding tight to their own currencies. In the meantime countries were joining faster than you can say ‘fall of the Soviet Bloc’.

The EU even won the Nobel Peace Prize – though probably fought over who got to keep it. But, when the financial crisis arrived in 2008, the EU were then locked together in a single currency with a massively increased membership – And it was the start of the toughest years yet for the EU, with calls for even more reform. But thanks to EU rules on mobile roaming tariffs, at least those calls are cheaper to make – and there’s certainly not a shortage of countries wanting to join – even while others may be looking for the exit.




01. Beginnings
02. Who am I?
03. Being human
04. Knowledge
05. Beauty
06. Love
07. Freedom
08. Society
09. The good life
10. Right from wrong
11. Justice
12. Technology


01. Astronomy
02. Microgravity
03. Thoughts on theory
04. Theology explained
05. History of the English language
06. History of Money
07. Economics explained
08. The European Union explained