You are here: About Us about Eurocham
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'.
1960 - 1969
The 'Swinging Sixties' – a period of economic growth
The 1960s sees the emergence of 'youth culture', with groups such as The Beatles attracting huge crowds of teenage fans wherever they appear, helping to stimulate a cultural revolution and widening the generation gap. It is a good period for the economy, helped by the fact that EU countries stop charging custom duties when they trade with each other. They also agree joint control over food production, so that everybody now has enough to eat - and soon there is even surplus agricultural produce. May 1968 becomes famous for student riots in Paris, and many changes in society and behaviour become associated with the so-called '68 generation'.
1970 - 1979
A growing Community – the first Enlargement
Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom join the European Union on 1 January 1973, raising the number of member states to nine. The short, yet brutal, Arab-Israeli war of October 1973 result in an energy crisis and economic problems in Europe. The last right-wing dictatorships in Europe come to an end with the overthrow of the Salazar regime in Portugal in 1974 and the death of General Franco of Spain in 1975. The EU regional policy starts to transfer huge sums to create jobs and infrastructure in poorer areas. The European Parliament increases its influence in EU affairs and in 1979 all citizens can, for the first time, elect their members directly.
1980 - 1989
The changing face of Europe - the fall of the Berlin Wall
The Polish trade union, Solidarność, and its leader Lech Walesa, become household names across Europe and the world following the Gdansk shipyard strikes in the summer of 1980. In 1981, Greece becomes the 10th member of the EU and Spain and Portugal follow five years later. In 1987 the Single European Act is signed. This is a treaty which provides the basis for a vast six-year programme aimed at sorting out the problems with the free-flow of trade across EU borders and thus creates the 'Single Market'. There is major political upheaval when, on 9 November 1989, the Berlin Wall is pulled down and the border between East and West Germany is opened for the first time in 28 years, this leads to the reunification of Germany when both East and West Germany are united in October 1990.
1990 - 1999
A Europe without frontiers
With the collapse of communism across central and eastern Europe, Europeans become closer neighbors. In 1993 the Single Market is completed with the the 'four freedoms' of: movement of goods, services, people and money. The 1990s is also the decade of two treaties, the 'Maastricht' Treaty on European Union in 1993 and the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999. People are concerned about how to protect the environment and also how Europeans can act together when it comes to security and defense matters. In 1995 the EU gains three more new members, Austria, Finland and Sweden. A small village in Luxembourg gives its name to the 'Schengen' agreements that gradually allow people to travel without having their passports checked at the borders. Millions of young people study in other countries with EU support. Communication is made easier as more and more people start using mobile phones and the internet.
2000 - today
A decade of further expansion
The euro is the new currency for many Europeans. 11 September 2001 becomes synonymous with the 'War on Terror' after hijacked airliners are flown into buildings in New York and Washington. EU countries begin to work much more closely together to fight crime. The political divisions between east and west Europe are finally declared healed when no fewer than 10 new countries join the EU in 2004. Many people think that it is time for Europe to have a constitution but what sort of constitution is by no means easy to agree, so the debate on the future of Europe rages on.
Member states today
* Czech Republic
* United Kingdom
Candidate Member states
* Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Geographical area & population
The EU covers over 4 million km² and has 495 million inhabitants — the world's third largest population after China and India. By surface area, France is the biggest EU country and Malta the smallest.
Operating as a single market, the EU is a major world trading power. The EU is seeking to sustain economic growth by investing in transport, energy and research – while minimising the impact of further economic development on the environment.
Measuring the EU's economy
With 12 new member countries joining since 2004, the EU's GDP — output of goods and services — is now bigger than that of the US: GDP (€11 785 474.9, 2009)
With just 7% of the world's population, the EU's trade with the rest of the world accounts for around 20% of global exports and imports. The EU is the world's biggest exporter and the second-biggest importer. Around two thirds of EU countries' total trade is done with other EU countries. The United States is the EU's most important trading partner, followed by China. In 2005, the EU accounted for 18.1% of world exports and 18.9% of imports.
Railways and inland waterways (rivers and canals) account for just a small percentage of total freight and passenger traffic in the EU. Three quarters of all goods and passengers in the EU are now transported by road.
The European Commission is divided into departments known as Directorates General (DGs), roughly equivalent to ministries. Each covers a specific policy area or service such as trade or environment, and is headed by a Director-General who reports to a Commissioner. Around 38 000 people are employed by the European Commission.
In the European Parliament, around 6 000 people work in the general secretariat and in the political groups. They are joined by Members of Parliament and their staff. In the Council of the European Union, around 3 500 people work in the general secretariat.
EU Institutions and other bodies
The European Union (EU) is not a federation like the United States. Nor is it simply an organisation for co-operation between governments, like the United Nations. It is, in fact, unique. The countries that make up the EU (its 'member states') remain independent sovereign nations but they pool their sovereignty in order to gain a strength and world influence none of them could have on their own.
Pooling sovereignty means, in practice, that the member states delegate some of their decision-making powers to shared institutions they have created, so that decisions on specific matters of joint interest can be made democratically at European level.
The European Council defines the general political direction and priorities of the European Union. With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, it became an institution. Its President is Herman Van Rompuy.
The EU's decision-making process in general and the co-decision procedure in particular involve three main institutions:
* the European Parliament, which represents the EU's citizens and is directly elected by them;
* the Council of the European Union, which represents the individual member states;
* the European Commission, which seeks to uphold the interests of the Union as a whole.
This 'institutional triangle' produces the policies and laws that apply throughout the EU. In principle, it is the Commission that proposes new laws, but it is the Parliament and Council that adopt them. The Commission and the member states then implement them, and the Commission ensures that the laws are properly taken on board.
Two other institutions have a vital part to play: the Court of Justice upholds the rule of European law, and the Court of Auditors checks the financing of the Union's activities.
The powers and responsibilities of these institutions are laid down in the Treaties, which are the foundation of everything the EU does. They also lay down the rules and procedures that the EU institutions must follow. The Treaties are agreed by the presidents and/or prime ministers of all the EU countries, and ratified by their parliaments.
The EU has a number of other institutions and bodies that play specialised roles:
* the European Economic and Social Committee represents civil society, employers and employees;
* the Committee of the Regions represents regional and local authorities;
* the European Investment Bank finances EU investment projects, and helps small businesses via the European Investment Fund;
* the European Central Bank is responsible for European monetary policy;
* the European Ombudsman investigates complaints about maladministration by EU institutions and bodies;
* the European Data Protection Supervisor safeguards the privacy of people's personal data;
* the Office for Official Publications of the European Communities publishes information about the EU;
* the European Personnel Selection Office recruits staff for the EU institutions and other bodies;
* the European Administrative School task is to provide training in specific areas for members of EU staff.
In addition, specialised agencies have been set up to handle certain technical, scientific or management tasks.
Following the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Council appointed Catherine Ashton High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
She chairs the Foreign Affairs Council and conducts the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Drawing on her role as Vice-President of the European Commission, she ensures the consistency and coordination of the European Union's external action.
The High Representative is assisted by the European External Action Service (EEAS).