The European Communities

Map of Europe showing the nine member states of the enlarged European Communities in 1973.
Member states of the European Communities in 1973 after Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined. © Kolja21 - Wikimedia

The European Communities (EC) comprised the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). These three organisations merged in 1967. Successive waves of enlargement from 1973 resulted in 12 member states by 1985. In signing the Single European Act in 1986, these countries expressed their intention to establish the European Union (EU).

The EU emerged from the idea of ensuring peace in Europe after the Second World War and preventing future military conflicts. This was to be achieved by concerted economic integration and intensified cooperation that would stimulate growth in a larger market. Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed the Treaty of Paris in 1951, establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).

Treaties of Rome

The institutions of the ECSC laid the foundations of the EU. In the course of time, the ECSC High Authority, its executive body, became the European Commission, and the Common Assembly became the European Parliament.

The next step was taken with the signing of the Treaties of Rome in 1957, which established the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). With this, the six countries envisaged the creation of a free, common market and the development of nuclear power for peaceful purposes. The third step was the Merger Treaty. This fused the institutions of the three communities in 1967, which were then redesignated as bodies of the European Communities.

Enlargements from six to twelve member states

In 1973 Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the European Communities in the first wave of enlargement (the 'northern enlargement'). The United Kingdom had previously applied to join in 1963 but its membership was vetoed at the time by France. On joining the EC, the United Kingdom withdrew from the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which it had co-founded as a counterbalance to the EC.

Through further enlargement, Greece became the tenth member state in 1981. Portugal and Spain joined in 1985, following the almost unanimous approval of both countries' national parliaments. Portugal withdrew from EFTA, a move which further weakened the free trade area. Spain's accession to the EC enabled it to emerge from the isolation it had experienced during the Franco dictatorship. Although some member states had feared a wave of migration from these two countries, this did not materialise.

The Single European Act

The signing of the Single European Act in 1986 marked the conclusion of a process of reform lasting several years. The Treaties of Rome were revised and expanded. The Act envisaged the completion of the European Single Market by 1993, harmonisation of economic legislation and the removal of all national barriers to trade in the EU zone. The Single European Act was the first major reform of the founding treaties of the European Communities. It was conceived as a first step towards a European Union, forming a contractual basis for European political cooperation. This cooperation has been extended to cover more areas, and measures have been adopted to strengthen internal cohesion, improve the ability to take decisions and make the decision-making process more democratic.