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Guide to the European Union

What are the key EU treaties?

A Common Market was created, in 1957, by the Treaty of Rome between six nations, West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg and its purpose was to increase trade between the countries but also to bind Germany politically with the other countries so that another European war would be impossible. 

This Common Market eventually became the European Union (EU) and expanded to 28 countries in stages:-

-         The United Kingdom and countries that had a trade agreement with it, such as Ireland and Denmark, in 1972.

-         The Southern European countries of Greece, Spain and Portugal, recently emerged from dictatorships, in the 1980s.

-        Sweden, Finland and Austria in 1995.

-        The Eastern European Countries from 2004, after the end of Communism in the early 1990s, as well as Malta and Cyprus.

Integration within the EU has also developed in a number of stages:-

-        From 1957 until 1986 the EU concentrated on removing the restrictions to trade between the member countries, such as national taxes on imports, and subsidising agriculture through a Common Agricultural Policy. When Britain entered, a Regional Fund was set up to invest in poorer regions and also a Social Fund to support education and employment.

-        In 1986, the Single European Act, promoted by Britain, led to the creation of a Single European Market.  Regulations following the Act made sure that all countries had the same standards of goods, food quality, environmental protection, working conditions and so on.

-        The Maastricht Treaty, 1992 sought to prepare the way for the Euro by setting requirements for each national economy.  It also strengthened cooperation between countries in foreign policy, military and criminal justice areas.

-        Integration, apart from the creation of the Euro in 1999, then slowed down, partly because the enlargement of the EU to Eastern Europe took so much effort. The remaining treaties of Amsterdam (1997), Nice (2001) and Lisbon (2007) were mainly concerned with changing the institutions, for example, giving the European Parliament more power and increasing majority voting in the European Council.

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