The debate of defining the European Union has taken a multitude of perspectives and despite the extensive literature that has been compiled, no individual theory has won the support of the European community. During the 2017 State of The European Union Address, President Juncker gave his thoughts on the White Paper on the Future of Europe to the member states which lays out five proposals regarding potential paths for the European Union to take (Eder). He sought for the member states to provoke thinking on what it means to “move forward together as a Union” (European Commission, 15). This represents a fact that is generally agreed upon that the Union is a unique and dynamic polity, resulting in changes in ideology throughout its development. A divide has been created within Europe with competing philosophies of federalism, supranationalism, and nationalism. The structure of the European Union has challenged scholars to stray from conventional explanations through international relations and our current organization and understanding of political entities.
A crucial period in the history of the European Union is the events following World War II as it lays out the circumstances that lead to integration. After the war, the influence and power that European states had through imperialism saw a significant decline as they were left with economic turmoil and intense social and political instability. As a result, there was a clear change in the international hierarchy of power was taking place as the US and the Soviet Union claimed titles as superpowers. Additionally, the European States faced the daunting economic reconstruction process and lingering notion of nationalism (McCormick, 62).
Critical economic institutions were formed, including the International Monetary Fund, the GATT, and the World bank, as a means to stabilize the global economy (McCormick, 64). At this point, the US served as the only source of money for the Europeans. The politically motivated US created the European Recovery Program, or the Marshall Plan, which provided $12.5 billion in aid (Milward, 46). A new international body, known as the Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), was created to facilitate the distribution of aid, reduce tariffs and other barriers to trade, and create a free trade areas or customs union. (McCormick, 65). This institution marked the first permanent organization for economic cooperation and initiated foundational goals that are carried out by the European Union today. As a result, interstate coordination increased and a sense of economic interdependence developed (McCormick, 65).
Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech marked another obstacle in organizing postwar Europe. The old Nazi threat was quickly replaced by the Soviet Union’s incessant desire to spread communism. The question of who would provide for European security was looming as the British nor the French has sufficient resources to fend off the Soviets. A Western European Union was created as a result and would eventually lead to The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (McCormick, 66). The creation of NATO marks an unprecedented achievement in political history as it resembled a military alliance that was never seen before. Although the European Union has no central military force, the agreement on NATO follows the trend of European states coming together to fulfil common interests.
The creation of the European Movement represented the new atmosphere of receptivity to cooperation leading to a spirited debate of European unity. The purpose of the organization was to have a means of initiating integration and eventually gave rise to the Council of Europe, in 1949, as a compromise between the pro-European groups (McCormick, 67). It would go on to promote European unity with a focus on democratic and human rights issues (McCormick, 67). The Schuman Declaration was made shortly after to carry out early suggestions of cooperation through coal and steel. Although the European Coal and Steel Community overall did not contribute much to European economic growth, it was politically important and institutionally innovative (Dinan, 58, 67).
Postwar Europe gave rise to monumental institutions and agreements including the Marshall Plan, NATO, and the European Movement. The psychological aspect of European states coming together to create innovative methods of restructuring the continent led to the complex evolution of the European Union we know today.