The European Union - 50 Years of Rivalry


The European Union claims that it has made Europe safe , brought democracy to almost all of the continent and created a new style of cooperation between countries. None of this, however , has come along easily. The history of the past 50 years tells a bitter story of rivalry which has, more than once, threatened the existence of Europe’s union.

After World War II the biggest problem in Europe was to stop Germany from rising to power again and to make another war impossible. In 1949 a military organisation called NATO was founded. It was led by the United States and Germany also became a member.

Economic integration started in 1952 with the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Six countries , including West Germany agreed to keep an eye on each other’s iron and steel industry and in 1957 The Treaty of Rome led to the creation of the EEC – the European Economic Community.

Relationships between European countries were not always friendly. In the 1960s the EEC was dominated by France’s powerful president Charles de Gaulle and his desire to lead the way to Europe’s future. He also wanted France to receive a large part of the organisation’s budget. He hated Great Britain and blocked British membership until 1973.

The 1980s were dominated by Great Britain’s “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, who turned out to be everyone’s enemy instead of everyone’s darling. There was hardly a meeting in which she didn’t start a quarrel with one of her fellow heads of state.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Communism the EU gained speed in the last decade of the millennium. Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany and President Francois Mitterrand of France became the engines of European integration . They wrote history by paving the way for the euro and signing the Maastricht treaty which is the basis of today’s European Union. Not in all countries, however, were these new developments welcomed. Britain and Denmark were very sceptical and didn’t want to give up national power to Brussels.

Fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989

Fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 - Lear 21 


The introduction of the single currency at the end of the century was another milestone in Europe’s history. Twelve countries gave up their symbols of nationalism and moved their economies closer towards each other.

When in 2005 Poland, Hungary and other eastern European countries joined the EU the post World War II division of the continent had finally become history. Not all Europeans welcomed these new states. Many think that richer countries will have to contribute more money to the east to get these economies moving.

After the 2005 crisis over the new European constitution, which was to define the EU structures and policies for the future, Jean Claude Junker Prime Minister of Luxembourg, said that Europe’s citizens had stopped believing in the European dream.

Yet, the EU goes on into its second half century. The pioneers of the European project talked much about Europe’s political destination, but 50 years later nobody knows where it lies.



The European Union- Table of Contents

The European Union- Exercises


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  • agree = to say yes to something
  • block = not to let something happen
  • century = a hundred years
  • citizen = a person who lives in a country and has rights there
  • claim = to say that something is tr
  • ue even if it has not been proved
  • constitution = set of laws that a country is governed by
  • contribute = give
  • cooperation = to work together
  • creation = making
  • decade = ten years
  • define = describe, characterize
  • desire = wish
  • destination = the place you want to go to or what you want to reach
  • development = here: changes
  • division = the separation into two or more parts
  • dominate = to be the best and have control over the others
  • economic = everything that deals with the economy wirtschaftlich
  • economy = the buying and selling of goods and products in a country
  • enemy = not a friend
  • engine = something powerful that changes a lot of things
  • everyone’s darling = someone everyone likes and a person who is very well-known and popular
  • fellow = the people that are the same as you or work with you
  • gain = get
  • hardly = only just
  • head of state = most important person or leader of a government
  • however = but
  • impossible = something that cannot happen any more
  • including = as well as, together with
  • integration = the working together of two or more countries
  • introduction = beginning
  • join = to become a member
  • keep an eye on = to observe and watch what someone else does
  • membership = when a country becomes a member of the EU
  • milestone = a very important event
  • millenium = a thousand years
  • pave = to make something possible by producing the right conditions
  • pioneer = the first people who believed in something and worked on something
  • policy = the way of doing something
  • post World War II = after World War II
  • quarrel = an argument
  • receive = get, have
  • relationship = the way countries or people feel about each other and treat each other
  • rise = move up
  • rivalry = opposition between two or more countries
  • sceptical = you don’t really believe what other people tell you
  • sign = to put your name on a document or an important piece of paper
  • single currency = money that is used in many countries of Europe
  • speed = how fast something is
  • structure = the way in which organisations work together
  • threaten = endanger
  • treaty = a document that is signed by two or more countries
  • welcomed = glad that it has happened