In 1951, six countries in Western Europe joined together in the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the predecessor to what is known today as the European Union (EU). This organization has played a central part in Europe’s political and economic development since the end of WWII and has evolved into an “ever closer Union” of twenty–eight European countries. What started out as an attempt to avoid the devastation and horrors of the Second World War in the future now constitutes one of the most complex and intriguing political systems in the world.
In the process of European integration, the “nation–states” of Europe have become the “member–states” of the EU. They have “pooled” their sovereignty to a historically unprecedented degree, most recently by adopting a single currency known as the Euro and by creating new cooperative structures in the areas of both internal and external security. The integration process remains in flux, making the EU very much a moving target for those who seek to study it and evaluate its successes and failures.
The EU’s existence and development raises many questions. Why would a number of independent and, in some cases, historically antagonistic countries, decide to join forces if this means giving up much of their national sovereignty? What is gained, and what is lost, in this process? What does the EU look like, and how does it work? What are its achievements and limitations? What is its role in Europe and the world today, and what will it be in years to come? Understanding the EU is central to understanding the continent’s recent past, present, and future.