Milestones in the history of the European Union

How familiar are you with the history of the European Union?

Take a look at our timeline where the most events in seven decades of European integration are highlighted.

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French foreign minister Robert Schuman on 20 June 1950. This photo is used to illustrate the declaration of 9 May 1950 as no photographer was present at the press conference.

Photo: © European Communities 1950, EC – Audiovisual Service..

The Treaty of Paris established the European Coal and Steel Community. It entered into force on 23 July 1952 and expired in 2002.

Photo: © European Communities, 1951, EC – Audiovisual Service.

Signing of the Euratom and the European Common Market agreements – Treaty of Rome – in the city hall of Rome, Italy, March 25, 1957.

Photo: © Communautes Europeennes 1957, EP.

1973 - First enlargement

In 1973, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom become members of the EEC. The decision is ratified in the UK by popular referendum. In 1981, Greece joins as well, followed in 1986 by Portugal and Spain. In 1995, Finland, Sweden and Austria become members of the European Community.

The signing ceremony of the accession treaty of Denmark, Ireland, Norway and the United Kingdom was held on 22 January 1972 in the Egmont Palace of Brussels. Edward Heath, British Prime Minister, signs the document.

Photo: © European Communities, 1972, EC – Audiovisual Service.

1979 - Direct elections

The members of the European Parliament are elected by universal suffrage in all member states. Until then, the Parliament had been composed of members of national parliaments. The Social Democrats gain the largest number of seats (113), followed by the Christian Democrats (107) and the Conservatives (64).

Simone Veil chairing the first sitting of the European Parliament elected by direct universal suffrage in Strasbourg.

Photo: © Communautés européennes 1979, EP.

1985 - Schengen Agreement

Signed in Luxemburg 1985 by initially only five EC countries, the Schengen Agreement provides for an end of border checks between participating countries and common visa rules for third-country nationals. Ten years later, the agreement was fully implemented. The Schengen Accord is now part of the EU, although some member states opted not to be part of it.

Symbolic picture of the ‘Schengen’ Area.

Photo: © European Communities, 1995, EC – Audiovisual Service.

1986 - European Community

In 1986, the Single European Act is passed, creating the European Community (EC). Once the Single European Act (SEA) entered into force, the title 'European Parliament' (which the Assembly had used since 1962) was made official. The SEA also increased the EP's legislative powers with the introduction of the cooperation and assent procedures.

Signature page of the Single European Act in Luxembourg on February 17, 1986.

Photo: © European Communities, 1992, EC – Audiovisual Service.

1992 - Maastricht Treaty

The Treaty on European Union is signed in the Dutch city and creates what is henceforth known as the European Union. The Maastricht Treaty also paves the way for the creation of a single European currency, lated named the "euro". It establishes an independent European Central Bank (ECB) and the European System of Central Banks.

Ceremony of the signature of the Treaty on the European Union in Maastricht on February 7, 1992.

Photo: © Communautés européennes 1992, EP.

1999 - Single currency

The exchange rates between 12 national currencies and the new euro are fixed. The single currency is later adopted by other EU member states and has so far replaced national currencies in 20 member states.

Signature of the European Commission proposal on the final parities for the euro, 31 December 1998.

Photo: © European Communities, 1998, EC – Audiovisual Service

2007 - Treaty of Lisbon

After the failure to ratify a Constitutional Treaty because of rejections in two EU member states, the Lisbon Treaty is signed. It enters into force in 2009. Substantive changes are introduced, the European Parliament is strenghtened and new leadership positions such as President of the European Council and High Representative for Foreign Affairs created. The EU moves away from unanimity to majority voting in more than 40 policy areas.

Seals of signatures of the Treaty of Lisbon at the Brussels Council of Ministers.

Photo: European Communities, 2007, EC – Audiovisual Service

2020 - Brexit

In 2016, the United Kingdom votes in a referendum to leave the European Union. A bitter and long battle over the terms of the UK's exit from the EU follows. On 31 January 2020, Britain becomes the first and so far only country to leave the club. Special rules remain in place in Northern Ireland, including membership of the Single Market of the EU.

Brexit supporters in central London, holding banners in favour of leaving the European, January 2019.


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