Skip to main content

History of the European Union 1945-59

Peace in Europe and the beginnings of cooperation

With the aim of ending the frequent and bloody conflicts that culminated in the Second World War, European politicians begin the process of building what we know today as the European Union.

The European Coal and Steel Community, founded in 1951, is the first step in securing a lasting peace. In 1957, the Treaty of Rome establishes the European Economic Community (EEC) and a new era of ever-closer cooperation in Europe. This period, however, also sees the emergence of a Cold War that divides the continent for more than 40 years.

8 May 1945 – end of World War II in Europe

The Second World War ends in Europe. The continent is devastated. Millions of people are dead, injured or displaced. Six million Jews have been murdered in the Holocaust.

4 April 1949 – NATO is created

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is established, an intergovernmental security alliance between the United States, Canada and 10 Western European countries. By 2020, NATO has 30 members, including 21 EU countries.

5 May 1949 – The Council of Europe is established

10 Western European countries create the Council of Europe to promote democracy and protect human rights and the rule of law. The European Convention on Human Rights comes into force on 3 September 1953.

9 May 1950 – A plan for new political cooperation in Europe

French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman presents a plan for deeper cooperation. He proposes integrating the coal and steel industries of Western Europe. Later, 9 May is celebrated by the European Union as 'Europe Day'.  

18 April 1951 – European Coal and Steel Community

Based on the Schuman plan, six countries sign a treaty to run their coal and steel industries under a common management. In this way, no single country can make the weapons of war to turn against others, as in the past. The six are Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. The European Coal and Steel Community comes into being in 1952.

25 March 1957 – Treaties of Rome

Building on the success of the Coal and Steel Treaty, the 6 founding countries expand their cooperation to other economic sectors. They formalise this by signing two treaties, creating the European Economic Community (EEC), and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). These bodies come into being on 1 January 1958.

List of all EU member states and when they joined

19 March 1958 – Birth of the European Parliament

The first meeting of the European Parliamentary Assembly, a forerunner of today’s European Parliament, is held in Strasbourg, France, with Robert Schuman elected President. It replaces the Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community and changes its name to the European Parliament on 30 March 1962.