Skip to main content
Флаг Европейского союза Флаг Европейского союза

History of the European Union 1980-89

The changing face of Europe - the collapse of communism

The Polish trade union, Solidarity (Solidarność), and its leader Lech Walesa, become household names following the Gdansk shipyard strikes in the summer of 1980 for workers’ rights and political change. In 1981, Greece becomes the 10th member of the European Communities, and Spain and Portugal follow 5 years later. The end of the decade sees the collapse of communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe.

August 1980 – Shipyard strikes for workers’ rights

Shipyard workers in the Polish city of Gdansk, led by Lech Walesa, strike for more rights. Other strikes follow across the country. The government capitulates and Solidarność is created as an independent trade union in September. The government gradually reasserts its power and imposes martial law in December 1981, ending Poland’s brief encounter with people power, but the seeds have been sown for later.

1 January 1981 – Greece becomes the 10th country to join

Greece joins the European Communities. It has been eligible to do so since the military regime was overthrown and democracy restored in 1974.

28 February 1984 – First European research programme

Computers and automation are changing the way we live and work. To stay at the forefront of innovation, the  ‘Esprit’ programme launches  in 1984, the first of many research and innovation programmes at European level.

1 January 1986 – Two new members – Spain and Portugal

Spain and Portugal join the European Communities, bringing membership to 12.

February 1986 – Towards a single market

Although customs duties disappeared in 1968, trade is not flowing freely across the borders between member countries. The main obstacles are differences in national regulations. The Single European Act launches a vast 6-year programme to sort these out and thus create a single market. The act, which comes into force on 1 July 1987, also gives the European Parliament more say and strengthens the powers of the European Communities in environmental protection.

13 June 1987 – Launch of the Erasmus Programme

The Erasmus programme is launched to fund university students wishing to study in another European country. Since then, the programme has given over 10 million people the chance to study, train, volunteer or gain work experience abroad.

9 November 1989 – Fall of the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall falls and the border between East and West is opened for the first time in 28 years. Germany is united after more than 40 years, and its Eastern half joins the European Communities in October 1990