International relations in Europe were historically associated with empires, such as the Roman, Byzantine, Frankish, and Austro-Hungarian Empires. In regards to the EU, the idea of a union started emerging after the First World War. However, this concept only truly materialized after World War II.
The first concrete steps in formalizing international relations in Europe were taken in 1950 with the European Coal and Steel Community. This began with uniting six countries (France, West Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg) both economically and politically. This was an initiative spearheaded by the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman. Later in 1957, the Treaty of Rome created the European Economic Community (EEC), also known as the Common Market. Some say that the initial idea of a Common Market in Europe with lower tariffs, a single currency, and a greater pan-European integration emerged in 1955 at the Bilderberg Meetings.
The 1960s was a period thriving on economic growth and international relationships across Western Europe. The first European Commission was created as a means of regulating various international aspects in regards to food production. This decade was also known for the tensions between France and the United Kingdom, which ultimately deferred the latter entrance into the European Union.
The 1970s was a period of EU expansion, to nine countries, with the addition of United Kingdom, Denmark, and Ireland. Also, the acceptance of the United Kingdom in the EU was seen as being a major step forwards in European international relations. The ending of dictatorships in Portugal and Spain paved the way for EU expansion. Economically, the EU’s regional policy was focused on creating jobs and infrastructures in impoverished areas and taking the necessary steps in protecting the environment.
The 1980s was a tumultuous period with the fall of the Berlin Wall and German unification. This decade also showed further growth for the EU with three additional countries: Greece, Spain, and Portugal. The signing of the 1986 Single European Act meant the creation of the European Single Market. Also, a significant accomplishment of unity and international success was seen with the adoption of the European Flag.
The 1990s meant a Europe without frontiers. The Single Market effectively became a reality in 1993 with the following four freedoms: movement of goods, services, people, and money. The EU expanded further with the inclusion of Austria, Finland, and Sweden. This decade also liberalized the right to study in other countries (EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) and the ability for European citizens to travel without the need of passports. In addition, there was the development of the Euro as a single currency, which created a monetary union. Furthermore, the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe opened doors for increased opportunities of expansion for the EU.
The 2000 decade meant the adoption and implementation of the Euro as a single currency. After the 2001 terrorist attack in New York, the EU was challenged to adapt new regulations in regards to unrestricted travelling in Europe. Furthermore, this period also meant the largest expansion of the EU with the inclusion of Eastern Block countries. Thus, there was a literal unification of Europe.
The current decade is challenging, as the economic crisis stroke Europe hard with endless problems provided by the default (or almost default) of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. In 2016, the citizens of the United Kingdom voted to withdraw from the EU. As a result, questions emerged in regards to the European Union’s future.
International relations are fostered within the European Union. The freedoms it provides developed over time. The EU needs to be able to adapt to those various situations for the decades to come.