The history of the EU: the European name game

One of the confusing aspects of the European integration process has been the constantly evolving names of the main institutions.

The process began with the 1950 Schuman Plan, which led in 1952 to the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).  Britain was not a member at that stage.  The countries that took part were France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

The ECSC was followed in 1958 by two new European structures, the European Atomic Energy Community, normally known as Euratom, and, more importantly, the European Economic Community (EEC).  This was often called the Common Market, since this described its core function.  Again the initial membership did not include Britain, but comprised the same six countries who had formed the ECSC.  The three separate Communities (the ECSC, Euratom and the EEC) were then brought together in 1967, meaning that the official name became the European Communities, although in practice most people spoke only of the EEC or to the Common Market, as this had already become the most important of the three.

The EEC’s dominance also meant that the practice of using the plural ‘Communities’ became increasingly uncommon outside of official documents.  These names stayed unchanged through the 1970s and 1980s, although the use of the middle E in EEC, i.e. that standing for ‘Economic’, gradually fell into disuse, given that the Community’s remit now ranged beyond economic matters narrowly defined.

If the names stayed put for a while, the membership of the Community (or Communities) went on growing.  Britain, Ireland and Denmark joined in 1973; Greece in 1981; and Spain and Portugal in 1986.  As a result, one sometimes sees references to collective decisions taken by the member states as having been taken first by the Six (until 1973), then by the Nine, the Ten, the Twelve and so on.

The 1992 Maastricht Treaty re-started the process of name change switching the principal title from the ‘EC’ to the European Union (EU).  Strictly speaking the former went on existing.  Maastricht brought into being three ‘pillars’, the first of which remained the EC, the other two being Common Security and Foreign Policy (CFSP) – i.e. structures designed to enable EU members to coordinate their foreign policies – and the second covering Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) – i.e. measures designed to increase cooperation on border controls, police matters, extradition etc.  But in practice references to the EU all but drowned out those to the EC – a state of affairs formalised by the Treaty of Lisbon of 2007 which abolished the pillar structure.  And membership also went on growing.  Sweden, Finland and Austria joined in 1995, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Malta and Cyprus entered in 2004, Bulgaria and Romania in 2007 and Croatia in 2013 taking the total membership to 28.

The views expressed in this explainer are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative.

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