European Union Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series

by John McCormick

Chapter 5: Building a Single Market

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The creation of the European Coal and Steel Community was a critical first step along the path to European integration, but its possibilities were always bound to be limited. So, after failing with two far more ambitious initiatives – the creation of European defence and political communities – the six ECSC members switched their focus to the building of a single market. The 1957 Treaties of Rome created the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), the former setting the goal of creating a European market within which there would be free movement of people, money, goods and services. But this was no easy target, and the EEC would see only mixed progress during the 1960s as its member states failed to remove all the barriers to the single market, and failed to exploit its possibilities.

This was also a troubling time in international relations, with the Berlin and Cuban missile crises, escalation of the war in Vietnam, and the Soviet crackdown on reform in Czechoslovakia, in all of which the critical players were the Americans and/or the Soviets. Meanwhile, the EEC was to be troubled by political disagreements over the powers and reach of its institutions and over enlargement, French president Charles de Gaulle twice vetoing British applications for membership.

In 1973 the Community welcomed its first new members (Britain, Ireland and Denmark), followed in the 1980s by more (Greece, Spain and Portugal). The main effect of enlargement was to change the political balance of integration as France and Germany found their previously dominant roles challenged. The EEC faced many hurdles, some of its own making and others created by the ebbs and flows of the Cold War and the transatlantic relationship. At heart, it was – in its early years – an elitist project that had little impact on European public opinion.
  • Attempts to clear the way to West German remilitarization, while tying it closely into western Europe, led to the signature in May 1952 of a treaty setting up a European Defence Community (EDC), and to the creation in 1954 of a Western European Union.
  • There were hopes, too, of creating a European Political Community (EPC), but political opposition within France to the EDC led to its collapse in August 1954, along with plans for the EPC.
  • Economic cooperation was behind the signature in 1957 of the Treaties of Rome, creating the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community.
  • The goals of the EEC included a single market, a common external customs tariff, and common policies on agriculture, trade, transport, and competition.
  • Progress on the single market was mixed, with many barriers coming down but many non-tariff barriers remaining, and slow progress on the development of a common transport policy, and on addressing regional economic disparities.
  • The 1960s were a time of Cold War nervousness, opening with the Berlin and Cuban missile crises and closing with an escalation of the war in Vietnam. These events impacted the tripartite relationship between Europe, the US, and the USSR.
  • Enlargement of the EEC moved up the agenda, but British applications were twice vetoed by Charles de Gaulle.
  • Britain, Denmark and Ireland joined the EEC in 1973, followed in 1981 by Greece and in 1986 by Spain and Portugal. The political and economic personality of the EEC changed as a result.