Last Updated 28 Jan 2021

How far has the EU come since the Treaty of Rome (1957)?

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“The European Union has come a long way from the Treaty of Rome 1957. Citing relevant Treaty and Case Law, consider the impact of enlargement on the original principles of the Treaty of Rome.”

The European Union (EU) was originally set up with the aim of uniting and stabilising the European countries to avoid wars and hostilities amongst them. The Treaty of Versailles, which was intended to ease conflict between France and Germany after the First World War, had failed, leading to the rise of Nazism. In a speech made famous by Winston Churchill in Zurich 1947, he suggested building a United States of Europe as an attempt to restore the quality of living and to reconcile the warring countries, “Our constant aim must be to build and fortify the strength of the United Nations Organization. Under and within that world concept we must recreate the European Family in a regional structure called, it may be, the United States of Europe. And the first practical step would be to form a Council of Europe”. It was therefore, in 1950 after the Second World War, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, together with the research and plans formed by the French politician Jean Monnet, suggested integrating Europe’s coal and steel industries, known also as the ‘Schuman plan’. This idea was formed with the intention of helping economic recovery and removing competition between France and Germany. So, in 1951 the European Coal and Steel Community Treaty (ECSC Treaty) was created (also known as the Treaty of Paris) and the European Coal and Steel Community began to unite European countries politically and economically in order to secure peace. Alongside France and Germany, the Benelux Union and Italy joined, thereby creating a supranational authority and removing any trade restrictions between them.

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The UK had at this point declined to join this union as they were more inclined to lean towards its friendship with the United States of America.

The six original members and founders were Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. In 1957 the ECSC’s six members decided to evolve other areas of their economies, signing the Treaty of Rome, creating the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) and the European Economic Community (EEC). This was signed in Rome on the 25th March 1957, which then came into force on the 1st January 1958. The Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) was signed at the same time and is therefore also known to be part of the Treaty of Rome. This agreement allowed them to cooperate in the development of the use of atomic energy. The members also began to remove trade barriers and allowing goods to move freely within the member states and establishing a ‘common market’.

The primary source of EU law is the EU’s treaties. The Treaty on European Union (TEU), which was signed in Maastricht on the 7th February 1992, entered into force on the 1st November 1993. The Maastricht Treaty, as it is commonly referred to, created the EU based upon the earlier treaties and introduced the idea of EU citizenship. By adding a new structure with three “pillars” based on the executive, the judiciary and the legislature, the central pillar would be joined by the second pillar covering foreign policy and national security and a third pillar to cover justice and home affairs. This created a political as well as an economic objective and renamed the EEC to the EC, reflecting the change of importance within the organization.

The Treaty of Amsterdam, signed on the 2nd October 1997, entered into force on the 1st May 1999. It modified and renumbered the EU and EC Treaties. The Treaty of Amsterdam changed the articles of the Treaty on European Union, which was identified by letters A to S, into numerical form.

The Treaty of Nice signed on the 26th February 2001, and entered into force on the 1st February 2003, dealt principally with restructuring the institutions so that the Union could operate competently after its enlargement to 25 Member States. This Treaty of Nice, the former Treaty of the EU and the Treaty of the EC have been merged into one consolidated version.

The most recent treaty was the Treaty of Lisbon, which was signed in Rome in October 2004 by the leaders of the EU and sent to all member states for approval. Its main objectives were to make the EU more democratic and meeting expectations for high standards of ‘accountability, openness, transparency and participation’[2]. It was also created to make the EU more efficient and able to tackle the issues today, such as climate change and security. Although sanctioned by most of the EU countries, French and Dutch voters rejected it and as a result, the reform process was suspended for 18 months, until a reform treaty was negotiated. This was eventually signed by EU heads of state and government in Lisbon in December 2007.

The European Union is open to any European country that wishes to join, as long as they fulfil certain criteria, known as the Copenhagen criteria. The country must be democratic, have a market economy and posses the necessary capacity to handle the obligations of membership. To help unite and bring them together the EU has created a single market and a single currency, and its responsibilities now range from economic and social policies to foreign and security policy. We know that the original members of the EU were Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. They were closely followed by Denmark, Ireland, and United Kingdom in 1973. Between 1981 and 1995 a further six countries joined, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Austria, Finland and Sweden. In 2004, 10 new countries entered the EU, making the enlargement from 15 to 25, the biggest in the Union’s history. These countries included Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. This allowed the EU to extend the stability and prosperity of EU citizens further into central and Eastern Europe. Bulgaria and Romania became EU members in January 2007, taking the current total to 27 member states.

The single market is the heart of today’s Union. This has taken several years to achieve, as many new laws were needed to remove the barriers that prevented free trade and free movement. This was finally achieved in 1993. This single market is a valuable defence against economic crisis as it prevents policies in which countries try to pass problems on to their neighbours, instead of confronting the issues themselves. Through a joint recovery plan, the EU is better able to control the financial sector, create sustainable jobs and protect the interests of the citizens.

The foremost objectives of EC Treaty and its law are the ‘Four Freedoms’. The free movement of persons, the free movement of services, the free movement of goods and the free movement of capital. Since the 2004 enlargement, the internal market is in terms of population, the largest single trading bloc in the world. Article 14(2) of the EC Treaty states that “the internal market shall comprise an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured in accordance with the provisions of this treaty”[3]. The free movement of goods is considered to be a central part of the EC Treaty, but there are barriers that affect this. These are, physical barriers, which involve stopping and checking goods passing through borders, fiscal barriers, which are taxes imposed on goods, and the most significant barrier, the technical. Technical barriers are quantitative restrictions and measures having an equivalent effect to quantitative restrictions. This is dealt with in the treaty under Article 28, 29 and 30. ‘Quantitative restrictions’ are not defined in the EC Treaty but can be found in case law, such as Greddo v Ente Nazionale Risi (Case 2/73) [1973] ECR 865. ‘Measures having equivalent effect to a quantitative restrictions’ are also undefined in the treaty but can be interpreted using case law, seen in the case of Procureur du Roi v Dassonville (Case 8/74) [1974] ECR 837. The Dassonville case is highly important and has been used in most cases involving ‘measures equivalent to quantitive restrictions’ in Article 28 as a key definition. Another important use of case law is what is known as the Cassis de Dijon principle. In the case of Cassis de Dijon (Case 120/78) [1979] ECR 649, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) was powerless to amend the provisions of Article 30, therefore creating a set of derogations that could be pleaded instead of Article 30.

As more countries join the EU, the difficulty arises in having to decide where to draw the Union’s boundaries, culturally, politically and geographically. The EU institutions have proved their worth, but they must be modified to cope with the enlargement of the Union and the increasing number of tasks for which it is responsible. Europe must not only concentrate on its own development but also welcome globalisation. The Treaty of Rome is no longer enough to cover all the issues that arise with enlargement, as different countries will have different needs. The use of case law and the development of other Treaties will help support the original founding ideas of the Treaty of Rome and continue to ensure that the countries of Europe will exist happily together and develop the relationships with each other and the rest of the world.

Bibliography and Referencing

Online resources

Library resources

MARTIN, J and TURNER, C (200?) EU Law 2nd Edition

FOSTER, N (2008) EU Law Directions, New York: Oxford University Press

BERRY, E and HARGREAVES, S (2007) European Union Law 2nd Edition, New York: Oxford University Press

KENT, P (2009) European Union Law 5th edition, London: Sweet & Maxwell

STOREY, T and TURNER, C (2008) Unlocking EU Law 2nd Edition, London: Hodder Education

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