Twentieth Century European History Research Papers
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The economic, social and political devastation that had resulted as a consequence of the Second World War served as the impetus for European nation states band together for the purpose of political and economic integration. Furthermore, Europe has an extensive history of state building that stretches as far back as the sixteenth century. Beginning with the collapse of the feudal system and the increasing incidence of war, Europe become known as the harbinger and birthplace of the modern state. In conjunction with the rise of the modern state in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Renaissance Europe began to establish a solid foundation for such ideologies as sovereignty, a conceptual instrument for the organization of power within the state. As Europe grew over the next several centuries, the foundations that it had built by establishing modern states became a lynchpin for integrating social, political and economic strength.
It can be effectively argued that Europe has sought to unify its territories since the sixteenth century. Despite the desire to achieve such integration, the impetus for integration did not occur until the First World War. Although some scholars argue that the Second World War was the true turning point for European Integration, Rösel argues that during the First World War European statesmen began in earnest to think about a “United State of Europe.” While it is true that that there were numerous economic arguments to support such integration, the reality for Europeans is that they were not willing to suffer the devastation of another war. In spite of their best efforts however, policymakers failed to economically unify Europe and, it was not until the aftermath of World War II that the European Union took its most rudimentary from:
In 1947 the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) was set up in Geneva. It acted as a regional organization of the newly founded United Nations. Unfortunately, in 1947 the Cold War had already set in and for the time being the political and economic division of Europe became irreversible. This division gave rise in the fifties to the creation of the following:
- European Economic Community (EEC)
- The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in Western democratic Europe
- The communist-controlled Europe the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) set up by the Soviet Union
The post-war period in Europe was extremely difficult. Plagued with bad harvests, and an accelerating fuel crisis, currency reserves of the European Central Banks were quickly dwindling. In an effort to help, the United States under the aegis of Secretary of State General George Marshall, proposed a widespread plan for assistance. The Marshal Plan, as it became known, was based on the mutual cooperation of the European States. Ideally, the funds for the program were to be disbursed under the ECE framework. However, Russia, suspicious of an open-door policy, vetoed the plan for the participation of East European States.
In an attempt to develop a working relationship with the communist-controlled European states, a conference was convened which resulted in the creation of the Committee for European Economic Cooperation (CEEC). Representing the non-communist European states, the CEEC was to act as an intermediary responsible for deciding on the disbursement of aid. The CEEC promulgated the development of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC).
The inception of the OEEC led to a myriad of problems that left France and the United States divided against the United Kingdom. France and the United States argued that the OEEC was to act as a “supranationalist” institution, responsible for advancing Europe’s economic integration, while the United Kingdom viewed the OEEC as a simple intergovernmental institution whose sole purpose was to allocate the funds from the Marshall Plan. To resolve the debate between France, the United States and the United Kingdom, in May of 1948, the Congress of Europe was held in The Hague for the purpose of determining the final role of the OEEC. The Congress ended with the resolution that the United Kingdom would not participate in any supranationalist organizations contributing to European integration.
Although this process has proven to be a difficult challenge at certain points, the political and economic strength of the European Union has promulgated the creation of a non-governmental unit that truly seeks to meet the needs of its collective members rather than the goals of one nation. “The European Union has its own constitution, and its fifteen member states have found themselves agreeing (sometimes unwillingly, sometimes unwittingly) to give up power and sovereignty to this new central authority”. Thus, the development of the EU is the culmination of years of effort for the development of Europe, rather than its singular parts.
When one considers the development of the European Union, the political and economic stability that has been achieved through this process has been nothing short of amazing. After the end of World War II, political and social leaders were determined that war would never again divide the nations of Europe. To this end, the European Union has evolved from a number of various political structures. Its success has been predicated on its ability to focus more on political integration rather than economic integration. In short, those who developed the EU have rationalized that political unity will serve as the basis for economic unity. To date, this rationale has proven to be correct.
Despite the fact that the European Union has become such a successful political and economic entity, researchers exploring the development of the union note that the evolution of the EU was not a linear path. In fact, since the concept of a unified Europe was first proposed in 1965 under the Treaty of Rome, a number of critics stepped forward to argue that the process of political and economic integration would serve as the basis for the destruction of the autonomy of the nation state. National identities would be lost and those in charge of the EU would only seek to create one homogeneous European nation.