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History of the European Union

Learn about the history of Europe and the European Union, including information about the EU’s founding fathers and its progression since the 1950s. This section includes learning resources for teachers, online student quizzes and colourful wallcharts that explain the EU’s history.

What is the European Union?Flags of the EU and Ireland

The European Union is a community of European countries. You often see the name shortened to EU.

When was the EU formed?

The European Coal and Steel Community (now called the European Union) was set up in 1951.

Why was the EU formed? 

The community was set up after World War II as a way to promote peace between European countries. Jean Monnet, a French politician, came up with a new idea to get European countries to work together and not fight or go to war with one another. He realised there are two things a country needed before it could go to war: iron for producing steel (to make tanks, guns, bombs) and coal to provide the energy for factories and railways.

His idea was that the governments of France and Germany – and perhaps of other European countries too – should no longer run their own coal and steel industries. Instead, these industries should be organised by people from all the countries involved, and they would sit around a table and discuss and decide things together. His idea convinced the leaders of other European countries, which led to the beginnings of what we now call the European Union.

The community was first called the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), and was changed to the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957. A lot has changed since the early days of the ECSC. We now have a single common market which means that people and goods can move freely across countries’ borders. European Union citizens can travel, live, work and study in any EU country. Because of all of these changes, and because the EEC became more connected than ever with the single market, the community decided to change its name again to the European Union (EU) in 1992. The community has grown from six countries in 1951 to 27 countries in 2007. Croatia will join the European Union in July 2013.

Who were the first members of the community?

The first countries to join the ECSC were France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Ireland joined in 1973. Discover photos of important milestones for Ireland in the EU.

How was the EU formed?

The community was created by drawing up the ECSC treaty. A treaty is an agreement between different countries that is signed by members of government from different countries, such as the Taoiseach or Ministers.

Where was the ECSC Treaty signed?

The treaty that created the European Coal and Steel Community was signed in Paris on 18 April 1951.

Find more information about the history of the EU online:

The EU: What’s it all about?

Founding fathers of the EU

Online quizzes for students:

Let’s Explore Europe

The Time Machine

Download documents to learn more about the history of the EU:

This wallchart tells the story of the European Union from 1950 onwards/

The teacher’s guide discusses the booklet’s content, curricular themes, and gives examples of classroom activities.