The EU can be traced into history as far as the aftermath of the Second World War. Amidst a movement to establish unity within a war-torn continent, France and Germany came together to make sure they would never face each other in battle again. The result was the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), created to stop the inner nations (West Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg) fighting over resources. The Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957 to incorporate trade in a more general sense, and established what became known as the European Economic Community (EEC). With the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, the confederation became the European Union and took the single biggest step towards becoming what we recognise today. Member nations would now co-operate in politics, economics, trade, money, justice and foreign affairs. At this stage 22 members had also signed the Schengen Agreement in 1985, creating an open-borders zone allowing people to travel without a passport, and 16 members had adopted the Euro as their currency. Today, the EU contains 28 member nations and over 500million people.
Britain and the EU Britain has had a turbulent relationship with the EU, initially declining to join the ECSC as it rebranded to become the EEC at the Messina Conference of 1995 over concerns about the Commonwealth, welfare state and sovereignty. We again declined an invite to join the six founding members in signing the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Instead, in 1960 Britain rounded up six smaller European nations to form the European Free-Trade Association (EFTA).We attempted to join the EEC in 1961 but were vetoed -twice- by French President Charles de Gaulle, who accused us of showing more of an interest in the US and having “a deep-seated hostility” towards the European project. Britain eventually joined the EEC in 1973, and when put to a public referendum in 1976 membership had the support of the three main parties, despite some opposition on the fringes of both the left and right. Support for membership saw a landslide victory taking 67% of the vote. Still, Britain’s relationship with the EU remained a heated topic throughout much of the 70s and 80s, in particular, after the socialist JaquesDelors became head of the European Commission and began to steer Europe toward a single currency, Margaret Thatcher – who previously campaigned for membership - became increasingly sceptical. In her speech of 1988 in Bruges she outright rejected “a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels”, a famous moment for Eurosceptism, fanningfires within the conservative government which contributed to her eventual downfall.
In 1990 Britain joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), which tied the value of the pound to other members’ currencies in order to establish stability and a basis on which to introduce a single currency. After failing to combat significant currency speculation the conservative government of John Major was forced to pull Britain out of the ERM following the infamous “Black Wednesday” crash in 1992. That same year, the signing of The Maastricht Treatyby all members saw increased centralisation and the transfer of power towards the EU in what some would deem the first significant step away from sovereignty within our own parliament. It was at this stage that Britain opted out of the plans for a single currency, alongside the social chapter – a treaty establishing further centralisation of social policy within member nations. In an attempt to improve relations, Tony Blair signed us up to the social chapter and set his sights on the Euro shortly after becoming prime minister in 1997. Alas, adoption of the Euro was not widely supported and Britain’s economy was struggling, leading the chancellor Gordon Brown to put the plans on hold. Brown further ruled out joining the Euro during his term as PM in 2007, and there has been little public or political will to adopt it since - largely due to the Eurozone crisis. In 2011, David Cameron fought for exemptions and eventually vetoed a new pact concerning new EU budget rules. In many people’s eyes, this ignited a new rift between the UK and the EU and sparked the Eurosceptics into action, bringing our relationship back into question. Under increasing pressure, Cameron eventually announced in December of 2011 that if his party won re-election a referendum would take place.