25th March 1957. Twelve men meet on the Capitoline Hill in Rome to sign a treaty, two representatives each from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg and the Netherlands. Concerns over loss of sovereignty mean that early plans for a European Political Community and European Defence Community have been abandoned. The statesmen seeking to build a united, federal Europe – among them Konrad Adenauer, Jean Monnet and Paul Henri Spaak – have instead focused on the creation of a customs union, the European Economic Community. The significance of this treaty between France and Germany after nearly a century marked by bitter armed conflict is lost on no-one. Owing to delays in the printing of the treaty, only the title and signature pages are ready – the document signed by the twelve men is blank.
1st January 1973. The United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark join the EEC, the first expansion of the community beyond the six original signatories. The British had declined to join the negotiations that led to the founding of the community, Prime Minister Clement Attlee drily commenting that he saw no point in joining a club of “six nations, four of whom we had to rescue from the other two”. Two subsequent applications for admission were vetoed by France, whose President Charles de Gaulle saw the British as a trojan horse for US interests. Denmark, Ireland, and Norway, economically dependent on trade with the UK, are forced to withdraw their applications too. Only following de Gaulle’s resignation in 1969 can the British application proceed. Despite successful negotiations, the Norwegian people vote against joining in a public referendum, and Norway’s application is withdrawn. In 1994, the Norwegians will again vote against joining.
7th February 1992. Representatives of the twelve member states of the EEC, now including Greece, Spain and Portugal, meet in Maastricht to sign a new treaty. The provisions of the treaty subsume the Community into a European Union, with economic interests taking their place alongside a Common Foreign and Security Policy and agreement on Justice and Home Affairs. The treaty also lays down stringent economic guidelines, laying the groundwork for the creation of a single currency. Three countries hold referendums on the signing of the treaty – Denmark, France and Ireland. The Danes narrowly reject the Treaty: only following the negotiation of a series of opt-outs is the treaty ratified by a second referendum.
1st January 2002. A unique event in human history – the people of twelve countries across Europe wake up to a new currency, giving up marks, francs, lira, schillings, drachmas, escudos, pesetas, pounds, crowns, markkas and guilders for new euro notes and coins. Of the now fifteen countries in the Union, only Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom have chosen to retain their own currencies. The printing and minting of the 7.4 billion notes and 38.2 billion coins has taken over three years. Within twenty-four hours, over 90% of ATMs in the twelve countries are dispensing the new currency. But the first purchase using the new notes and coins takes place far away, on the French island of Rèunion in the Indian Ocean – a kilogram of lychees.