For Americans used to referring to other countries as simply 'over there', the genesis of the European Union is hazy at best. Most probably think it came into being with the flash of a magic wand, like the UN or the Atlantic Alliance.
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But that's far from the truth: impressed by the repeated carnage of World War I and II (the former led to the slogan "Never again!"), in 1951, France and Germany put an end to nearly a century of strife by uniting around coal and steel, whose production was centered in the oft-disputed Ruhr Valley. They were joined by Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg in the European Coal and Steel Community. After a successful six year run, this first integrated organization led to the formation of the European Economic Community, in 1957. Denmark, Ireland, Norway and, after some back and forth the United Kingdom were added in the 1960s.
Between the late sixties and the nineties, the leaders of Western Europe dithered over how far the take their union, mainly whether an economic treaty should be accompanied by some form of political union. Many prominent political figures campaigned for a federal Europe, but they remained a minority. At last, the Treaty of Maastricht was signed in 1992, giving the European Parliament more power, and paving the way for the adoption of a single currency, the Euro, in 2000.
The most impactful event in the Union's history was undoubtedly the admission of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. East Germany was absorbed into the German Republic in October, 1990, just one year later, but it was not until 2004 that the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia were allowed to join. Of these, to date, only Slovakia is also a member of the Euro zone.
The primary aim of the European project being to avoid war among its members, it has, from the beginning, been secular, its Charter of Fundamental Rights including every conceivable human right, as exemplified in the following articles:
Right to asylum
The right to asylum shall be guaranteed with due respect for the rules of the Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951 and the Protocol of 31 January 1967 relating to the status of refugees and in accordance with the Treaty establishing the European Community.
Protection in the event of removal, expulsion or extradition
1. Collective expulsions are prohibited.
2. No one may be removed, expelled or extradited to a State where there is a serious risk that he or she would be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Right to good administration
1. Every person has the right to have his or her affairs handled impartially, fairly and within a reasonable time by the institutions and bodies of the Union.
2. degreesThis right includes:
The right of every person to be heard, before any individual measure which would affect him or her adversely is taken; to have access to his or her file, while respecting the legitimate interests of confidentiality and of professional and business secrecy; the obligation of the administration to give reasons for its decisions.