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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

(European Union)ooThe origins of the EU date back as far as 1950, just five years after the end of World WaroII, when the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, put forward a far-sighted plan to merge the coal and steel industries of France and Germany – a measure calculated to have both economic and peace-keeping benefits. By 1952 this idea had developed into the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), in which six countries (France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg) formed a common market, without tariff barriers, in coal and steel. In 1957, with the Treaty of Rome, the same six countries established the European Economic Community (EEC). Often referred to in Britain as the Common Market, this extended the level of international cooperation to cover free trade in all commodities, free movement of labour, and a commitment to steadily greater economic integration between the member states.

The European Community was created in 1967 to bring together the EEC, the ECSC and the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM), enabling them to share the same political and administrative institutions. These include the European Commission, which is the executive branch; the Council of Ministers, the main decision-making body; the elected European Parliament; and the European Court of Justice.

Negotiations were begun in 1961 for four countries (United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark and Norway) to join the Community, but this development was vetoed by the French president, General de Gaulle – in 1963 and again in 1967. In 1973 the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark did finally join (the people of Norway had decided not to do so in a referendum in 1972). In Britain a Labour government came to power in 1974 and held in 1975 the country's first referendum, on whether to stay in the EC; the vote went 2 to 1 in favour of doing so. The admission of Greece (1981), Spain and Portugal (1986), and Austria, Finland and Sweden (1995) have brought the number of members too15. A further six countries in eastern Europe have been invited to apply for membership (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

In 1962 the Community introduced a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to protect farmers against the import of cheaper foodstuffs. The inefficiencies of this system, which led to vast subsidies and overproduction (the notorious 'butter mountain' being followed by similar surpluses of wheat and wine), dominated Community politics until the mid-80s, when reforms began to be introduced. Since then the main topic of disagreement has been the speed of advance towards full economic integration.

The *EMS (European Monetary System) was introduced in 1979. This was followed by EMU (Economic and Monetary Union), resulting in a European Central Bank (from 1998, in Frankfurt-am-Main) and a single currency, the euro (scheduled to replace in 2002 the national currencies of the majority of the EU member states).

A broad consensus on the way forward was agreed between member states, with considerable difficulty, at *Maastricht in December 1991. A single market was introduced on 1oJanuary 1993, in principle establishing the completely free passage of goods between nation states and the ending of border formalities within the community for EC nationals. The name European Union was adopted instead of European Community at the same period, in 1993.

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