Back to Brexit Basics

Series 19 - Back to Brexit Basics – A history of the EU

Aug 09, 2018

Last week, we looked at how traders might go about applying for Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) status.  This week we look at the history of the EU and where it all began. 

A chronological history of the EU 

We are all familiar with the EU, even more so since the UK voted to leave the union. This week we delve into the history books to examine how the EU came about and how it has changed and grown through the decades. 


The makings of the EU began in 1950 when the European Coal and Steel Community began to unite countries in Europe economically and politically seeking lasting peace. The founding countries were Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.  

In 1957, the Treaty of Rome creates the European Economic Community (EEC) otherwise known as the Common Market.  

During the 1960’s, these countries stopped charging each other custom duties when they traded with each other. 

In 1973, the union grows to nine members when Denmark, Ireland and the UK join.  The EU regional policy started to transfer money to support job creation and infrastructure in poorer areas and the European Parliament began to increase its influence over European affairs. 

In 1986, the Single European Act is signed. This treaty launched a six-year programme aimed at encouraging the free flow of trade across EU borders which resulted in the creation of the ‘Single Market’. 

During the 1980’s Greece, Portugal and Spain join. Communism collapses in eastern and central Europe and results in European countries moving closer together. 

In 1993, the EEC becomes the European Union. The Single Market is also completed and the 'four freedoms' emerge: movement of goods, services, people and money. 

In 1995, Austria, Finland and Sweden join. People are allowed to travel without having their passports checked at the borders of member countries and this movement is called Schengen.  It gets its name from a small village in Luxembourg. 

In 2002, the Euro becomes the currency of many European countries (currently 19 Member States). 

In 2004, ten new countries join the EU with Bulgaria and Romania joining in 2007. 

In 2009, the Treaty of Lisbon is passed by all EU countries and enters into force. It provides the EU with modern institutions and more efficient working methods. 

In 2012, the EU is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its commitment to the development of peace, equality, reconciliation and human rights in Europe. 

In 2013, Croatia becomes the 28th member of the EU in 2013. 

In 2016, the UK votes to leave the EU. 

Presently, there are 28 Member States (27 when the UK leaves) and 24 official languages used in the EU.  The most common are English, German and French. Other languages are Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish. Many EU documents, such as debates in the EU Parliament are translated into all these languages.   

You can find more historic website information on the European Union website.

Read all of our Brexit updates and Back to Brexit Basics on the dedicated Brexit section of our website. 

Guide on customs and supply chain issues after Brexit

Chartered Accountants Ireland and The Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales have released a joint publication entitled Taking the Lead: Chartered Accountants & Brexit which gives practical details of customs and supply chain issues after Brexit.  Download your free copy.