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10-08-2015, 22:25

The Move Toward European Unity: Staying the Course?

With the formation of NATO in 1949 and other regional organizations such as EURATOM and the European Community, Western European governments took the initial moves toward creating a more unified continent. By 1992, the EC included nearly 350 million people and constituted the world’s largest single trading bloc, transacting almost one-quarter of the world’s commerce. In the early 1990s, EC members drafted the Treaty on European Union (known as the Maastricht Treaty, after the city in the Netherlands where the agreement was reached), seeking to create a true economic and monetary union of all members of the organization. The treaty would not take effect, however, until all members agreed. On January 1, 1994, the European Community became the European Union (EU). One of its first goals was to introduce a common currency, called the euro. But problems soon arose. Voters in many countries opposed the austerity measures that their governments would be compelled to take to reduce growing budget deficits. Germans in particular feared that replacing the rock-solid mark with a common European currency could lead to economic disaster. Yet the logic of the new union appeared inescapable if European nations were to improve their capacity to compete with the United States and the powerful industrializing nations of the Pacific Rim. On January 1, 2002, eleven of the EC nations abandoned their national currencies in favor of the euro. In the meantime, plans got under way to extend the EU into Eastern Europe, where several nations were just emerging from decades of domination by the Soviet Union. In December 2002, the EU voted to add ten new members, including Poland, the Baltic states, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, in 2004. Yet not all are convinced that European integration is a good thing. Eastern Europeans fear that their countries will be dominated by investment from their prosperous neighbors, while their counterparts in Western Europe express concerns at a possible influx of low-wage workers from the new member countries. All in all, a true sense of a unified Europe is still lacking among the population throughout the region, and the rising wave of antiforeign sentiment (see the box on p. 188) and anger at government belt tightening are issues that will not go away in the near future. The NATO alliance continues to serve as a powerful force for European unity. Yet it too faces new challenges as Moscow’s former satellites in Eastern Europe clamor for membership in the hope that it will spur economic growth and reduce the threat from a revival of Russian expansionism. In 1999, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined the alliance, and the Baltic states have expressed an interest in doing so in the future. Some observers express concern, however, that an expanded NATO will not only reduce the cohesiveness of the organization but also provoke Russia into a new posture of hostility to the outside world.