The first leading politician to propose a European Union was the French foreign minister, Aristide Briand. In 1929 he published a memorandum where he advocated the establishment of a European Federal Union. He gained support from Edouard Herriot but the idea stimulated little interest and was not taken up by other political leaders.
In 1945 Jean Monnet was appointed as Planning Commissioner in France. In this post he became responsible for economic reconstruction. He began working on a scheme that he eventually proposed to Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister, in 1949. The Schuman Plan, as it became known, was the basis for the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) that was established in 1952. It was agreed that the six countries that signed the Treaty of Paris, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany, would pool its coal and steel resources.
In 1958 the European Coal and Steel Community evolved into the European Economic Community (EEC). Under the ECC attempts were made to achieve harmonization. This included measures in areas such as indirect taxation, industrial regulation, agriculture, fisheries and monetary policies. The Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) was introduced in 1962.
Britain made attempts to join the EEC in 1963 and 1967. This ended in failure, mainly due to the opposition of President Charles De Gaulle of France. Britain, under the leadership of Edward Heath, was finally admitted in 1973. Denmark and Ireland also joined at the same time.
In 1975, the new British prime minister, Harold Wilson decided to hold a referendum on membership of the European Economic Community. Wilson allowed his Cabinet to support both the "Yes" and "No" campaigns and this led to a bitter split in the party. The Conservative Party was also divided over this issue but the British people eventually voted to remain in the EEC.
In 1979 the EEC introduced the European Monetary System (EMS). The lost-term objective of the EMS was to achieve currency union and the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), a system of semi-fixed exchange rates.
Greece joined the EEC in 1981. This was followed by Portugal (1986), Spain (1986) and the former East Germany (1990). In 1993 the organization was renamed the European Union (EU). Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the EU in 1995.
In January 2002 the euro becomes the sole currency within the twelve participating Member States (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain).