‘From the idea of
Europe to the EU
‘Magna Charta’: a
modular curriculum on
the Education to
Early Middle Ages
Western Europe emerged as the site of a distinct civilization after the fall of the Western
Roman Empire in the 5th century, as barbarian invasions separated it from the rest of the
Mediterranean, where the Eastern Roman Empire (a.k.a. Byzantine Empire) survived for
another millennium. In the 7th century the Arab expansion brought Islamic cultures to the
southern Mediterranean shores (from Turkey to Sicily and Spain), further enlarging the
differences between the various Mediterranean civilizations. Huge amounts of technology
and learning were lost, trade languished and people returned to local agrarian
communities. In the same century, Bulgarians created the first Slavic state in Europe Bulgaria. Feudalism replaced the centralized Roman administration. The only institution
surviving the collapse of the Western Roman Empire was the Roman Catholic Church,
which preserved part of the Roman cultural inheritance and remained the primary source of
learning in its domain at least until the 13th century; the bishop of Rome, known as the
Pope, became the leader of the western church (in the east his supremacy was never
The Holy Roman Empire emerged around 800, as Charlemagne, king of the Franks,
subdued western Germany, large parts of Italy and chunks of surrounding countries; he
received substantial help from an alliance with the Pope, who wanted to cut the remaining
ties with the Byzantine Empire; in this way the domains of the Pope became an
independent state in central Italy.
In the late 9th century and 10th century, northern and western Europe felt the burgeoning
power and influence of the Vikings who raided, traded, conquered and settled swiftly and
efficiently with their advanced sea-going vessels such as the longships.
The subsequent period, ending around 1000, saw the further growth of feudalism, which
weakened the Holy Roman Empire and the development of the Roman Catholic Church as
a major power.
In the following period, Western Christianity was adopted by newly created kingdoms of
Central Europe: Poland, Hungary and Bohemia.
Later Middle Ages
Early signs of the rebirth of civilization in western Europe began to appear in the 11th
century as trade started again in Italy, leading to the economic and cultural growth of
independent city states such as Venice and Florence; at the same time, nation-states
began to take form in places such as France, England and Portugal, although the
process of their formation (usually marked by rivalry between the monarchy, the
aristocratic feudal lords and the church) actually took several centuries. On the other
hand, the Holy Roman Empire, essentially based in Germany and Italy, further
fragmented into a myriad of feudal principalities or small city states, whose subjection
to the emperor was only formal.
One of the largest catastrophes to have hit Europe was the bubonic plague, also
known as the Black Death. There were numerous outbreaks, but the most severe
was in the mid-1300s and is estimated to have killed a third of Europe's population.
Since many Jews worked as money-lenders (usury was not allowed for Christians)
and were generally more immune to disease (thanks to their kosher laws concerning
hygiene), the Jews were often disliked by Europeans, so it was popular to blame
them for the epidemic. This led to increased persecution of the Jews and pogroms in
some areas. Thousands of Jews fled to Poland which, ironically, was spared by the
Beginning in the 14th century, the Baltic Sea became one of the most important trade
routes. The Hansa, an alliance of trading cities, facilitated the absorption of vast
areas of Poland, Lithuania and other Baltic countries into the economy of Europe.
The conventional end of the Middle Ages is usually associated with the fall of the city
Constantinople and of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The Turks
made the city (with the new name of Istanbul) the capital of their Ottoman Empire,
which lasted until 1919 and also included Egypt, Syria and most of the Balkans.
Renaissance and Reformation
In the 15th century, at the end of the Middle Ages, powerful nation
states had appeared, built by the New Monarchs who had centralized
power in France, England, and Spain. Contrariwise, the Church was
losing much of its power because of corruption, internal conflicts, and
the spread of culture leading to the artistic, philosophical, scientific and
technological improvements of the Renaissance era.
 The new nation states were frequently in a state of political flux and
war. In particular, after Martin Luther started the Reformation in 1517,
wars of politics and religion ravaged the continent: the schism of the
dominant western church was to have major political, social and cultural
implications for Europe. What became the split between Catholicism
and Protestantism was particularly pronounced in England (where the
king Henry VIII severed ties with Rome and proclaimed himself head of
the church), and in Germany (where the Reformation united the various
Protestant princes against the Catholic Hapsburg emperors).
 Unlike Western Europe, the countries of Central Europe, the PolishLithuanian Commonwealth and Hungary, resolved religious questions
by adopting religious tolerance. Central Europe was already split
between Eastern and Western Christianity. Now it became divided
between Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox and Jews.
Colonial expansion
The numerous wars did not prevent the new states from
exploring and conquering wide portions of the world, particularly
in Asia (Siberia) and in the newly-discovered America. In the 15th
century, Portugal led the way in geographical exploration,
followed by Spain in early 16th century, were the first states to
set up colonies in South America and trade stations on the
shores of Africa and Asia, but they were soon followed by
France, England and the Netherlands.
 Colonial expansion proceeded in the following centuries (with
some setbacks, such as the American Revolution and the wars of
independence in many South American colonies). Spain had
control of a great deal of South America, the Caribbean and the
Philippines; Britain took the whole of Australia and New Zealand,
most of India, and large parts of Africa and North America;
France held parts of Canada and India (nearly all of which was
lost to Britain in 1763), Indochina and large parts of Africa; the
Netherlands gained the East Indies (now Indonesia) and islands
in the Caribbean; Portugal obtained Brazil and several territories
in Africa and Asia; and later, powers such as Germany, Belgium,
Italy and Russia acquired further colonies.
Early Modern period: 16th, 17th
and 18th century
The Reformation had profound effects on the unity of Europe. Not
only were nations divided one from another by their religious
orientation, but some states were torn apart internally by religious
strife, avidly fostered by their external enemies. France suffered this
fate in the 16th century in the series of conflicts known as the
French Wars of Religion, which ended in the triumph of the Bourbon
Dynasty. England avoided this fate for a while and settled down
under Elizabeth to a moderate Anglicanism. Germany, divided into
numerous small states under the theoretical framework of the Holy
Roman Empire, was also divided along internally drawn sectarian
lines, until the Thirty Years' War seemed to see religion replaced by
nationalism as the motor of European conflict.
Throughout the early part of this period, capitalism was replacing
feudalism as the principal form of economic organization, at least in
the western half of Europe. The expanding colonial frontiers resulted
in a Commercial Revolution. The period is noted for the rise of
modern science and the application of its findings to technological
improvements, which culminated in the Industrial Revolution. New
forms of trade and expanding horizons made new developments in
international law necessary.
Early Modern period: 16th, 17th
and 18th century
After the Treaty of Westphalia which ended the Thirty Years War,
Absolutism became the norm of the continent, while parts of Europe
experimented with constitutions foreshadowed by the English Civil
War and particularly the Glorious Revolution. European military
conflict did not cease, but had less disruptive effects on the lives of
Europeans. In the advanced north-west, the Enlightenment gave a
philosophical underpinning to the new outlook, and the continued
spread of literacy, made possible by the printing press, created new
secular forces in thought.
Eastern Europe was an arena of conflict for domination between
Sweden, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman
Empire. This period saw a gradual decline of these three powers
which were eventually replaced by new enlightened absolutist
monarchies, Russia, Prussia and Austria. By the turn of the 19th
century they became new powers, having divided Poland between
them, with Sweden and Turkey having experienced substantial
territorial losses to Russia and Austria respectively. Numerous
Polish Jews emigrated to Western Europe, founding Jewish
communities in places where they had been expelled from during
the Middle Ages.
The English Civil War
The English Civil War was a battle between King Charles I and Parliament.
Under Elizabeth I and James I England had become a relatively prosperous
state. However, the acession of Charles I would see great changes.
 The first and foremost cause of the English Civil War was religion. Elizabeth
had established the Anglican Church in 1559 and had deliberately avoided
controversial issues, such as Catholic-style relics in churches and
ceremonial vestments in order to keep the peace. James had allowed the
Elizabethan Church to continue. However, when Charles became King in
1625 he allowed an Arminian style of Anglicanism, which seemed like a
slide back toward Catholicism and popery. Charles' marriage to the French
Catholic princess Henrietta Maria seemed to confirm this slide.
 Charles could never seem to get along with Parliaments, and unproductive
sessions in 1625, 1626, 1628 and 1629 resulted in Charles's closure of
Parliament for 11 years — called by his opponents the 11 Years Tyranny.
Neither King or Parliament could agree over his (really his favourite minister
the 1st Duke of Buckingham's) very expensive wars against Spain and
France. Therefore, as Charles relied on Parliament for money, he spent
carefully and ruthlessly enforced prerogative taxation, the most contentious
of which was Ship Money.
 Buckingham was murdered in 1628 and Charles's new ministers were
Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford and William Laud, Archbishop of
Canterbury. Wentworth became Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1633 to ensure
the colony became more profitable. Laud however started the Bishops Wars
when in 1637 he tried to introduce the English Prayer Book in Scotland, and
so the Scots invaded England in 1640.
The English Civil War
Charles was forced to call Parliament to raise money for an army. However
Parliament wanted its grievances addressed and was furious at not being
referred to for 11 years. The Petition of Right, pushed through Parliament by the
main opposition leader, John Pym, forced Charles to agree that the English
people had rights and liberties and that he had been undermining them.
Strafford was executed on 12 May 1641, and Laud was to follow him to the
scaffold in 1645. Charles attempted to arrest Pym and five other members in
February 1642 after they attempted to impeach the Queen, claiming that
Henrietta had been attempting to control Charles and impose a French style
tyranny on them.
The King and his family left London in May 1642 and the Queen and her
children sailed for France. The raising of the royal standard at Nottingham
started war. Charles's side were called the Cavaliers; Parliament's side were the
Roundheads. In spite of initial successes, Charles's defeat was assured by
1644, when Pym signed an agreement with the Scots. Charles was defeated
and captured at Marston Moor in 1647, but he fled to the Isle of Wight and
enlisted the help of the Scots, as Parliament had reneged on their agreement.
However, his hopes came to naught when the Roundheads defeated them at
Charles was brought to trial by a special court in 1649. Pym had since died and
the new Parliamentary leader, Oliver Cromwell wanted Charles dead. He was
executed in January 1649. Monarchy was formally abolished and Cromwell was
in control, with the support of his New Model Army. The unsuccessful
Interregnum would last from Charles's death to 1660, when it was found that the
absence of a monarchy, even a figurehead one, could not work. This resulted in
the return of the son of Charles I, as King Charles II of England.
The French Revolution
By 1789 France was on the verge of crisis, but revolution was not obvious before this time.
Its causes were royal absolutism, ideas of the Enlightenment (embodied particularly in the
person of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a French philosopher), and the American war of
independence. King Louis XVI's absolute refusal to give up power resulted in the storming
of the Bastille in Paris on 14 July 1789. Louis was forced to call the Estates-General, the
French Parliament, which had last been called in 1614. This comprised of the three estates
-- the clergy (First Estate), the nobility (Second Estate) and the commons (Third Estate).
The parliament issued the Declaration of the Rights of Man, demanding an end to the
feudal system. The Tennis Court Oath of 1790 led to the drafting of a constitution by the
Third Estate for a constitutional monarchy, which the King ignored. As the famine which
had plagued France deepened, hundreds of Parisians marched on the royal chateau at
Versailles, demanding bread. Louis was hunting at this time, and his hated Austrian wife,
Marie-Antoinette, fled. Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité (Liberty, Equality and Fraternity)
became the catchcry of the revolution. Word has it that when Louis saw this march on
Versailles, he asked one of his ministers, "Is it a revolt?". This minister replied, "No Sire, it
is a revolution." Louis failed to respond and increased violence led the King and Queen,
with the royal children, attempting to flee to Austria. They got as far as Varennes, in
northern France, before they were discovered and were forced to return to Paris. (The
Kings side portrait was on all currency. Due to his prominent nose, he was recognized by a
commmoner.) The Duke of Brunswick, the brother of Marie-Antoinette, issued the
'Brunswick Manifesto', threatening war against the French revolutionaries if the Queen and
the royal family were injured in any way. In 1791 the Committee of Public Safety, led by the
sans-culotte formed the French Republic, headed by the lawyer Maximilien Robespierre.
Over 40 000 Parisians were executed by the newly invented guillotine, in an effort to rid
France of all aristocrats. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were to share their fate in 1793, or
Year II of the Republic. Robespierre was eventually conspired against and guillotined in
1794. Austria and France went to war after the deaths of Louis and Marie-Antoinette, but
the Austrians were defeated. It is important to note that the French Revolution was also a
revolt against the Catholic Church. Church property was seized, many clergy were killed
and Papal authority was challenged. Never again would the Catholic Church have as much
influence on France.
 The
Napoleonic Wars
 The Congress of Vienna
The 19th century
After the defeat of revolutionary France, the other great powers tried to restore
the situation which existed before 1789. However, their efforts were unable to
stop the spread of revolutionary movements: the middle classes had been
deeply influenced by the ideals of democracy of the French revolution, the
Industrial Revolution brought important economical and social changes, the
lower classes started to be influenced by Socialist, Communist and Anarchistic
ideas (especially those summarized by Karl Marx in the Manifesto of the
Communist Party), and the preference of the new capitalists became Liberalism
(a term which then, politically, meant something different from the modern
usage). Further instability came from the formation of several nationalist
movements (in Germany, Italy, Poland etc.), seeking national unification and/or
liberation from foreign rule. As a result, the period between 1815 and 1871 saw
a large number of revolutionary attempts and independence wars. Even though
the revolutionaries were often defeated, most European states had become
constitutional (rather than absolute) monarchies by 1871, and Germany and
Italy had developed into nation states.
The political dynamics of Europe changed three times over the 19th century once after the Congress of Vienna, and again after the Crimean War. In 1815 at
the Congress of Vienna, the major powers of Europe managed to produce a
peaceful balance of power among the empires after the Napoleonic wars
(despite the occurrence of internal revolutionary movements). But the peace
would only last until the Ottoman Empire had declined enough to become a
target for the others. This instigated the Crimean War in 1854 and began a
tenser period of minor clashes among the globe-spanning empires of Europe
that set the stage for the first World War. It changed a third time with the end of
the various wars that turned the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Kingdom of
Prussia in the Italian and German nation-states, significantly changing the
balance of power in Europe.
Early 20th century: the World Wars
After the relative peace of most of the 19th Century, the rivalry between
European powers exploded in 1914, when World War I started. On one side
were Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Turkey (the Central Powers/Triple
Alliance), while on the other side stood Serbia and the Triple Entente - the
loose coalition of France, Britain and Russia, which were joined by Italy in
1915 and by the United States in 1917. Despite the defeat of Russia in 1917
(the war was one of the major causes of the Russian Revolution, leading to
the formation of the communist Soviet Union), the Entente finally prevailed
in the autumn of 1918.
 In the Treaty of Versailles (1919) the winners imposed hard conditions on
Germany and recognized the new states (such as Poland, Czechoslovakia
and Yugoslavia) created in central Europe out of the defunct German,
Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, supposedly on the basis of national
self-determination. In the following decades, fear of Communism and the
economic Depression of 1929-1933 led to the rise of extreme governments
- Fascist or National Socialist - in Italy (1922), Germany (1933), Spain (after
a civil war ending in 1939) and other countries such as Hungary.
Early 20th century: the World Wars
After allying with Mussolini's Italy in the "Pact of Steel" and signing a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union, the German leader Adolf Hitler started
World War II in September 1939 following a military build-up throughout the late
1930s. After initial successes (mainly the conquest of western Poland, much of
Scandinavia, France and the Balkans before 1941) the Axis powers began to
over-extend themselves in 1941. Hitler's ideological foes were the Communists
in Russia but because of the German failure to defeat Britain and the Italian
failures in North Africa and the Mediterranean the Axis forces were split
between garrisoning western Europe and Scandinavia and also attacking
Africa. Thus, the attack on the Soviet Union which had partitioned central
Europe together with Germany in 1939-1940, was not pressed sufficiently
strongly. Despite initial successes, the German army was stopped close to
Moscow in December 1941. Over the next year the tide was turned and the
Germans started to suffer a series of defeats, for example at Kursk and in the
siege of Stalingrad. Meanwhile, Japan (allied to Germany and Italy since
September 1940) attacked the British in south-east Asia and the United States
in Hawaii on December 7, 1941; Germany then completed its over-extension by
declaring war on the United States. War raged between the Axis Powers
(Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Allied Forces (British Empire, Soviet Union,
and the United States). Allied Forces won in North Africa, invaded Italy in 1943,
and invaded occupied France in 1944. In the spring of 1945 Germany itself was
invaded from the east by Russia and from the west by the other Allies
respectively; Hitler committed suicide and Germany surrendered in early May
ending the war in Europe.
Late 20th century: the Cold War
World War I and especially World War II ended the pre-eminent position of
western Europe. The map of Europe was redrawn at the Yalta Conference
and divided as it became the principal zone of contention in the Cold War
between the two power blocs, the capitalistic Western_countries and the
communist Soviet Union. The US and Western Europe (Britain, France,
Italy, West Germany, Spain etc.) established the NATO alliance as a
protection against a possible Soviet invasion; the Soviet Union claimed
eastern (Baltic states, Ukraine, Belarus, Transcaucasia) and central
Europe (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, East
Germany), claiming the first directly and installing puppet governments in
the second, and formed the Warsaw Pact. Europe was divided by an "Iron
Curtain". This situation lasted until 1989, when the weakening of the
Soviet Union led to glasnost and the ending of the division of Europe Soviet satellites were free to remove Communist regimes (and the two
Germanies were able to re-unify). In 1991 the Soviet Union itself collapsed,
splitting into several states (the main one remaining the Russian
Federation) and removing communists from most governments. The most
violent breakup happened in Yugoslavia, in south central Europe. Four
(Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia) out of six
republics declared independence and for most of them a violent war
ensued, in some parts lasting until 1995. The remaining two republics
formed a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, with Slobodan Milosevic as
dictator. He led the country into a civil war in Kosovo, and was overthrown
in massive demonstrations in Belgrade in 2000. Following the change in
government, the country changed its name to Serbia and Montenegro also as a move to placate the frictions between the two federal units - and
instituted (a fragile) democracy.
The Treaty of Rome signing ceremony.
 After the end of World War II, western Europe
slowly began a process of political and
economic integration, desiring to unite Europe
and prevent another war. This process resulted
eventually in the development of organizations
such as the European Union and the Council of
Europe. After the end of the Cold War, these
organizations began to include nations within
central Europe as well.
Early 21st century: the European
The process of integrating Europe was slow due to the reluctance of
most nation states to give up their sovereignty. However, the process
began to accelerate in the early 21st century. Whereas the European
Union started out as a loose economic alliance among European
nations, the European Union took further steps to more closely
integrate the member states, and make the EU into a more
supranational organisation in the early 21st century.
 At the turn of the century, nations within the European Union had
created a free trade zone and eliminated most travel barriers across
their borders. A new common currency for Europe, the Euro, was
established electronically in 1999, officially tying all of the currencies
of each participating nation to each other. The new currency was put
into circulation in 2002 and most of the old currencies were phased
 As of 2004, the European Union is in the process of ratifying a new
constitution, inducting additional member states (most of them in
central Europe) and to consolidate various treaties. However, the
creation of the constitution has been controversial, it is seen by many
eurosceptics as a step towards a single EU state. There has been
disagreement as member states wrangle over how much voting power
each will have in EU, taxes, and the standards to which new member
states must be held before they are admitted.
Magna Charta placed certain checks on the absolute
power of the English Monarchs.
As there is no definite article in Latin, the document
is usually referred to as simply "Magna Charta"
rather than "the Magna Charta."
Magna Charta (Latin for "Great Charter") is a 1215
charter of England which limited the power of
English Monarchs, specifically King John, from
absolute rule. Magna Charta was the result of
disagreements between the Pope and King John and
his barons over the rights of the king: Magna Charta
required the king to renounce certain rights and
respect certain legal procedures, and to accept that
the will of the king could be bound by law. Magna
Charta is widely considered to be the first step in a
long historical process leading to the rule of
constitutional law.
History of Magna Charta
After the Norman Conquest in 1066 and advances in the 12th century, the English
king had by 1199 become the most powerful monarch Europe had ever seen. This
was due to a number of factors including the sophisticated centralized government
created by the procedures of the new Norman rulers combined with the native AngloSaxon systems of governance, as well as extensive Anglo-Norman land holdings in
Normandy. However, after King John took power in the early 13th century, a series of
stunning failures on his part led the barons of England to revolt and place checks on
the king's unlimited power.
The failures of King John were threefold. First, there was a general lack of respect
for King John because of the way he took power. There were two candidates to take
the place of the previous king, Richard the Lionheart, when he died in 1199: John,
and his nephew Arthur of Brittany in Normandy. John captured Arthur and
imprisoned him and he was never heard from again. Although Arthur's murder was
never proven, it was assumed and many saw it as a black mark against John that he
would murder his own family to be king.
Secondly, after Philip Augustus, the King of France, seized most of the English
holdings in France, the English barons demanded of their king that he retake the
land, and while he attempted to do so 8 years later, the effort came to failure at the
Battle of Bouvines in 1214. Because King John is blamed for the loss of a large part
of English land he would be known as John "Lackland".
The third failure of John was when he became embroiled in a dispute with the
Church over the appointment of the office of Archbishop of Canterbury. John wanted
to appoint his own Archbishop and the Church wanted to appoint Stephen Langton.
This struggle went on for several years during which England was placed under a
sentence of interdict and finally John was forced to submit to the will of the Church
in 1213.
Runnymede and afterwards
By 1215, the barons of England had had enough: they banded together and
took London by force on June 10, 1215. They forced King John to agree to
a document known as the 'Articles of the Barons', to which his Great Seal
was attached in the meadow at Runnymede on June 15, 1215. In return, the
barons renewed their oaths of fealty to King John on June 19, 1215. A
formal document to record the agreement between King John and the
barons was created by the royal chancery: this was the original Magna
Charta. An unknown number of copies of this document were sent out to
officials, such as royal sheriffs and bishops.
The most significant clause for King John at the time was clause 61, known
as the "security clause", the longest portion of the entire document. This
established a committee of 25 Barons who could at any time meet and overrule the will of the King, through force by seizing his castles and
possessions if needed. This was based on a mediæval legal practice known
as distraint, which was commonly done, but it was the first time it had been
applied to a monarch. In addition, the King was to take an oath of loyalty to
the committee.
King John had no intention of honouring Magna Charta, as it was sealed
under extortion by force, and clause 61 essentially neutered his powers as a
monarch, making him King in name only. He renounced it as soon as the
barons left London, plunging England into a civil war, known as the First
Barons' War. Pope Innocent III also immediately annulled the "shameful and
demeaning agreement, forced upon the king by violence and fear." The
Pope rejected any call for rights, saying it impaired King John's dignity.
Runnymede and afterwards
John died in the middle of the civil war, of dysentery, on
October 18, 1216, and it quickly changed the nature of the war.
His nine year old son, King Henry III, was next in line for the
throne. The royalists believed the rebel barons would find the
idea of loyalty to the child Henry more palatable, and so the
child was swiftly crowned in late October 1216 and the war
ended. On November 12, 1216, Magna Charta was reissued in
Henry's name by his regents with some of the clauses,
including the contentious clause 61, omitted; Magna Charta
was again reissued by Henry's regents in 1217. When he turned
eighteen in 1225, Henry III himself reissued Magna Charta a
third time, this time in a shorter version with only 37 articles.
Henry III ruled for 56 years (the longest reign of an English
Monarch in the Mediæval period) so that by the time of Henry's
death in 1272, Magna Charta had become a settled part of
English legal precedent, and more difficult for a future monarch
to annul as King John had attempted nearly three generations
earlier. Henry III's son and heir Edward I's Parliament reissued
Magna Charta for the final time on 12 October 1297 as part of a
statute known as Confirmatio Chartarum (25 Edw. I),
reconfirming Henry III's shorter version of Magna Charta from
Magna Charta of 1215
Magna Charta guaranteed certain English political liberties and
contained clauses providing for a church free from domination by the
monarchy, reforming law and justice, and controlling the behaviour of
royal officials.
A large part of Magna Charta was copied, nearly word for word, from
the Charter of Liberties of Henry I, issued when Henry I ascended to
the throne in 1100, which bound the king to certain laws regarding the
treatment of church officials and nobles, effectively granting certain
civil liberties to the church and the English nobility.
Magna Charta is composed of 63 different clauses or articles, the
majority of which are very specific to the 13th century and of
temporary importance. For example, it repealed certain royal taxes
that were unpopular and reduced the amount of hunting land that was
royal and thus off-limits to most people. The text displays its origin as
a product of negotiation, haste and many hands.
One of the most important clauses that would have the longest lasting
effect was Article 39, establishing the principle of habeas corpus:
No free man shall be arrested, or imprisoned, or deprived of his
property, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor shall we
go against him or send against him, unless by legal judgement of his
peers, or by the law of the land.
This meant the King must judge individuals according to the law, and
not according to his own will. This was a check on the power of the
king and the first step in the long road to a constitutional monarchy.
Although the first version of Magna Carta remained in effect only a few weeks,
its reissue following John's death in autumn 1216 and the definite reissue of
1225 made it perpetual, the first of England's statutes and a cornerstone for the
future British Constitution. Henry III and his successors evaded and broke
provisions in the charters, indeed the absolute power of the English Monarchy,
despite Magna Carta, actually grew during the Medieval period. For example, in
his historical play King John, William Shakespeare did not mention Magna
Carta. However, a fundamental principle had been asserted and accepted by
the King: monarchy was subject to the law, and the thirty reissues of Magna
Carta during the mediæval era reminded him of this fact, even if he didn't
always abide by it. Magna Carta was not considered a particularly important
document during the medieval period, during which the power of the English
crown grew.
The charter became increasingly important in the 17th century as the conflict
between the Crown and Parliament grew. Magna Carta was repeatedly revised
and other documents created such as the Provisions of Oxford, guaranteeing
greater rights to greater numbers of people, thus setting the stage for the
British Constitutional monarchy.
Many later attempts to draft constitutional forms of government, including the
United States Constitution, trace their lineage back to this source document.
Numerous copies were made each time it was issued, so all of the participants
would each have one. Several of those still exist and some are on permanent
The version of Magna Carta from 1297 is still part of English law, although only
part the introductory sentences, three articles, and the ending remain in force:
the remaining 34 articles have been repealed or superseded. Today, Magna
Carta has little practical legal use. Despite this, it is still used in arguments
about reform of the jury system.
The articles currently in force are articles one, nine and twenty-nine of the 1297
version, which are broadly similar to articles one, thirteen, thirty-nine and forty
of the 1215 version.
Magna Charta and the Jews in England
Magna Charta contained two articles related to moneylending and Jews in England.
Jewish involvement with moneylending caused Christian resentment, because the
Church forbade the lending of money at interest (known at the time as usury); it was
seen as vice (such as gambling, an un-Christian way to profit at others' expense) and
was punishable by excommunication, although Jews, as non Christians, could not
be excommunicated and were thus in a legal grey area. Secular leaders, unlike the
Church, tolerated the practice of Jewish usury because it gave the leaders
opportunity for personal enrichment. This resulted in a complicated legal situation:
debtors were frequently trying to bring their Jewish creditors before Church courts,
where debts would be absolved as illegal; while the Jews were trying to get their
creditors tried in secular courts, where they would be able to collect plus interest.
The relations between the debtors and creditors would often become very nasty, as
they often are. There were many attempts over centuries to resolve this problem,
and Magna Charta contains one example of the legal code of the time on this issue:
 If one who has borrowed from the Jews any sum, great or small, die before that loan
be repaid, the debt shall not bear interest while the heir is under age, of whomsoever
he may hold; and if the debt fall into our hands, we will not take anything except the
principal sum contained in the bond. And if anyone die indebted to the Jews, his wife
shall have her dower and pay nothing of that debt; and if any children of the
deceased are left under age, necessaries shall be provided for them in keeping with
the holding of the deceased; and out of the residue the debt shall be paid, reserving,
however, service due to feudal lords; in like manner let it be done touching debts
due to others than Jews.
 After the Pope annuled Magna Charta, future versions contained no mention of
Jews. Jews were seen by the Church as a threat to their authority, and the welfare of
Christians, because of their special relationship to Kings as moneylenders. "Jews
are the sponges of kings", wrote the theologian William de Montibus, "they are
bloodsuckers of Christian purses, by whose robbery kings dispoil and deprive poor
men of their goods". The anti-semitic attitudes came about in part because of
Christian nobles who permitted the otherwise illegal activity to occur, a symptom of
the ongoing power struggle between Church and State.
 John, by the grace of God, King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of
Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou, to the archbishop,
bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justiciaries, foresters, sheriffs,
stewards, servants, and to all his bailiffs and liege subjects, greetings.
Know that, having regard to God and for the salvation of our soul, and
those of all our ancestors and heirs, and unto the honor of God and
the advancement of his holy Church and for the rectifying of our
realm, we have granted as underwritten by advice of our venerable
fathers, Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury, primate of all England and
cardinal of the holy Roman Church, Henry, archbishop of Dublin,
William of London, Peter of Winchester, Jocelyn of Bath and
Glastonbury, Hugh of Lincoln, Walter of Worcester, William of
Coventry, Benedict of Rochester, bishops; of Master Pandulf,
subdeacon and member of the household of our lord the Pope, of
brother Aymeric (master of the Knights of the Temple in England), and
of the illustrious men William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, William, earl
of Salisbury, William, earl of Warenne, William, earl of Arundel, Alan of
Galloway (constable of Scotland), Waren Fitz Gerold, Peter Fitz
Herbert, Hubert De Burgh (seneschal of Poitou), Hugh de Neville,
Matthew Fitz Herbert, Thomas Basset, Alan Basset, Philip d'Aubigny,
Robert of Roppesley, John Marshal, John Fitz Hugh, and others, our
In the first place we have granted to God, and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our
heirs forever that the English Church shall be free, and shall have her rights entire, and her liberties
inviolate; and we will that it be thus observed; which is apparent from this that the freedom of elections,
which is reckoned most important and very essential to the English Church, we, of our pure and
unconstrained will, did grant, and did by our charter confirm and did obtain the ratification of the same
from our lord, Pope Innocent III, before the quarrel arose between us and our barons: and this we will
observe, and our will is that it be observed in good faith by our heirs forever. We have also granted to all
freemen of our kingdom, for us and our heirs forever, all the underwritten liberties, to be had and held by
them and their heirs, of us and our heirs forever.
If any of our earls or barons, or others holding of us in chief by military service shall have died,
and at the time of his death his heir shall be full of age and owe "relief", he shall have his inheritance by
the old relief, to wit, the heir or heirs of an earl, for the whole baroncy of an earl by L100; the heir or heirs
of a baron, L100 for a whole barony; the heir or heirs of a knight, 100s, at most, and whoever owes less let
him give less, according to the ancient custom of fees.
If, however, the heir of any one of the aforesaid has been under age and in wardship, let him have
his inheritance without relief and without fine when he comes of age.
The guardian of the land of an heir who is thus under age, shall take from the land of the heir
nothing but reasonable produce, reasonable customs, and reasonable services, and that without
destruction or waste of men or goods; and if we have committed the wardship of the lands of any such
minor to the sheriff, or to any other who is responsible to us for its issues, and he has made destruction
or waster of what he holds in wardship, we will take of him amends, and the land shall be committed to
two lawful and discreet men of that fee, who shall be responsible for the issues to us or to him to whom
we shall assign them; and if we have given or sold the wardship of any such land to anyone and he has
therein made destruction or waste, he shall lose that wardship, and it shall be transferred to two lawful
and discreet men of that fief, who shall be responsible to us in like manner as aforesaid.
The guardian, moreover, so long as he has the wardship of the land, shall keep up the houses,
parks, fishponds, stanks, mills, and other things pertaining to the land, out of the issues of the same land;
and he shall restore to the heir, when he has come to full age, all his land, stocked with ploughs and
wainage, according as the season of husbandry shall require, and the issues of the land can reasonable
Heirs shall be married without disparagement, yet so that before the marriage takes place the
nearest in blood to that heir shall have notice.
A widow, after the death of her husband, shall forthwith and without difficulty have her marriage
portion and inheritance; nor shall she give anything for her dower, or for her marriage portion, or for the
inheritance which her husband and she held on the day of the death of that husband; and she may remain
in the house of her husband for forty days after his death, within which time her dower shall be assigned
to her.
No widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she prefers to live without a husband; provided
always that she gives security not to marry without our consent, if she holds of us, or without the consent
of the lord of whom she holds, if she holds of another.
Neither we nor our bailiffs will seize any land or rent for any debt, as long as the chattels of the
debtor are sufficient to repay the debt; nor shall the sureties of the debtor be distrained so long as the
principal debtor is able to satisfy the debt; and if the principal debtor shall fail to pay the debt, having
nothing wherewith to pay it, then the sureties shall answer for the debt; and let them have the lands and
rents of the debtor, if they desire them, until they are indemnified for the debt which they have paid for
him, unless the principal debtor can show proof that he is discharged thereof as against the said sureties.
If one who has borrowed from the Jews any sum, great or small, die before that loan be repaid,
the debt shall not bear interest while the heir is under age, of whomsoever he may hold; and if the debt
fall into our hands, we will not take anything except the principal sum contained in the bond.
And if anyone die indebted to the Jews, his wife shall have her dower and pay nothing of that
debt; and if any children of the deceased are left under age, necessaries shall be provided for them in
keeping with the holding of the deceased; and out of the residue the debt shall be paid, reserving,
however, service due to feudal lords; in like manner let it be done touching debts due to others than Jews.
No scutage not aid shall be imposed on our kingdom, unless by common counsel of our kingdom,
except for ransoming our person, for making our eldest son a knight, and for once marrying our eldest
daughter; and for these there shall not be levied more than a reasonable aid. In like manner it shall be
done concerning aids from the city of London.
And the city of London shall have all it ancient liberties and free customs, as well by land as by
water; furthermore, we decree and grant that all other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall have all
their liberties and free customs.
And for obtaining the common counsel of the kingdom anent the assessing of an aid (except in
the three cases aforesaid) or of a scutage, we will cause to be summoned the archbishops, bishops,
abbots, earls, and greater barons, severally by our letters; and we will moveover cause to be summoned
generally, through our sheriffs and bailiffs, and others who hold of us in chief, for a fixed date, namely,
after the expiry of at least forty days, and at a fixed place; and in all letters of such summons we will
specify the reason of the summons. And when the summons has thus been made, the business shall
proceed on the day appointed, according to the counsel of such as are present, although not all who were
summoned have come.
We will not for the future grant to anyone license to take an aid from his own free tenants, except
to ransom his person, to make his eldest son a knight, and once to marry his eldest daughter; and on
each of these occasions there shall be levied only a reasonable aid.
No one shall be distrained for performance of greater service for a knight's fee, or for any other
free tenement, than is due therefrom.
Common pleas shall not follow our court, but shall be held in some fixed place.
Inquests of novel disseisin, of mort d'ancestor, and of darrein presentment shall not be held
elsewhere than in their own county courts, and that in manner following; We, or, if we should be out of the
realm, our chief justiciar, will send two justiciaries through every county four times a year, who shall
alone with four knights of the county chosen by the county, hold the said assizes in the county court, on
the day and in the place of meeting of that court.
And if any of the said assizes cannot be taken on the day of the county court, let there remain of
the knights and freeholders, who were present at the county court on that day, as many as may be
required for the efficient making of judgments, according as the business be more or less.
A freeman shall not be amerced for a slight offense, except in accordance with the degree of the
offense; and for a grave offense he shall be amerced in accordance with the gravity of the offense, yet
saving always his "contentment"; and a merchant in the same way, saving his "merchandise"; and a
villein shall be amerced in the same way, saving his "wainage" if they have fallen into our mercy: and
none of the aforesaid amercements shall be imposed except by the oath of honest men of the
Earls and barons shall not be amerced except through their peers, and only in accordance with
the degree of the offense.
A clerk shall not be amerced in respect of his lay holding except after the manner of the others
aforesaid; further, he shall not be amerced in accordance with the extent of his ecclesiastical benefice.
No village or individual shall be compelled to make bridges at river banks, except those who from
of old were legally bound to do so.
No sheriff, constable, coroners, or others of our bailiffs, shall hold pleas of our Crown.
All counties, hundred, wapentakes, and trithings (except our demesne manors) shall remain at the
old rents, and without any additional payment.
If anyone holding of us a lay fief shall die, and our sheriff or bailiff shall exhibit our letters patent
of summons for a debt which the deceased owed us, it shall be lawful for our sheriff or bailiff to attach
and enroll the chattels of the deceased, found upon the lay fief, to the value of that debt, at the sight of
law worthy men, provided always that nothing whatever be thence removed until the debt which is evident
shall be fully paid to us; and the residue shall be left to the executors to fulfill the will of the deceased;
and if there be nothing due from him to us, all the chattels shall go to the deceased, saving to his wife and
children their reasonable shares.
If any freeman shall die intestate, his chattels shall be distributed by the hands of his nearest
kinsfolk and friends, under supervision of the Church, saving to every one the debts which the deceased
owed to him.
No constable or other bailiff of ours shall take corn or other provisions from anyone without
immediately tendering money therefor, unless he can have postponement thereof by permission of the
No constable shall compel any knight to give money in lieu of castle-guard, when he is willing to
perform it in his own person, or (if he himself cannot do it from any reasonable cause) then by another
responsible man. Further, if we have led or sent him upon military service, he shall be relieved from guard
in proportion to the time during which he has been on service because of us.
No sheriff or bailiff of ours, or other person, shall take the horses or carts of any freeman for
transport duty, against the will of the said freeman.
Neither we nor our bailiffs shall take, for our castles or for any other work of
ours, wood which is not ours, against the will of the owner of that wood.
We will not retain beyond one year and one day, the lands those who have
been convicted of felony, and the lands shall thereafter be handed over to the lords
of the fiefs.
All kydells for the future shall be removed altogether from Thames and
Medway, and throughout all England, except upon the seashore.
The writ which is called praecipe shall not for the future be issued to anyone,
regarding any tenement whereby a freeman may lose his court.
Let there be one measure of wine throughout our whole realm; and one
measure of ale; and one measure of corn, to wit, "the London quarter"; and one
width of cloth (whether dyed, or russet, or "halberget"), to wit, two ells within the
selvedges; of weights also let it be as of measures.
Nothing in future shall be given or taken for a writ of inquisition of life or
limbs, but freely it shall be granted, and never denied.
If anyone holds of us by fee-farm, either by socage or by burage, or of any
other land by knight's service, we will not (by reason of that fee-farm, socage, or
burgage), have the wardship of the heir, or of such land of his as if of the fief of that
other; nor shall we have wardship of that fee-farm, socage, or burgage, unless such
fee-farm owes knight's service. We will not by reason of any small serjeancy which
anyone may hold of us by the service of rendering to us knives, arrows, or the like,
have wardship of his heir or of the land which he holds of another lord by knight's
No bailiff for the future shall, upon his own unsupported complaint, put
anyone to his "law", without credible witnesses brought for this purposes.
No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or exiled or in any way
destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful
judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.
To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice.
All merchants shall have safe and secure exit from England, and entry to
England, with the right to tarry there and to move about as well by land as by water,
for buying and selling by the ancient and right customs, quit from all evil tolls,
except (in time of war) such merchants as are of the land at war with us. And if such
are found in our land at the beginning of the war, they shall be detained, without
injury to their bodies or goods, until information be received by us, or by our chief
justiciar, how the merchants of our land found in the land at war with us are treated;
and if our men are safe there, the others shall be safe in our land.
It shall be lawful in future for anyone (excepting always those imprisoned or
outlawed in accordance with the law of the kingdom, and natives of any country at
war with us, and merchants, who shall be treated as if above provided) to leave our
kingdom and to return, safe and secure by land and water, except for a short period
in time of war, on grounds of public policy- reserving always the allegiance due to
If anyone holding of some escheat (such as the honor of Wallingford,
Nottingham, Boulogne, Lancaster, or of other escheats which are in our hands and
are baronies) shall die, his heir shall give no other relief, and perform no other
service to us than he would have done to the baron if that barony had been in the
baron's hand; and we shall hold it in the same manner in which the baron held it.
Men who dwell without the forest need not henceforth come before our
justiciaries of the forest upon a general summons, unless they are in plea, or
sureties of one or more, who are attached for the forest.
We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs only such as know
the law of the realm and mean to observe it well.
All barons who have founded abbeys, concerning which they hold charters
from the kings of England, or of which they have long continued possession, shall
have the wardship of them, when vacant, as they ought to have.
All forests that have been made such in our time shall forthwith be
disafforsted; and a similar course shall be followed with regard to river banks that
have been placed "in defense" by us in our time.
All evil customs connected with forests and warrens, foresters and warreners,
sheriffs and their officers, river banks and their wardens, shall immediately by inquired into
in each county by twelve sworn knights of the same county chosen by the honest men of
the same county, and shall, within forty days of the said inquest, be utterly abolished, so as
never to be restored, provided always that we previously have intimation thereof, or our
justiciar, if we should not be in England.
We will immediately restore all hostages and charters delivered to us by
Englishmen, as sureties of the peace of faithful service.
We will entirely remove from their bailiwicks, the relations of Gerard of Athee (so
that in future they shall have no bailiwick in England); namely, Engelard of Cigogne, Peter,
Guy, and Andrew of Chanceaux, Guy of Cigogne, Geoffrey of Martigny with his brothers,
Philip Mark with his brothers and his nephew Geoffrey, and the whole brood of the same.
As soon as peace is restored, we will banish from the kingdom all foreign born
knights, crossbowmen, serjeants, and mercenary soldiers who have come with horses and
arms to the kingdom's hurt.
If anyone has been dispossessed or removed by us, without the legal judgment of
his peers, from his lands, castles, franchises, or from his right, we will immediately restore
them to him; and if a dispute arise over this, then let it be decided by the five and twenty
barons of whom mention is made below in the clause for securing the peace. Moreover, for
all those possessions, from which anyone has, without the lawful judgment of his peers,
been disseised or removed, by our father, King Henry, or by our brother, King Richard, and
which we retain in our hand (or which as possessed by others, to whom we are bound to
warrant them) we shall have respite until the usual term of crusaders; excepting those
things about which a plea has been raised, or an inquest made by our order, before our
taking of the cross; but as soon as we return from the expedition, we will immediately grant
full justice therein.
We shall have, moreover, the same respite and in the same manner in rendering
justice concerning the disafforestation or retention of those forests which Henry our father
and Richard our brother afforested, and concerning the wardship of lands which are of the
fief of another (namely, such wardships as we have hitherto had by reason of a fief which
anyone held of us by knight's service), and concerning abbeys founded on other fiefs than
our own, in which the lord of the fee claims to have right; and when we have returned, or if
we desist from our expedition, we will immediately grant full justice to all who complain of
such things.
No one shall be arrested or imprisoned upon the appeal of a woman, for the death of
any other than her husband.
All fines made with us unjustly and against the law of the land, and all amercements, imposed unjustly
and against the law of the land, shall be entirely remitted, or else it shall be done concerning them according to the
decision of the five and twenty barons whom mention is made below in the clause for securing the pease, or
according to the judgment of the majority of the same, along with the aforesaid Stephen, archbishop of
Canterbury, if he can be present, and such others as he may wish to bring with him for this purpose, and if he
cannot be present the business shall nevertheless proceed without him, provided always that if any one or more of
the aforesaid five and twenty barons are in a similar suit, they shall be removed as far as concerns this particular
judgment, others being substituted in their places after having been selected by the rest of the same five and
twenty for this purpose only, and after having been sworn.
If we have disseised or removed Welshmen from lands or liberties, or other things, without the legal
judgment of their peers in England or in Wales, they shall be immediately restored to them; and if a dispute arise
over this, then let it be decided in the marches by the judgment of their peers; for the tenements in England
according to the law of England, for tenements in Wales according to the law of Wales, and for tenements in the
marches according to the law of the marches. Welshmen shall do the same to us and ours.
Further, for all those possessions from which any Welshman has, without the lawful judgment of his peers,
been disseised or removed by King Henry our father, or King Richard our brother, and which we retain in our hand
(or which are possessed by others, and which we ought to warrant), we will have respite until the usual term of
crusaders; excepting those things about which a plea has been raised or an inquest made by our order before we
took the cross; but as soon as we return (or if perchance we desist from our expedition), we will immediately grant
full justice in accordance with the laws of the Welsh and in relation to the foresaid regions.
We will immediately give up the son of Llywelyn and all the hostages of Wales, and the charters delivered
to us as security for the peace.
We will do towards Alexander, king of Scots, concerning the return of his sisters and his hostages, and
concerning his franchises, and his right, in the same manner as we shall do towards our owher barons of England,
unless it ought to be otherwise according to the charters which we hold from William his father, formerly king of
Scots; and this shall be according to the judgment of his peers in our court.
Moreover, all these aforesaid customs and liberties, the observances of which we have
granted in our kingdom as far as pertains to us towards our men, shall be observed by all of our
kingdom, as well clergy as laymen, as far as pertains to them towards their men.
Since, moveover, for God and the amendment of our kingdom and for the better allaying
of the quarrel that has arisen between us and our barons, we have granted all these concessions,
desirous that they should enjoy them in complete and firm endurance forever, we give and grant
to them the underwritten security, namely, that the barons choose five and twenty barons of the
kingdom, whomsoever they will, who shall be bound with all their might, to observe and hold, and
cause to be observed, the peace and liberties we have granted and confirmed to them by this our
present Charter, so that if we, or our justiciar, or our bailiffs or any one of our officers, shall in
anything be at fault towards anyone, or shall have broken any one of the articles of this peace or
of this security, and the offense be notified to four barons of the foresaid five and twenty, the said
four barons shall repair to us (or our justiciar, if we are out of the realm) and, laying the
transgression before us, petition to have that transgression redressed without delay. And if we
shall not have corrected the transgression (or, in the event of our being out of the realm, if our
justiciar shall not have corrected it) within forty days, reckoning from the time it has been
intimated to us (or to our justiciar, if we should be out of the realm), the four barons aforesaid
shall refer that matter to the rest of the five and twenty barons, and those five and twenty barons
shall, together with the community of the whole realm, distrain and distress us in all possible
ways, namely, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, and in any other way they can, until
redress has been obtained as they deem fit, saving harmless our own person, and the persons of
our queen and children; and when redress has been obtained, they shall resume their old
relations towards us. And let whoever in the country desires it, swear to obey the orders of the
said five and twenty barons for the execution of all the aforesaid matters, and along with them, to
molest us to the utmost of his power; and we publicly and freely grant leave to everyone who
wishes to swear, and we shall never forbid anyone to swear. All those, moveover, in the land who
of themselves and of their own accord are unwilling to swear to the twenty five to help them in
constraining and molesting us, we shall by our command compel the same to swear to the effect
foresaid. And if any one of the five and twenty barons shall have died or departed from the land,
or be incapacitated in any other manner which would prevent the foresaid provisions being
carried out, those of the said twenty five barons who are left shall choose another in his place
according to their own judgment, and he shall be sworn in the same way as the others. Further, in
all matters, the execution of which is entrusted,to these twenty five barons, if perchance these
twenty five are present and disagree about anything, or if some of them, after being summoned,
are unwilling or unable to be present, that which the majority of those present ordain or
command shall be held as fixed and established, exactly as if the whole twenty five had
concurred in this; and the said twenty five shall swear that they will faithfully observe all that is
aforesaid, and cause it to be observed with all their might. And we shall procure nothing from
anyone, directly or indirectly, whereby any part of these concessions and liberties might be
revoked or diminished; and if any such things has been procured, let it be void and null, and we
shall never use it personally or by another.
62. And all the will, hatreds, and bitterness that have arisen
between us and our men, clergy and lay, from the date of the
quarrel, we have completely remitted and pardoned to
everyone. Moreover, all trespasses occasioned by the said
quarrel, from Easter in the sixteenth year of our reign till the
restoration of peace, we have fully remitted to all, both clergy
and laymen, and completely forgiven, as far as pertains to us.
And on this head, we have caused to be made for them letters
testimonial patent of the lord Stephen, archbishop of
Canterbury, of the lord Henry, archbishop of Dublin, of the
bishops aforesaid, and of Master Pandulf as touching this
security and the concessions aforesaid.
63. Wherefore we will and firmly order that the English Church
be free, and that the men in our kingdom have and hold all the
aforesaid liberties, rights, and concessions, well and
peaceably, freely and quietly, fully and wholly, for themselves
and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all respects and in all
places forever, as is aforesaid. An oath, moreover, has been
taken, as well on our part as on the art of the barons, that all
these conditions aforesaid shall be kept in good faith and
without evil intent. Given under our hand - the above named
and many others being witnesses - in the meadow which is
called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on the
fifteenth day of June, in the seventeenth year of our reign.
History of the
Pre 1945 influences
Attempts to unify the disparate nations of Europe precede the modern
nation states and have occurred repeatedly throughout the history of the
continent since the collapse of the Mediterranean-centered Roman Empire.
Europe's heterogeneous collection of languages and cultures made
attempts based on dynastic rights, or enforced through military subjugation
of unwilling nations, unstable and doomed to failure.
The Frankish empire of Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire united
large areas under a loose administration for hundreds of years.
Once Arabs had conquered ancient centers of Christianity in Syria and
Egypt during the 8th century, the concept of "Christendom" became
essentially a concept of a unified Europe, but always more of an ideal than
an actuality. The Great Schism between Orthodoxy and Catholicism
rendered the idea of "Christendom" moot. After the Fall of Constantinople to
the Turks in 1453, the first proposal for peaceful methods of unifying Europe
against a common enemy emerged. George of Podebrady, a Hussite king of
Bohemia proposed the creation of a union of Christian nations against the
Turks in 1464.
In 1569 the Union of Lublin tranformed the Polish-Lithuanian personal union
into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a multi-national federation and
elective monarchy, which lasted until the partitions of Poland in 1795.
Pre 1945 influences
In 1728 Abbot Charles de Saint-Pierre proposed the creation of a European
league of 18 sovereign states, with common treasury, no borders and an
economic union.
After the American Revolution of 1776 the vision of a United States of Europe
similar to the United States of America was shared by some prominent
Europeans notably the Marquis de Lafayette and Tadeusz Kosciuszko.
Some suggestion of a European Union can be found in Immanuel Kant's 1795
proposal for an eternal peace congress.
More recently the 1800s customs union under Napoleon Bonaparte's
Continental system was promulgated in November 1806 as an embargo of
British goods in the interests of French hegemony. It demonstrated the
workability and also the flaws of a supranational economic system for Europe.
In the conservative reaction after Napolean's defeat in 1815, the German
Confederation (German "Deutscher Bund") was established as a loose
association of thirty-eight German states formed by the Congress of Vienna.
Napoleon had swept away the Holy Roman Empire and simplified the map of
Germany. The German Confederation was an association of independent, equal
sovereign nation states. In 1834, the Zollverein (German, "customs union") was
formed among the states of the Confederation, in order to create better trade
flow and reduce internal competition.
Pre 1945 influences
Italian writer and politician Giuseppe Mazzini called for the creation
of a federation of European republics in 1843. This set the stage for
perhaps, the best known early proposal for peaceful unification,
through cooperation and equality of membership, made by the
pacifist Victor Hugo in 1847. Hugo spoke in favour of the idea at a
peace congress organised by Mazzini, but was laughed out of the
hall. He returned to his idea again in 1851 however.
Following the catastrophe of the First World War, some thinkers and
visionaries again began to float the idea of a politically unified
Europe. In 1923, the Austrian Count Coudenhove-Kalergi founded
the Pan-Europa movement and hosted the First Paneuropean
Congress, held in Vienna in 1926.
In 1929, Aristide Briand, French prime minister, gave a speech in the
presence of the League of Nations Assembly in which he proposed
the idea of a federation of European nations based on solidarity and
in the pursuit of economic prosperity and political and social cooperation. Many eminent economists, among them John Maynard
Keynes, supported this view. At the League's request Briand
presented a Memorandum on the organisation of a system of
European Federal Union in 1930.
Pre 1945 influences
In 1931 the French politician Edouard Herriot published the book The
United States of Europe.
The Great Depression, the rise of fascism and subsequently World War II
prevented this inter war movement gaining further support.
In 1940, following Germany's military successes in World War II and Nazi
planning for the creation of a thousand year Reich, a European
confederation was proposed by German economists and industrialists. They
argued for a "European economic community", with a customs union and
fixed internal exchange rates. In 1943, the German ministers Joachim von
Ribbentrop and Cecil von Renthe-Fink eventually proposed the creation of a
European confederacy, which would have had a single currency, a central
bank in Berlin, a regional principle, a labour policy and economic and
trading agreements. The proposed countries to be included were Germany,
Italy, France, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria,
Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Greece and Spain. Such a German-led Europe, it
was hoped, would serve as a strong alternative to the Communist Soviet
Union and also be a counterweight to British dominance of world trade. The
later Foreign Minister Arthur Seyss-Inquart said: "The new Europe of
solidarity and co-operation among all its people will find rapidly increasing
prosperity once national economic boundaries are removed", while the
Vichy French Minister Jacques Benoist-Mechin said that France had to
"abandon nationalism and take place in the European community with
Pre 1945 influences
These pan-European illusions from the early
1940s were never realized, not least because
neither Hitler, nor many of his leading hierarchs
such as Goebbels, had the slightest intention to
compromise absolute German hegemony
through the creation of a European
confederation. An integrated Europe based on
Nazi conquest and lacking a democratic
structure could not have been a true
predecessor of the European Union.
Pre 1945 influences
In 1943, Jean Monnet a member of the National
Liberation Committee of the Free French
government in exile in Algiers, and regarded by
many as the future architect of European unity,
is recorded as declaring to the committee:"There will be no peace in Europe, if the states
are reconstituted on the basis of national
sovereignty... The countries of Europe are too
small to guarantee their peoples the necessary
prosperity and social development. The
European states must constitute themselves into
a federation..."
Post 1945 impetus
By the end of the war, a new impetus for the founding of
(what was later to become) the European Union was the
desire to rebuild Europe after the disastrous events of
World War II, and to prevent Europe from ever again
falling victim to the scourge of war. In order to do this,
many supported the idea of forming some form of
European federation or government. Winston Churchill
gave a speech at the University of Zürich on the
September 19, 1946 calling for a "United States of
Europe", similar to the United States of America. The
immediate result of this speech was the forming of the
Council of Europe in 1949. The Council of Europe
however was (and still remains) a rather restricted
organisation, like a regional equivalent of the United
Nations (though it has developed some powers in the
area of human rights, through the European Court of
Human Rights.)
Chronology of the
building of Europe
A new idea for Europe
The Schuman Declaration 1950-2000
by Pascal Fontaine
Europe at the service of peace and democracy
Community Europe is celebrating its 55th anniversary.
On 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman made history by putting to the
Federal Republic of Germany, and to the other European
countries who so wished, the idea of creating a Community of
pacific interests. In so doing he extended a hand to yesterday's
enemies and erased the bitterness of war and the burden of the
past. In addition, he set in train a completely new process in
international relations by proposing to old nations to together
recover, by exercising jointly their sovereignty, the influence
which each of them was incapable of exercising alone.
The construction of Europe has since then moved forward every
day. It represents the most significant undertaking of the 20th
century and a new hope at the dawn of the new century. It derives
its momentum from the far-sighted and ambitious project of the
founding fathers who emerged from the second world war driven by
the resolve to establish between the peoples of Europe the
conditions for a lasting peace. This momentum is regenerated
unceasingly, spurred on by the challenges which our countries have
to face up to in a world of deep-seated and relentless change.
Could anyone have foreseen this immense desire for democracy
and peace which ultimately brought down the Berlin Wall, put the
responsibility for their destinies back into the hands of the people of
central and eastern Europe and today, with the prospect before long
of further enlargement to seal the unity of the continent, gives a new
dimension to the ideal of European construction?
A historic success
As we approach the dawn of the third millennium, a look back
over the 55 years of progress towards European integration
shows that the European Union is a historic success. Countries
which were hitherto enemies, and in most cases, ravaged by the
most horrific atrocities this continent has ever known, today share
a common currency, the euro, and manage their economic and
commercial interests within the framework of joint institutions.
Europeans now settle their differences through peaceful means,
applying the rule of law and seeking conciliation. The spirit of
superiority and discrimination has been banished from
relationships between the Member States, which have entrusted
to the four Community institutions, the Council, the Parliament,
Commission and the Court of Justice, the responsibility for
mediating their conflicts, for defining the general interest of
Europeans and for pursuing common policies.
People's standard of living has improved
considerably, much more than would have
been possible if each national economy had
not been able to benefit from the economies
of scale and the gains of growth stemming
from the common market and intensification
of trade.
People are free to move and students to work
within a frontier-free internal area. The
foundations of common foreign and defence
policies have been laid, and moves are
already afoot to take common policies of
solidarity further in the social, regional and
environmental fields, as well as in the fields of
research and transport.
Economic integration every day highlights the need for and
takes us closer to political union. At international level, the
European Union is wielding increasing influence
commensurate with its economic importance, the standard
of living of its citizens, its place in diplomatic, commercial
and monetary forums.
The European Community derives its strength from
common values of democracy and human rights, which rally
its peoples, and it has preserved the diversity of cultures
and languages and the traditions which make it what it is. Its
transatlantic solidarity and the attractiveness of its model
has enabled a united Europe to withstand the pressure of
totalitarianism and to consolidate the rule of law.
The European Community stands as a beacon for the
expectations of countries near and far which watch the
Union's progress with interest as they seek to consolidate
their re-emerging democracies or rebuild a ruined economy.
Today, the Union of the 25 Member States is negotiating
the next wave of membership with 3 countries of
central and eastern Europe. At a later stage, other
countries of former Yugoslavia or which belong to the
European sphere will in turn ask to join. The taking on
board by the applicant countries of the acquis
communautaire, and more generally of the major
objectives of the European Union, is central to
enlargement negotiations. For the first time in its long
history, the continent is preparing to become reunified
in peace and freedom.
Such developments are momentous in terms of world
balance and will have a huge impact on Europe's
relations with the United States, Russia, Asia and Latin
America. Even now Europe is no longer merely a power
which has retained its place in the world. It is a
reference point and a hope for peoples attached to
peace and the respect of human rights.
What explains such a great success? Is it
lastingly etched in the continent's history,
sufficiently rooted in the collective memory
and resolve for the seeds of any intraEuropean war to have been eradicated?
The tragic events of the past and the conflicts
which still today undermine the Balkans and
are spreading bloodshed throughout the
Caucasus and Middle-East should prompt
Europeans not to sit back and take lasting
peace for granted.
Czech Republic
The challenges of the future
After a half century of Community history, Europeans still have a lot of
soul-searching to do: what are the elementary values to which they are
attached, and what are the best ways of safeguarding them? How far
could and should union be taken in order to maximize the strength
which derives from unity, without at the same time eroding identity and
destroying the individual ethos which makes the richness of our
nations, regions and cultures? Can we move forward in step, thanks to
the natural harmony which favours consensus between 25 countries, or
should we recognise divergences of approach and differentiate our
pace of integration? What are the limits of Community Europe, at a time
when so many nations, starting with the new democracies of central and
eastern Europe and the Balkans, along with Turkey, are asking to join
the process of unification in progress? How can we get everyone
involved in the Community undertaking and give them the feeling of a
European identity which complements and goes beyond fundamental
solidarity? How can we get every European citizen closer to the
institutions of the Union, and give everyone a chance to embrace the
project of a unified Europe which was long the preserve of the
deliberations of diplomats and the expertise of civil servants?
All these are questions of principle which it is impossible to avoid if we
are not to enter blind alleys; fundamental questions the answers to
which will themselves determine the myriad specific and technical
matters addressed daily by those who have the task of taking this
Community undertaking forward.
For the people of Europe, the question is simple. Either they continue
to become organised, assembling their strengths to make themselves
heard throughout the world, promote the ideal of democracy and
defend their economic and strategic interests. Then Europe will
continue to represent more than the 'tip of Eurasia' which Paul Valéry
spoke about. It will be a factor of balance and moderation in the
relations between hyperindustrialised powers and countries whose
development is lagging behind. Or else the people of Europe will not
fully appreciate the actual extent of the values they share and will
consequently fail to act in defence of their common interests. In which
case, the economies of each country will be reduced to sub-contracting
roles and consumers' standard of living will decline. Europe, a mere
geographical entity, will be placed in the sphere of influence of powers
external to it and which will impose upon it the price of its dependence
and its need for a protective umbrella.
The topicality of the Community method
A new institutional process was put in train by
the decision taken on 11 December 1999 by the
European Council meeting in Helsinki to convene
an intergovernmental conference with the aim
inter alia of adapting the treaties to the conditions
whereby a Union enlarged to over 20 members
can function smoothly.
Our 55-year-old Europe is a hive of activity.
Hopes are running at the same level as the
ambitions and challenges involved, but the risks
of failure are still very much there.
Europe merely as a free trade area or Europe as a
world-level player? A technocratic Europe or a
democratic Europe? An 'every man for himself'
Europe or a caring Europe?
Faced with so many critical choices, so many uncertainties,
the Community method which stems from the dialogue
established between the Member States and the common
institutions exercising together delegated sovereignty is as
topical as ever. This is what made it possible, 50 years ago,
to set up the European Coal and Steel Community,
subsequently followed by the European Economic
Community and Euratom, bolstered by the European Single
Act, and the Treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam. A
'catalyst of change' has been incorporated into interEuropean relations and this every day generates new
effects. Tomorrow, this method may make the best
contribution possible to solving the major problems facing
The founding principles of the European edifice are not
simply a matter of institutional mechanics. The Community
spirit was invented and carried forward by statesmen who
wanted first and foremost to construct a Europe at the
service of people and makes the European idea a project for
civilisation. The Schuman declaration remains very much 'a
new idea for Europe'.
Historical background
The respite which should have followed the cessation of hostilities
did not materialize for the people of Europe. No sooner had the
Second World War ended than the threat of a third between East
and West loomed up very quickly. The breakdown on 24 April 1947
of the Moscow conference on the German issue convinced the West
that the Soviet Union, an ally in the fight against the Nazis, was
about to become the source of an immediate threat to western
democracies. The creation in October 1947 of the Kominform
establishing a coalition of the world's communist parties, the
'Prague coup' of 25 February 1948 guaranteeing domination for the
communists in Czechoslovakia, then the Berlin blockade in June
1948 which heralded the division of Germany into two countries,
further heightened tension. By signing the Atlantic Pact with the
United States on 4 April 1949, western Europe laid the basis of its
collective security. However, the explosion of the first Soviet atomic
bomb in September 1949 and the proliferation of threats from the
Kremlin leaders contributed to spreading this climate of fear which
came to be known as the cold war.
The status of the Federal Republic of Germany, which itself
directed its own internal policy since the promulgation of the
fundamental law of 23 May 1949, then became a focal point of
East-West rivalry. The United States wanted to step up the
economic recovery of a country at the heart of the division of
the continent and already in Washington there was a call in
some quarters for the defeated power to be re-armed. French
diplomacy was torn by a dilemma. Either it yielded to
American pressure and, in the face of public opinion, agreed
to the reconstitution of the German power on the Ruhr and the
Saar; or else it stood firm against its main ally and took its
relationship with Bonn into an impasse.
In spring 1950 came the hour of truth. Robert Schuman,
French Foreign Affairs Minister, had been entrusted by his
American and British counterparts with a vital mission, namely
to make a proposal to bring Federal Germany back into the
western fold.
Jean Monnet's ideas
In order to unravel this web of
difficulties where traditional diplomacy
was proving powerless, Robert
Schuman called upon the inventive
genious of a man as yet unknown to
the general public but who had
acquired exceptional experience
Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman
during a very long and eventful
international career. Jean Monnet, at
the time responsible for the French
modernisation plan and appointed by
Charles de Gaulle in 1945 to put the
country back on its economic feet,
was one of the most influential
Europeans in the western world.
During the First World War, he had organised the joint
supply structures for the Allied Forces. Deputy SecretaryGeneral of the League of Nations, banker in the United
States, western Europe and China, he was one of
President Roosevelt's close advisers and the architect of
the Victory programme which ensured America's military
superiority over the Axis forces. Unfettered by any
political mandate, he advised governments and had
acquired the reputation of being a pragmatist whose
prime concern was effectiveness.
The French Minister had approached Jean Monnet with
his concerns. The question 'What to do about Germany?'
was an obsession for Robert Schuman, a native of
Lorraine and a Christian moved by the resolve to do
something so that any possibility of further war between
the two countries could be averted once and for all.
At the head of a small team in rue de Martignac,
headquarters of the Commissariat au plan, Jean
Monnet was himself committed to this quest for a
solution. His main concern was international politics.
He felt that the cold war was the consequence of
competition between the two big powers in Europe
and a divided Europe was a source of major concern.
Fostering unity in Europe would reduce tension. He
pondered the merits of an international-level initiative
mainly designed to decompress the situation and
establish world peace through a real role played by a
reborn, reconciled Europe.
Jean Monnet had watched the various
unsuccessful attempts to move towards integration
which had followed in the wake of the solemn plea,
launched at the congress organised by the European
movement in The Hague in 1948, for the union of the
The European Organisation for Economic Cooperation,
set up in 1948, had a purely coordinative mission and
had been powerless to prevent the economic recovery
of European countries coming about in a strictly
national framework. The creation of the Council of
Europe on 5 May 1949 showed that governments were
not prepared to surrender their prerogatives. The
advisory body had only deliberative powers and each
of its resolutions, which had to be approved by a twothirds majority, could be vetoed by the ministerial
committee. Jean Monnet had understood that any
attempt to introduce a comprehensive institutional
structure in one go would bring a huge outcry from the
different countries and was doomed to failure. It was
too early yet to envisage wholesale transfers of
sovereignty. The war was too recent an experience in
people's minds and national feelings were still running
very high.
Launch of the Schuman plan, 9 May 1950: salon de l'Horloge,
Quai d'Orsay, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At the
microphone, Robert Schuman; on his right, Jean Monnet.
Jean Monnet and his co-workers during the close of April 1950 drafted
a note of a few pages setting out both the rationale behind, and the
steps envisaged in, a proposal which was going to radically shake up
traditional diplomacy. As he set about his task, instead of the
customary consultations of the responsible ministerial departments,
Jean Monnet on the contrary maintained the utmost discretion in
order to avoid the inevitable objections or counterproposals which
would have detracted from the revolutionary nature of the project and
removed the advantage of surprise. When he handed over his
document to Bernard Clappier, director of Robert Schuman's private
office, Jean Monnet knew that the minister's decision could alter the
course of events. So when, upon his return from a weekend in his
native Lorraine, Robert Schuman told his colleagues: 'I've read this
proposal. I'll use it', the initiative had entered the political arena. At the
same time as the French Minister was defending his proposal on the
morning of 9 May, in front of his government colleagues, a messenger
from his private office delivered it personally to Chancellor Adenauer
in Bonn. The latter's reaction was immediate and enthusiastic. He
immediately replied that he was wholeheartedly behind the proposal
So, backed by the agreement of both the French and the
German Governments, Robert Schuman made his
declaration public at a press conference held at 4 p.m. in the
salon de l'Horloge at the Quai d'Orsay. He preceded his
declaration with a few introductory sentences: 'It is no
longer a time for vain words, but for a bold, constructive act.
France has acted, and the consequences of her action may
be immense. We hope they will. She has acted essentially in
the cause of peace. For peace to have a chance, there must
first be a Europe. Nearly five years to the day after the
unconditional surrender of Germany, France is now taking
the first decisive step towards the construction of Europe
and is associating Germany in this venture. It is something
which must completely change things in Europe and permit
other joint actions which were hitherto impossible. Out of all
this will come forth Europe, a solid and united Europe. A
Europe in which the standard of living will rise thanks to the
grouping of production and the expansion of markets,
which will bring down prices ...'
The declaration puts forward a number of principles:
- Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single
plan. It will be built through practical achievements which will first
create real solidarity;
- the age-old enmity between France and Germany must be
eliminated; any action taken must in the first place concern these
two countries, but it is open to any other European nations which
share the aims;
- action must be taken immediately on one limited but decisive
point: Franco-German production of coal and steel must be
placed under a common High Authority;
- the fusion of these economic interests will help to raise the
standard of living and establish a European Community;
- the decisions of the High Authority will be binding on the
member countries. The High Authority itself will be composed of
independent persons and have equal representation. The
authority's decisions will be enforceable.
The preparation of the ECSC Treaty
Swift action was needed for the French initiative, which quickly
became a Franco-German initiative, to retain its chances of
becoming reality. On 20 June 1950, France convened an
intergovernmental conference in Paris, chaired by Jean Monnet.
The three Benelux countries (Belgium Luxembourg and the
Netherlands )and Italy answered the call and were at the
negotiating table. Jean Monnet circumscribed the spirit of the
discussions which were about to open: 'We are here to
undertake a common task - not to negotiate for our own national
advantage, but to seek it to the advantage of all. Only if we
eliminate from our debates any particularist feelings shall we
reach a solution. In so far as we, gathered here, can change our
methods, the attitude of all Europeans will likewise gradually
The discussions were an opportunity to clarify the type of international
edifice envisaged. The independence and the powers of the High
Authority were never questioned, for they constituted the central point
of the proposal. At the request of the Netherlands, the Council of
Ministers, representing the Member States and which was to give its
assent in certain cases, was set up. A Parliamentary Assembly and a
Court of Justice were to round off the structure which underpins the
institutional system of the current Communities.
The negotiators never lost sight of the fact that they had the political
mandate to construct an organisation which was totally new with
regard to its objectives and methods. It was essential for the emerging
institution to avoid all the shortcomings peculiar to the traditional
intergovernmental organisations: the requirement of unanimity for
national financial contributions, and subordination of the executive to
the representatives of the national States.
Robert Schuman's declaration of 9 May 1950
was followed, on 18 April 1951, by the signing
of the Treaty of Paris, the first of the Treaties
establishing the European Community.
On 18 April 1951, the Treaty establishing the Coal and Steel
Community was signed for a period of 50 years. It was ratified
by the six signatory countries and on 10 August 1952 the High
Authority, chaired by Jean Monnet, took up its seat in
The Schuman plan: the birth of Community Europe
The Schuman proposals are revolutionary or they are nothing. The
indispensable first principle of these proposals is the abnegation of
sovereignty in a limited but decisive field. A plan which is not based on
this principle can make no useful contribution to the solution of the
major problems which undermine our existence. Cooperation between
nations, while essential, cannot alone meet our problem. What must be
sought is a fusion of the interests of the European peoples and not
merely another effort to maintain the equilibrium of those interests ...'
Jean Monnet
The innovatory principles of the first European Community
The reason it took nearly a year to conclude the negotiations of the
Treaty of Paris was that these negotiations gave rise to a series of
fundamental questions to which Jean Monnet wished to provide the most
appropriate answers. As we have seen, this was no traditional diplomatic
negotiation. The persons designated by the six governments had come
together to invent a totally new - and lasting - legal and political system.
The preamble to the ECSC Treaty, comprising five short paragraphs,
contains the whole philosophy which was to be the leitmotif of the
promoters of European construction:
'Considering that world peace can be safeguarded only by creative
efforts commensurate with the dangers that threaten it; convinced that
the contribution which an organised and vital Europe can make to
civilisation is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations;
recognising that Europe can be built only through practical
achievements which will first of all create real solidarity, and through the
establishment of common bases for economic development;
anxious to help, by expanding their basic production, to raise the
standard of living and further the works of peace;
resolved to substitute for age-old rivalries the merging of their
essential interests; to create, by establishing an economic community,
the basis for a broader and deeper community among peoples long
divided by bloody conflicts; and to lay the foundations for institutions
which will give direction to a destiny henceforward shared'.
'World peace', 'practical achievements', 'real solidarity', 'merging of
essential interests', 'community', 'destiny henceforward shared': these
are all key words which are the embryonic form of both the spirit and the
Community method and still today retain their rallying potential.
While the prime objective of the ECSC Treaty, i.e. the management of the
coal and steel market, today no longer has the same importance as
before, for the European economy of the 1950s, the institutional
principles which it laid down are still very much topical. They started a
momentum of which we are still reaping the benefits and which fuels a
political vision which we must be careful not to depart from if we are not
to call into question our precious 'acquis communautaire'.
The first European iron ingot was
cast on 30 April 1953 in Esch-surAlzette, Grand-Duchy of
Luxembourg. Jean Monnet,
President, and the members of the
High Authority of the European Coal
and Steel Community celebrate the
(Source: Fondation Jean Monnet
pour l'Europe, Lausanne).
The application to international relations of the principles of
equality, arbitration and conciliation which are in force within
democracies is progress for civilisation. The founding fathers
(group of men who participated in the writing and signing of the U.S.
Constitution in 1787 ) had experienced the chaos, violence and
the arbitrary which are the companions of war. Their entire
endeavour was geared at creating a community in which right
prevailed over might. Jean Monnet often quoted the Swiss
philosopher Amiel: 'Every man's experience is a new start.
Only institutions become wiser: they amass the collective
experience and thanks to this experience and this wisdom, the
nature of men subordinated to the same rules will not change,
but their behaviour gradually will.'
To place relations between countries on a pacific and
democratic footing, casting out the spirit of domination and
nationalism, these were the deep-seated motivations which
gave the first Community its political content and placed it
amongst the major historic achievements.
The independence of the Community bodies
If institutions are to fulfill their functions they must have their
own authority. Today's Community institutions still benefit from
the three guarantees which were given to the ECSC High
- the appointment of members, today commissioners, by joint
agreement between the governments (1). These are not national
delegates, but personalities exercising their power collegially
and who may not receive instructions from the Member States.
The European civil service is subordinated to this same and
unique Community allegiance;
- financial independence through the levying of own resources
and not, as is the case of international organisations, by the
payment of national contributions which means they can be
called into question;
- the responsibility of the High Authority, and today that of the
Commission, exclusively to the Assembly (today the European
Parliament), which can cast, by a qualified majority vote, a vote
of censure.
Cooperation between the institutions
For Jean Monnet, the independence of the High Authority was the
cornerstone of the new system. However, as the negotiations
continued, he acknowledged the need to give the Member States the
opportunity to assert their national interests. This was the safest way
of preventing the emerging community from being limited to
excessively technical objectives, for it needed to be also able to
intervene in sectors in which macroeconomic decisions would be
taken and these were a matter for the governments. Hence the
creation, alongside the High Authority, of our Council of Ministers
the role of which was strictly limited in that it was not called upon to
decide unanimously but by majority. Its assent was required only in
limited cases. The High Authority retained the monopoly of
legislative initiative, a prerogative which, extended to the
competences of the present Commission, is essential in that it is the
guarantee that all Community interests will be defended in a
proposal from the college. From 1951 on, dialogue was organised
between the four institutions on a basis not of subordination but of
cooperation, each institution exercising its own functions within a
comprehensive decision-making system of a pre-federal type.
Equality between Member States
As the principle of representation of States within the Council had
been selected, there remained the delicate matter of their respective
weighting. The Benelux countries and Italy, fearing that they would be
placed in a minority situation on account of the proportion of their
production of coal and steel in relation to total production, argued in
favour of the rule of unanimity. Germany, on the other hand, advocated
a system of representation proportional to production, a proposal
which of course could hardly allay partners' misgivings, quite the
Jean Monnet was convinced that only the principle of equality between
countries could produce a new mentality. However, he was aware of
how difficult it was to get six countries of unequal dimensions to forego
the option of a veto. For the big countries in their relations with one
another and for the smaller countries in their relations with the bigger
countries '... Their innermost security lay in their power to say No,
which is the privilege of national sovereignty' (2). The chairman of the
conference accordingly met Chancellor Adenauer in Bonn on 4 April
1951 to convince him of the virtues of the principle of equality:
'I have been authorised to propose to you that relations between
France and Germany in the European Community be based on the
principle of equality in the Council, the Assembly and all future or
existing institutions ... Let me add that this is how I have always
envisaged the offer of union which was the starting point of the
present Treaty; and I think I am right in saying this is how you
envisaged it from the moment we first met. The spirit of
discrimination has been the cause of the world's greatest ills, and
the Community is an attempt to overcome it'.The Chancellor replied
'You know how much I am attached to equality of rights for my
country in the future, and how much I deplore the attempts at
domination in which it has been involved in the past. I am happy to
pledge my full support for your proposal. I cannot conceive of a
Community based on anything but complete equality'.
Thus was laid one of the legal and moral foundations which gives
the notion of Community its full meaning.
The ECSC, the first stone in the European edifice
In the absence of a peace treaty between the former warring sides, the
first European Community was both an act of confidence in the resolve of
France and Germany and their partners to sublimate the mistakes of the
past and perform an act of faith in a common future of progress. Despite
the ups and downs of history and of nationalist opposition, the process
began in 1950 was never to stop. The failure of the project for a European
Defence Community on 30 August 1954, after the rejection by the French
National Assembly of the Treaty signed on 27 May 1952, did not halt the
initial momentum. At the initiative of statesmen from the Benelux
countries, Paul Henri Spaak, Jan Beyen and Joseph Bech, the process
was relaunched at Messina in June 1955. The onward march towards the
Treaty of Rome, signed on 25 March 1957, establishing the European
Economic Community and Euratom, was boosted by external events: the
Suez crisis and the repression in Hungary prompted Europe to close
ranks. The European Communities set up in Brussels and Luxembourg
grew in terms of content and number of participants.
The common market was consolidated by common policies in
agriculture, trade, regional affairs, social affairs, research, the
environment, education, and cooperation with the third world. In 1972,
the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark joined the Communities;
later the entry of Greece, Spain and Portugal brought a bigger
Mediterranean presence into the Community. In 1995, the 15-country
Europe emerges with the membership of Austria, Finland and Sweden.
Weakened by the two successive oil shocks of 1973 and 1979, the
Community nevertheless resisted centrifugal tendencies and
consolidated its cohesion by introducing a European Monetary System
in 1979. This system gradually paved the way for a slow but irreversible
move towards economic and monetary union which came to fruition on
1 January 1999 with the adoption of the euro by 11 Member States of
the European Union.
Like any undertaking constantly evolving, Europe could not evade
teething troubles and growing pains: the institutional crisis of 1965 when
one Member State attempted to call into question the majority system of
voting; and the financial crisis caused by the mismatch between own
resources and the sharp increases in expenditure arising from the
proliferation of new policies and the increasing costs of the common
agricultural policy.
Nevertheless, no matter how categorical its demands may have
been, no Member State has contemplated leaving a Community
which is seen as an irreplaceable framework for the development
and international status of its member countries.
In 1984, the European Parliament adopted a draft treaty on
European union, proposing that the institutions make a quantum
leap in terms of integration. By adopting the White Paper on the
large internal market in 1985, the Commission, headed by Jacques
Delors, gave concrete expression to this resolve for recovery and
set a target date of 1 January 1993.
By signing the Single Act in 1986, the Member States drew their
inspiration and institutional method from the Schuman plan. They
supplemented the Treaty of Rome with a series of specific
objectives around the central objective of a large frontier-free
market and established a timetable. They renewed the decisionmaking process by extending the scope for decision-making by a
qualified majority vote. They restored hope to millions of European
citizens by offering them a broader horizon and giving them the
wherewithal to come to terms with a changing world.
While the European institutions were putting the finishing touches to the
internal market and increasing the economic and social dimension of
Community Europe, history made its presence felt again as an
unforeseeable, mighty force, testing the capacities of Europeans to adapt
and adjust to a changing world.
The fall of the Berlin Wall on 3 October 1990, followed by the reunification
of Germany and the democratization of the countries of central and
eastern Europe, freed from the yoke of the Soviet Union, itself prey to its
own disintegration in December 1991, brought about a radical change in
the political structure of our continent.
Once again, countries were faced with a dilemma, whether to take the soft
option of focusing national policies on immediate interests or embrace a
common vision and management of their joint future. Opting to give
priority to respect their European commitment and acknowledging the
need to incorporate such upheaval into a common perspective, the
Member States committed themselves to a process of consolidation of the
Union by negotiating a new treaty, of which the new guidelines were
adopted at the Maastricht European Council meeting of 9 and 10
December 1991.
The Treaty on European Union, which entered into force on 1 November 1993
set an ambitious timetable for the Member States: monetary union by 1999,
new common policies, European citizenship, common foreign and security
policy, and internal security. A revision clause in the Maastricht Treaty
prompted the Member States to negotiate a new treaty, signed in Amsterdam
on 2 October 1997, adjusting and strengthening the Union's policies and
resources, particularly in the areas of legal cooperation, freedom of
movement of persons, foreign policy and public health. The European
Parliament, direct demo-cratic expression of the Union, received new
responsibilities confirming its role as co-legislator.
Fifty years of existence have not taken the edge off the driving inspiration
from which the European Community emerged.
Will the heirs of the founding fathers, today responsible for the destiny of the
peoples of the whole continent, from Lisbon to Tallinn, from Dublin to
Warsaw, take on board the final message of Jean Monnet (3), the guiding light
of this first Community, who urges them to adopt his vision of the future?
European Union - EU treaties, structure, history
EC - European Community...
European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC)
Evolution of the structures of the European Union.
European Economic
European Community (EC)
Community (EEC)
Euratom (European Atomic Energy Community)
...European Communities:
1993), Euratom
Justice &
Police & Judicial Cooperation
in Criminal Matters
Common Foreign and Security Policy
Treaty of
Treaties of
Treaty of
Treaty of
Treaty of

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