The Treaty of Rome is the multinational economic agreement that created the European Economic Community (EEC), the forerunner of the European Union (EU), in 1958. Following two years of negotiations that began in Messina, Italy, in 1955, the Treaty of Rome was signed on March 25, 1957, and came into effect on January 1, 1958. An early example of European supranationalism, the objective of the Treaty of Rome was the creation of closer economic and political linkages between signatory nations including the founding of a common market and customs union.
The treaty was an example of the evolving 20th-century trend of European economic supranationalism. The effects of World War II motivated many European nations to adopt policies of closer economic and political cooperation. The Benelux Agreement (1944) established a common market between Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg to facilitate more rapid economic recovery from the war. The success of the Benelux Agreement helped advance the idea of economic supranationalism in Europe, and the foreign minister of Belgium, Paul-Henri Spaak, was a key figure in the proposal and adoption of the Treaty of Rome.
Political considerations were also a factor in the Treaty of Rome. Many in war-torn Europe, including British prime minister Winston Churchill, began to advocate a federation among European nations as a catalyst for peace and stability and to more efficiently rebuild the economy and infrastructure of the continent. In 1951, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was created to remove both strategic industries, vital to warfare, out of the control of individual countries and place them under the regulation of a multinational authority. The ECSC established the foundation of the Treaty of Rome and the EEC by creating common markets among several European nations for coal and steel and by creating many of the institutional policies and structures that would later serve as the pattern for much of EEC bureaucracy. While the Treaty of Rome did contain elements addressing the goal of political cooperation, it stopped far short of creating a European political federation and was primarily focused on creating economic cooperation.
The Treaty of Rome created four distinct institutions, each of which would be managed by officials, judges, parliamentarians, and bureaucrats from member nations: the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers, the European Commission, and the European Court of Justice. The treaty reduced tariffs among the six original member states by 10 percent. However, the signatories of the treaty foresaw the development of more meaningful linkages including the elimination of all tariffs in the future. In the first decade of its existence, trade increased 400 percent among the members of the EEC.
The heads of state of six European nations signed the Treaty of Rome: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany. Known originally as the Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community, the document was later renamed the Treaty Establishing the European Community. The alteration of the formal name of the Treaty of Rome was facilitated by the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, which established the EU and in effect superseded the Treaty of Rome and the EEC.
The Treaty of Rome was controversial, and the concept of a politically or economically unified Europe was not supported by all segments of European society. Britain was invited to participate in the Treaty of Rome and join the EEC but declined, regarding the process as an affront to its national sovereignty and as unwanted interference in its national economy. Internal opposition to the treaty existed within the signatory nations as well, often stemming from nationalist sentiment, fear of erosion of national identity, and distrust of other nations and the multinational bureaucratic entity that the treaty would create.
In France, Charles de Gaulle opposed his nation’s participation in the treaty and as he would eventually regain power as France’s head of state, the signing of the treaty was undertaken in a hurried fashion in order that the French government at the time could sign the document and bind France to the Treaty of Rome before de Gaulle could return to power.
- John Calmann, The Common Market: The Treaty of Rome Explained (Anthony Blond, 1967);
- Clive H. Church and David Phinnemore, The Penguin Guide to the European Treaties: From Rome to Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and Beyond (Penguin Books Ltd., 2003);
- Paul Close and Emiko Ohki-Close, Supranationalism in the New World Order (Palgrave Macmillan, 1999);
- Max Haller, European Integration as an Elite Process (Routledge, 2008);
- Robert Keohane, After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton University Press, 2005);
- Henry Lloyd Mason, The European Coal and Steel Community: Experiment in Supranationalism (Nijhoff, 1955);
- Brent F. Nelsen and Alexander Stubb, The European Union: Readings on the Theory and Practice of European Integration (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2003).
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