What Was the European Community (EC)? Definition and History

What Is the European Community (EC)?

The European Community (EC) was an economic association formed by six European member countries in 1957, consisting of three communities that eventually were replaced by the European Union (EU) in 1993. The European Community dealt with policies and governing, in a communal fashion, across all member states.

The primary goal of the European Community was to foster a common trade policy that would eliminate trade barriers, thereby improving economic conditions for the entire region. Additionally, government officials from member states (who were well aware of the tensions still simmering in the aftermath of World War II) wanted to promote a high level of integration and cooperation in order to reduce the likelihood of future wars.

Key Takeaways

  • The European Community (EC) was created in 1957 as a way to foster trade cooperation and reduce tensions in the aftermath of World War II.
  • The European Community consisted of three economic associations: the European Economic Community (EEC), the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), and the European Atomic Energy Community.
  • The six founding member countries of the European Community were Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.
  • In 1993, the European Community was replaced by the European Union when the Maastricht Treaty went into effect.

Understanding the European Community (EC)

The European Community (EC) was developed after World War II in the hopes that a more unified Europe would find it harder to go to war with one another. When the European Community was created in 1957 there were six countries on the roster: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.

The original European Community was comprised of three organizations and governed by a series of treaties. These treaty organizations worked together to ensure fair and even policies were enacted and enforced across participating countries.

The European Economic Community (EEC)

The first of the three organizations in the European Community was the European Economic Community (EEC), also known as the Common Market. The EEC was established in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome as a way to unify the economies of Europe and reduce tensions that could lead to war. Of particular concern was to promote a lasting reconciliation between France and Germany.

In order to eliminate trade barriers and implement unified trade policies, member countries needed to cooperate politically and arbitrate differences peacefully. The benefit for all countries would be the ability to engage in profitable trade across borders. In 1962, the EEC implemented an agricultural policy that shielded EEC farmers from competition arising from agricultural imports.

The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC)

The second organization in the European Community was the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). It was put in place to attempt to regulate manufacturing practices across the member states. By integrating the steel and coal industries in western Europe, the ECSC was able to remove almost all trade barriers among member states in coal, steel, coke, scrap iron, and pig iron.

The ECSC set treaty rules regarding pricing and quotas, imposing fines on companies that broke the rules. By the 1960s, trade in the commodities overseen by the ECSC had risen throughout the region. The focus of the ECSC shifted in the 1970s toward reducing excess production in the steel industry in order to maintain competitiveness as Japan flooded the markets with cheap steel.

The European Atomic Energy Community

Lastly, the European Atomic Energy Community (also known as "Euratom") was created in 1958 to establish a common market among member nations for trade in nuclear materials and equipment. Among Euratom's goals was to coordinate research and promote peaceful uses for atomic energy.

The organization did not include military uses of nuclear materials as part of its oversight. Instead, it focused on trade issues and establishing health and safety regulations for atomic energy.

The European Union

In 1993, the European Community was rolled into the European Union (EU) when the Maastricht Treaty went into effect. As of 2021, there are 27 countries in the EU: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden. 

On June 23, 2016, the citizens of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, a move dubbed Brexit in the press. The United Kingdom officially ended its membership in the European Union on Jan. 31, 2020.

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