On 25 March 1957, the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) for joint research and civil use of nuclear energy were founded with the signing of the Treaties in the Musei Capitolini in Rome. The two Treaties entered into force on 1 January 1958 after being ratified by the six Member States. Prior to this, the European Coal and Steel Community had been created in 1952 while the attempt to establish a European Defence Community had failed in 1954. But plans for European integration did not end there. As early as 1956, the Belgian Foreign Minister Paul-Henri Spaak presented his report on the draft Community Treaties foreseeing the creation of the EEC.
The merger treaty of 1965 brought the bodies of the three Communities together. The new group was commonly referred to as the European Community. This became part of the European Union (EU) in 1993.
As successfully as the Economic Community developed, the Atomic Energy Community created little momentum. Since the treaties for both Communities were signed that day in Rome, however, we usually talk about the "Treaties of Rome" in the plural.
European integration began with six founding members in the west of the divided continent. Having lost the war, Germany and Italy hoped that integration could see them readmitted into the family of sovereign states. France, a victorious power, hoped to lead the ambitious project under President de Gaulle. The smaller Benelux countries were open economies by tradition, and stood to gain from economic integration. As the victims of German aggression, they were particularly interested in the idea of creating a community of peace and stability through economic ties.
Prosperity was to be achieved through competition in a market without internal borders. This aim had already been set out in the Treaties of Rome, but it was only the internal market programme of 1985 which led to its implementation by 1992.
The early success of the EEC, which, as early as 1968 and thus more quickly than expected, created a customs union inspired other western European countries to apply for membership. In the five rounds of enlargement and five reform projects to date, the internal market project envisaged in the Treaties of Rome has developed into the largest market in the world in terms of national product. The creation of the EU in 1992 marked the transition from an economic community to a political union with shared values.
It was already agreed in Rome that the new community would aim to create an integrated economic area with four freedoms, regarding goods, services, persons and capital. Member States would become subject to community law and seek to establish common policies in the areas of trade, competition, transport and agriculture. In transferring sovereign rights to the European level, the Member States were to create a supranational community of law. Where national and community law collided, the latter was to take precedence. The central concern of the project was to create economic conditions which could be applied to all national economies, that is to say economic barriers were to be removed. To implement community aims, new European institutions such as the European Commission or the European Parliament would be set up. These were to function in a way that was at once similar and different to national political systems and were intended to gradually change both the work and scope of action of the latter.
By deciding to join an economic community of this kind, the Member States voluntarily entered into a intense relationship of mutual dependency. The Community was thus much more than the sort of international organization or alliance which a country could leave at any time. This close link-up clearly helped to generate prosperity. It was also highly improbable that Member States would wish to damage, least of all attack, each other, since this would have a direct negative effect on the other members of the mutually dependent community.
The project was a dynamic one and the preamble to the EEC Treaty invited further countries to join the Community with its promise to "lay the foundations for an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe."
As a founding member of the EEC, the Federal Republic of Germany played a significant role in deciding the manner, direction and rate of European integration. As the beating heart of the integration project, the internal market became the most important source of prosperity. As a major exporter, Germany benefits particularly from the open borders which it has with neighbouring countries.
25 March 2007 marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome. A review of the past 50 years reveals an unprecedented success story. We, the European people, can be proud of what we have achieved. What began as the EEC on 25 March 1957 has grown into a union of 27 Member States which, after so many painful years of war, expulsion and suffering, now unites the continent in peace and ensures a level of prosperity and stability previously unknown in the history of this continent.
Every day, the common currency and the internal market based on uniform rules and comprising over 450 million people contribute to our prosperity and economic security.
The common Schengen area means open borders for European citizens. With its area of freedom, security and justice, the European Union also makes an important contribution to general security.
Viewed from the outside, the Union has emerged as a global trading power and an influential factor in international politics.
But Europe is far more than that. The European Union is a community of shared values. The inviolability of human dignity, the right to life and the prohibition of the death penalty, the right to integrity and the prohibition of torture, freedom of thought, conscience and religion and much more: the rights which young people in the west of Europe today enjoy as part of everyday life were not enjoyed by earlier generations. After the painful experiences of national socialism or communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe, respect for fundamental rights first had to be established as a standard.
Based on its common values, the EU today enjoys a way of life and a social model which differ from those in most countries outside Europe and which are closely linked to the process of European integration. The model provides a framework in which individuals can be the masters of their own fate and make progress through their achievements. People of diverse intellectual and political backgrounds have helped mould this model for Europe across party lines. It is characterized by tolerant coexistence with others, solidarity in the event of emergencies, the rule of law and equal rights and obligations for European citizens.
Those who look on from outside Europe sometimes notice this more clearly than we ourselves. The European Union has an international reputation for advocating a viable future for our planet, sustainable development, environmental and climate protection as well as financial solidarity.
We will be most successful in preserving what we have achieved over the last five decades when we, the European people, take an active role in shaping our future. The European Union offers the very best conditions to do this.