De euro.

The 5-euro bank note features the depiction of a symbolic bridge. The euro bridges the differences between the member states | iStock

Economy & Technology
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The Euro

European Integration

At New Year 2002, just after midnight, long queues formed at cash machines all over the country. For the first time euro notes could be withdrawn. Many people wanted to witness that historic event.

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The introduction of the euro was an ambitious political project, rather than an economic necessity. It was a clear choice for ‘more Europe’, after the Cold War had ended in 1991. German chancellor Helmut Kohl abandoned the strong German mark for a European unitary currency. In exchange the French president François Mitterrand did not oppose the re-unification of East and West Germany.

In 1992 the twelve member states of the European Communities signed the Treaty of Maastricht. In so doing they founded the European Union and opened the prospect of the introduction of the euro. In 2002 the national currencies, such as the Belgian franc, disappeared. In that way the euro became the symbol of European integration. Today 20 of the 27 member states of the European Union belong to the eurozone.

Verdrag van Rome.

European Commission Audiovisual Library

The signing of the treaties of Rome in the Capitoline Museums on 25 March 1957. Foreign Minister Paul-Henri Spaak (front row, in front) represents Belgium.

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European Integration

Western European integration started as a peace project amid the rubble of the Second World War. Belgium too, as a small country, felt an urgent necessity for greater cooperation in Europe. Further cooperation must be possible through a shared history and shared values.

Consequently, Belgium immediately supported the setting up of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951. Together with the Netherlands, Luxemburg, France, Italy and West Germany Belgium wanted to make supranational agreements on heavy industry. The six countries gave up part of their national sovereignty. That was not a forgone conclusion: coal and steel were strategic raw materials for national interest and security,

In 1957 the six founder members of the ECSC went a step further in their economic cooperation. With the Treaty of Rome they set up the European Economic Community (EEC). The EEC was a customs union which was to be achieved step by step and was designed to culminate in a large free-trade zone. In 1967 the EEC merged with the ECSC and Euratom to form the European Communities, headed by a single European Commission and a Council of Ministers. The customs union evolved into a common market on the basis of the principle of free passage of persons, goods, services and capital. That development contributed to the deregulation of financial markets, compulsory privatisations and the dismantling of the public sector. Only later was the cry for a ‘social Europe’ to grow louder.

1989-1991 saw the end of the Cold War between the West led by the United States of America and the Communist world led by the Soviet Union. The fall of the Berlin Wallthe wall between East and West Berlin, built in 1961 by the communist regime in East Germany as part of the Cold War to prevent the flight of inhabitants to the West. in 1989 led a year later to the reunification of divided Germany. As a result of this European integration also took a new turn. The European Communities changed to the European Union. The number of member states gradually increased.

Focal points

Val Berlijnse Muur.

Belga Image

The fall of the Berlin wall on 9 November 1989 gave a new twist to the history of European integration.

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New Links with Central and Eastern Europe

The end of the Cold War put an end to the split in Europe. Former Communist countries expressed the wish to join in the process of integration. In 2004, after a long preparation, eight Central and Eastern European countries joined the European Union, with a combined total of 75 million inhabitants.

This, the greatest ever European expansion operation, had a clear economic point. The new member states could raise their standard of living. They gained access to an internal market and were eligible for generous subsidies. The old member states acquired investment and export opportunities and profited from cheaper labour from the East. Factories moved to Eastern Europe, and Eastern European workers came to work in the West. Here they found themselves in sectors with a labour shortage, such as construction, cleaning services and agriculture. However, the expansion led to discontent among workers in the old member states, who faced more competition or saw their jobs move to new member states with less social protection.

The expansion forced the European Union to modify its internal decision-making procedures. For example, in an increasing number of policy areas decisions were taken by majority vote (supranational integration) rather than by unanimity (intergovernmental cooperation).

Het ei.

Brussels, Samyn and Partners

The Europa building in Brussels, sometimes called the ‘egg’, is where the European Council and the Council of Ministers meet.

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Brussels, European Capital

At first it was not clear where the seat of the European institutions was to be located. Meetings were held in Brussels, Luxemburg or Strasbourg. The latter city was a symbol of Franco-German cooperation.

From the Treaty of Rome in 1957 Brussels became the seat of important European institutions. At present the city hosts the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament – although the members of parliament meet once a month in Strasbourg. Brussels was a ‘safe choice’, as it was located in a small country between France and (West) Germany. The city was easily accessible and symbolised the intermingling of Latin and Germanic culture. Although the European Union has no official capital, Brussels has become it in practice.

When in 1967 the headquarters of NATONorth-Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Western military alliance founded in 1949, led by the United States of America in response to the Cold War. was established at Evere, Brussels grew into one of the most important diplomatic and political centres in the world. That can be seen and felt everywhere. Today thousands of journalists, lobbyists and staff of the various European and international institutions live and work in hyper-diverse Brussels. In the European district the headquarters of European institutions dominate the streetscape. Including the Berlaymont Building (European Commission), the Europa Building (Council of Ministers and European Council) and the European Parliament complex.

De Duitse bondskanselier Konrad Adenauer (1867-1967) en de Franse president Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) omhelzen elkaar bij het zogenoemde ‘vriendschapsverdrag’ in 1963. De Frans-Duitse as ligt aan de basis van de Europese Unie.
Press and Information Service of the Federal German government

The German Bundeskanzler Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) and the French president Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) embrace on the signing of the so-called ‘friendship treaty’. The French-German axis underpins the European Union.

The Hague, National Archives, Fotocollectie Anefo, (924-3837)

Flemish farmers have regularly demonstrated against European agricultural policy. Here we see the notorious farmers’ demonstration against the plans of European Commissioner Sicco Mansholt, 23 March 1971. It is the most turbulent farmers’ demonstration ever in Belgium.

De Vlaamse christendemocraat Leo Tindemans (1922-2014) speelde als Belgische eerste minister (1974-1978) een belangrijke rol op het Europese toneel. In 1976 kreeg hij in Aken de Internationale Karelsprijs ter bevordering van de Europese eenwording. Na zijn ontslag als premier haalde Tindemans bij de eerste rechtstreekse Europese verkiezingen in 1979 bijna één miljoen stemmen.
The Hague, National Archives, Fotocollectie Anefo,

The Flemish Christian Democrat Leo Tindemans (1922-2014) played an important role on the European stage as Belgian prime minister (1974-1978). In 1976 he was awarded in Aachen the international Charlemagne Prize for the furthering of European unity. After stepping down as prime minister, at the first direct European election in 1979, Tindemans won almost a million votes.




Wikimedia Commons

In 1987 the Erasmus programme was launched. It was designed to encourage the exchange of students and lecturers at European universities and colleges. Today more than 3,000 universities and colleges participate in the programme. The name of the initiative is an acronym but also, like its logo, refers to the European humanist Erasmus.

De goede verstandhouding tussen de Franse president François Mitterrand (1916-1996) en de Duitse bondskanselier Helmut Kohl (1930-2017) maakte de eenmaking van Duitsland en de oprichting van de Europese Unie mogelijk. Hier kort na de ondertekening van het verdrag van Maastricht (februari 1992).
AFP/Gerard Fouet, 000_APP2000012371746

The good understanding between the French president François Mitterrand (1916-1996) and the German Bundeskanzler Helmut Kohl (1930-2017) made the reunification of Germany and the setting up of the European Union possible. Here shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Maastricht, February 1992.

De Vlaamse sociaaldemocraat Karel Van Miert (1942-2009) was de langst dienstdoende eurocommissaris voor België en was onder meer bevoegd voor mededinging en consumentenbescherming. Hier is Europees commissaris Van Miert aan het woord tijdens een persconferentie in juni 1995.
Belga Images, 708308

The Flemish Social-Democrat Karel Van Miert (1942-2009) was the longest serving European commissioner for Belgium and was responsible for among other things competition and consumer protection. European commissioner Van Miert during a press conference (June 1995).

Als afsluiter van het Belgische EU-voorzitterschap vergaderden de staatshoofden en regeringsleiders onder leiding van de liberale eerste minister Guy Verhofstadt op 15 december 2001 in de Koninklijke Serres van Laken. De Verklaring van Laken over de toekomst van de EU werd aangenomen die uiteindelijk zou leiden tot het Verdrag van Lissabon dat tot op vandaag bepaalt hoe de EU werkt.
Belga Images, 126121

To conclude the Belgian presidency of the EU, heads of state and heads of government met on 15 December 2001 under the chairmanship of the liberal first minister Guy Verhofstadt in the Royal Conservatories in Laken. The Declaration of Laken formed the basis of the Treaty of Lisbon (2007), which up to today controls the operation of the European Union.

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