Great Britain was important to Rome

Brexit and Britain's special role in the EU

Two failed membership applications, two referendums and numerous special regulations: distance and rapprochement shape the relationship between the island and the continent. An overview of the past 70 years.

September 19, 1946: Churchill calls for "United States of Europe"

Winston Churchill gives a speech in front of the assembled Münsterhof in Zurich, September 19, 1946. (& copy picture alliance / KEYSTONE)

In his speech to the academic youth at the University of Zurich, the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke out in favor of the establishment of "a kind of United States of Europe". This Europe should include all the states of continental Europe, while the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the USA should take on the role of "friends and supporters of the new Europe".
    "There is a remedy that [...] within a few years would make the whole of Europe, or the greater part of Europe [...] as free and happy as Switzerland is today. This remedy consists in the renewal of the European family or at least one As much of it as possible. We have to give it an order under which it can live in peace, security and freedom. We have to establish a kind of United States of Europe. " (Winston Churchill, September 19, 1946)


May 5, 1949: Foundation of the Council of Europe

Ten European states sign the London Ten Power Pact, thereby founding the Council of Europe, the first supranational European organization after the Second World War. It is intended to promote human rights and the rule of law in Europe. Its founding states are Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Great Britain.


April 18, 1951: Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC)



The European Foreign Ministers sign the Treaty establishing the ECSC (lr): Paul van Zeeland (Belgium), Joseph Bech (Luxembourg), Carlo Sforza (Italy), Robert Schuman (France), Konrad Adenauer (Federal Republic of Germany) and Dirk Stikker ( Netherlands). (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux countries sign the Paris Treaty and establish the ECSC (Montanunion). It goes back to the plan of the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman. The contract comes into force on July 23, 1952 and is valid for 50 years. The ECSC is the first organization in the European integration process. It creates a common market with no internal tariffs on coal, iron ore, steel and scrap between its member states.


May 26, 1952: Plan for a European Defense Community (EDC)

In France, the debate about German rearmament in the post-war period is viewed with concern. The USA and Great Britain are pushing for German participation in NATO. French Prime Minister René Pleven finally put forward the idea of ​​creating a European defense organization with the participation of German soldiers; these - so the hope - should be better controllable through the integration into European structures. On May 26, 1952, the six states of the ECSC signed the treaty establishing the EVG. Two years later, the French National Assembly was the only one of the six parliaments to fail to ratify the treaty, which led to its failure on August 30, 1954.


1-3. June 1955: Messina Conference

The participants in the Council of Ministers' conference on June 3, 1955 in Messina (lr): Foreign Minister Johan Willem Beyen (Netherlands), Foreign Minister Gaetano Martino (Italy), Foreign Minister Joseph Bech (Luxembourg), Foreign Minister Antoine Pinay (France), State Secretary Walter Hallstein (Federal Republic of Germany) and Foreign Minister Paul Henry Spaak (Belgium). (& copy dpa - picture archive)
After the failure of the European Defense Community, the foreign ministers of the ECSC states in Messina discuss further European integration, which they want to extend to the entire economy. Great Britain sends an observer to the conference but does not officially attend. In a resolution, the foreign ministers set out their intention to create a European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and a common internal market.


July 1955 to April 1956: Spaak Committee



A committee headed by the Belgian Foreign Minister Paul-Henri Spaak is further developing the plans from Messina. Great Britain sends Russel Betherton, Undersecretary of State in the Department of Commerce, to the talks, but orders him back in November of the same year. At that time, the decision-makers in Great Britain still see the Commonwealth as a more important international partner than Europe and speak out against British membership of a common European market. In May 1956 the talks ended with the Spaak report, a draft of the treaties establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).


March 25, 1957: Signing of the "Treaty of Rome"



The six member states of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) sign the Treaty of Rome, thereby establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). Through the EEC, they expand their relationships to other areas of the economy besides coal and steel. Customs duties between member states will be abolished and a common external tariff will be agreed. Euratom aims to create the conditions for the emergence and development of the nuclear industry. Both treaties come into force on January 1, 1958.


January 4, 1960: The European Free Trade Association EFTA is founded

London on December 29, 1959: The representatives of Great Britain sign the Stockholm Convention on the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) (l-r): Trade Minister Reginald Maudling, Chancellor of the Exchequer Derick Heathcoat-Amor and the Swedish Ministerial Officer Sten Lindh. (& copy dpa - picture archive)

Great Britain founds the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) together with Denmark, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland. Around four months later, on May 3, 1960, the founding agreement came into force. It is created as an alternative and counterweight to the European Economic Community (EEC) founded in 1957. Its aim is to expand trade by removing barriers (such as internal tariffs) between Member States.


August 9, 1961: First application for EU membership by the British

The United Kingdom, fearful of losing economic ties, applies for membership of the European Communities (EC) under the government of Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. Neighboring Ireland applied for membership on July 31st, and one day after Great Britain, EFTA member Denmark is also applying for membership.


January 14, 1963: France vetoed the admission of Great Britain

On February 4, 1963, students of Munich University demonstrated with banners and loudspeaker trucks in front of the university and the British Consulate General for "Europe with England" and against the breakdown of the EC negotiations. (& copy picture-alliance)

The French President Charles de Gaulle is against British accession to the EC. He fears for France's position in the communities and that the close Anglo-American relations would increase the influence of the USA in Europe. Negotiations with Great Britain and with the other candidates are broken off.
    President Charles De Gaulle says "no" to UK membership application. January 14, 1963, Elysee Palace, Paris. (& copy picture-alliance / United Archives / TopFoto)
    "The Treaty of Rome was concluded between six continental states, states which, economically speaking, one could say, have the same nature. (...) England is indeed an island, it is maritime; it is through trade and traffic with connected to the most diverse, distant countries, it is a country that engages in industry and trade, but hardly any agriculture .; (...) In everything it does, it has very own customs and traditions. In short, nature, which The structure and the economy that are characteristic of England differ profoundly from those of the countries on the continent. ", Charles de Gaulles explains his rejection of British membership. (Charles de Gaulle, January 14, 1963)


1967: Great Britain's second application to join the EC is rejected

On May 11th, Great Britain applied for membership to the European Communities (EC) for the second time. It is followed by Ireland and Denmark and a little later Norway. Charles de Gaulle is still opposed to UK membership: On November 27, the French President voiced his concerns about UK membership in the European Communities (EC) at a press conference in the Elysée Palace in Paris. The veto will be formally tabled at the meeting of the Council of Ministers on December 19th.


January 22, 1972: Great Britain joins the EC

On January 22, 1972, the representatives of Great Britain, Ireland, Norway and Denmark signed the instruments of accession to the European Communities in Brussels. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

After Charles de Gaulle's resignation in 1969, the EC resumed negotiations with Great Britain and the other three candidate countries. The United Kingdom, Denmark, Ireland and Norway sign the contracts of membership in the European Communities (EC): the European Economic Community (EEC), the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). In Great Britain, in October of the same year, the European Communities Act 1972 is passed, which forms the legal basis for British membership. Except for Norway, whose population decides with a narrow majority against joining the EC, the treaties come into force on January 1, 1973.


British government booklet on the 1975 EC referendum: Cover (& copy Public Domain)

1975: UK referendum to remain in the European Communities

Only two years after Great Britain joined the European Communities (EC), membership is already up for grabs. Parliament and the population vote on the whereabouts. Prime Minister Harold Wilson had previously negotiated some new terms for the United Kingdom with the other member states. On April 9, 396 MPs (170 against) in the British House of Commons vote in favor of staying. The British population also gave a clear vote on June 5th: 67.2 percent of voters answered the question "Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?" with a yes.


12-13 March 1979: European monetary system comes into force

The European Council determines the entry into force of the European Monetary System (EMS) and discusses the economic and social situation as well as the common agricultural and energy policy.


25./26. June 1984: 'British Discount'

"I want my money back", said the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who in 1984 negotiated the "British discount" with the other EC countries. On the photo: Thatcher's bronze statue in Westminster Palace shortly after its unveiling in February 2007. (& copy dpa - Report)

At the meeting in Fontainebleau, the European Council decides on the so-called British discount, a financial compensation for the UK's own resources payments to the European Communities. The country receives a rebate of around two thirds of its net payments, which is raised by the other member states. The then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ("I want my money back") negotiated this discount after lengthy negotiations, stating that her country hardly benefited from the common agricultural policy of the European Communities.


July 1, 1987: European integration - the 'Single European Act' (EEA)



The Single European Act on strengthening cooperation between the EC states, signed in Luxembourg on February 17, 1986. (& copy picture-alliance / akg)
The 'Single European Act' (EEA) comes into force. The EEA is the most significant amendment and addition to the EC Treaties since the Treaty of Rome (1957). It aims at the completion of the European internal market by the end of 1992 and extends the political competence areas of the EC to research and development as well as the environment and common foreign policy.
    "The European Communities and European Political Cooperation pursue the goal of jointly contributing to concrete progress on the way to the European Union." (Single European Act, Common Provisions, Article 1)


January 1, 1993: European single market becomes a reality

At the beginning of 1993, the European internal market also became a reality. This newly created space is based on the so-called 'four freedoms': the freedom of movement of people, goods, services and capital. The EU countries as well as Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland are members.


November 1, 1993: The "Maastricht Treaty": the start of the European Union



The Treaty on European Union, also known as the Maastricht Treaty, enters into force. Previously, all member states had signed the treaty and - like the UK in August - ratified it. The European Communities (EG) become the European Union (EU). This should be based on three pillars: 1. the continuation and expansion of the European Communities to include new policy areas such as consumer protection, 2. the common foreign and security policy and 3. cooperation in the areas of home affairs and justice. It was also decided to introduce a common currency.


March 26, 1995: Schengen Agreement comes into force

The memorial of the signing of the 'Schengen Agreement' in Schengen, Luxembourg. The signing takes place on June 14, 1985. It comes into force almost ten years later. (& copy picture-alliance)
The Schengen Agreement comes into force between 15 EU countries. It was signed by Germany, France and the Benelux countries on June 14, 1985 in Schengen, Luxembourg. In 1990, it was supplemented by additional provisions in the Schengen Implementation Agreement. 'Schengen' provides for the dismantling of controls at the borders of the signatory states. In addition to Ireland, Great Britain is not part of the Schengen area, but does participate in parts of the Schengen provisions, such as the possibility of cross-border police work.


1st to 3rd May 1998: Decision on euro countries

The heads of state and government of the EU determine that eleven of the then 15 EU states take part in the third stage of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and introduce the euro as the official currency. Great Britain and Denmark were guaranteed the right to be excluded from this stage of monetary union in the Maastricht Treaty. Sweden does not participate either, as does Greece, which at the time does not yet meet the stability criteria; Greece finally joined in 2001.


January 1, 1999: The euro becomes the official currency



The euro is introduced as the booking currency in Belgium, Germany, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and Spain. Until January 1, 2002, it is an "invisible" currency, which means that it is only available for electronic payments and other account management purposes. In 2002 euro cash was introduced.


May 1, 1999: The "Treaty of Amsterdam"

At the meeting of the European Council in Amsterdam on June 16 and 17, 1997, the heads of state and government agreed on a draft treaty. The Amsterdam Treaty is signed on October 2nd, 1997. (& copy dpa - photo report)

The Amsterdam Treaty reforming the EU comes into force. Above all, the position of the European Parliament will be strengthened. The Schengen Agreement is now also part of the new EU treaty. The attached protocol on the integration of the Schengen acquis (Article 4) states that, although Great Britain will not become part of the Schengen area, it will be able to participate in parts of the Schengen provisions.


December 7, 2000: Charter of Fundamental Rights

The European Council in Nice proclaims the Charter of Fundamental Rights, a catalog of fundamental rights with 54 articles. It will become binding on the Community institutions when the Lisbon Treaty is ratified. Great Britain and Poland obtain an opt-out from the Charter (Protocol No. 30 to the Lisbon Treaty).


January 1, 2002: Introduction of the euro in cash

The euro is being used as a cash currency in twelve EU countries.


The Nice Treaty was signed on February 26, 2001. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa / dpaweb)

February 1, 2003: "Treaty of Nice"

Before the EU is expanded to include members from Eastern and Southern Europe, the EU is to be reformed institutionally with the Treaty of Nice. For example, the weighting between the proportion of votes and the size of the population is changed: Member States with a large population - e.g.Germany, Great Britain and France - will then be given greater weight than before. The composition of the European Commission and the distribution of seats in the EU Parliament will also be changed. The decisions that can be made with a qualified majority will also be expanded.


Ray Egan protests against the Constitution for Europe in Westminster Square on April 20, 2004. Prime Minister Tony Blair announced on the same day that the British would vote on the constitution in a referendum. When the referendums in France and the Netherlands were negative for the constitution, the British referendum was only postponed; it will become redundant when the Lisbon Treaty replaces the Constitution. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

October 29, 2004: Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe

The heads of state, government and EU foreign ministers sign the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe in Rome. The constitutional treaty failed in 2005 when people in France and the Netherlands voted against the treaty in referendums.


May 1, 2004: 'EU enlargement to the east' - ten new member states



The EU is experiencing its most extensive growth to date: with Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Cyprus, ten new states join the EU. In the beginning, most of the 'old' EU states still have transitional regulations that restrict the free movement of workers from the new Eastern European member states. Only Great Britain, Ireland and Sweden open their labor markets to the new Member States from the start.


January 1, 2007: Bulgaria and Romania join the EU

Bulgaria and Romania join the EU - thus the European Union grows to 27 member states.


2009: start of the 'euro crisis'

Since 2009 at the latest, the euro crisis has been calling into question the stability of the monetary union. The euro crisis is at the same time a sovereign debt crisis, a banking crisis and a macroeconomic crisis. The sovereign debt crisis is preceded by the burst 'real estate bubble' in the USA in 2007, which burdened banks worldwide with bad real estate loans.

In 2009, Greece's newly elected government found that national debts were higher than previously assumed: in December they reached 300 billion euros. The rating agencies "Fitch" and "Standard & Poor's" downgrade Greece's creditworthiness, which gives rise to speculation about a sovereign default. In March 2010 the first aid package for Greece will be put together.


December 1, 2009: "Treaty of Lisbon"

After the Lisbon Treaty had previously been rejected, over two thirds of the Irish voted in a second referendum in October 2009 for the treaty. License: cc by-nc-sa / 2.0 / de (William Murphy / Flickr)
The EU has grown steadily since the 1990s and the challenges facing its institutions have increased. In terms of content, the Lisbon Reform Treaty ties in with the "Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe", which failed due to ratification in 2005. Its aim is to make the European Union more democratic, more transparent and more efficient. The influence of the European Parliament increases, the national parliaments gain more influence, the EU's ability to act improves, for example, through the introduction of a double majority for decisions by the Council of Ministers. The Lisbon treaty finally comes into force on December 1, 2009.


January 23, 2013: David Cameron's keynote address on the EU

British Prime Minister David Cameron announces a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU. London, 23 January 2013. (& copy dpa)

Prime Minister David Cameron will deliver his keynote address on the EU on January 23, 2013. He promises that if the Conservative Party wins the general election in 2015, he will renegotiate Britain's relations with the EU and hold a referendum on whether his country will remain in the EU.


September 18, 2014: Independence referendum in Scotland

Scotland will vote in a referendum to decide whether or not to be independent from the United Kingdom. The question of whether an independent Scotland would still be a member of the EU is also up for discussion. After all, 55.3 percent of voters speak out against Scottish independence and thus also in favor of remaining in the EU.


May 7, 2015: British Conservative electoral victory - Referendum announced

The Conservative Party wins a majority in the UK general election. The party has announced that it will hold a referendum on membership in the European Union in 2016.


18./19. February 2016: EU summit and reform package

At the EU summit in Brussels on February 18 and 19, Prime Minister David Cameron is negotiating a reform package with the other EU heads of state and government: Among other things, social benefits for low-wage workers from other EU countries are to be granted for four years can be circumcised and the amount of child benefit made dependent on the country in which the child lives. It is also recognized that Great Britain has a special position and is not obliged to further political integration. The reforms are expected to come into force if the British people decide to remain in the EU on June 23.


23 June 2016: Referendum on UK membership of the EU

Election Day: Retirees leave a polling station in Chelsea, London on June 23, 2016. (& copy picture alliance / empics)

On June 23, 2016, the British decided in a referendum on their country's membership in the European Union for Brexit: With a turnout of 72.2 percent, just under 52 percent of voters would vote for and around 48 percent against leaving. When comparing the different parts of the country, there are sometimes large differences. Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation on the morning of June 24th. But he wants to stay in office until October 2016.