The big question: has the European Union been a success?

Europe’s ambitious postwar project is considered by some to have been a triumph, ensuring peace and steadying economies across the continent – yet it is decried by others as a bureaucratic nightmare. As the UK scrabbles to prepare for Brexit in 2019, eight experts assess the achievements and failings of the EU

(Illustration by Davide Bonazzi for BBC History Magazine)

Denise Dunne

The EU is imperfect – but will go down in history as one of Europe’s most creative experiments in community building

The EU is the culmination of a process of co-operation that began in 1952 with the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which aimed to make war between its members “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”. Though Europe has not been free from war since, there has not been an armed conflict between member states since the foundation of the EU – a remarkable achievement, given the history of savage conflict in the first half of the 20th century. Maintaining peace among members through economic partnership remains the EU’s primary purpose. The fact so many people are either unaware of this, choose to overlook it, or take peace for granted, is indicative of how successful it has been in fulfilling its primary purpose.


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