Refugee flows and terrorist attacks
In the spring and winter of 2000, the economic situation in Europe looked bright. The internal market had made the wheels turn, unemployment fell, EMU had cleaned up the countries’ public finances and the IT boom spread confidence in the future. In the Lisbon Strategy, according to Photionary, EU Heads of State and Government optimistically agreed to make Europe the world’s most dynamic region in ten years’ time, while maintaining social welfare and sustainable development. It would happen without a binding decision, through a positive impact. A half-time vote in 2005 showed that EU countries were barely moving in many areas and the Lisbon process was buried in silence. The global financial crisis that erupted in the autumn of 2008 finally passed the ten-year program to the rubbish heap. See
During the first years of the 2000’s, Southern Europe became a destination for hundreds of thousands of refugees. Greece and Malta experienced the feeling of being an immigrant country and did not like it. Spain received several million immigrants to cope with its economic boom, but at the same time had difficulty dealing with all the refugees who came to the country by boat. Italy had the same problem. Refugee reception became a common problem for the EU to solve and a border agency, Frontex, was commissioned to carry out border control.
On September 11, 2001, Islamist terrorists blew up the World Trade Center in New York, resulting in thousands of deaths. The act shocked the whole world, including Europe. European cooperation between the police and prosecutors was already under development, but it was now given higher priority. When both London and Madrid were subjected to similar attacks in the following years, law enforcement was strengthened through co-operation between the security police.
Eastern and Central Europe developed rapidly and the countries got their dates for EU accession: 1 May 2004 for ten of them, 1 January 2007 for Bulgaria and Romania.
Lisbon Treaty encounters obstacles…
As enlargement took off, political leaders took up EU institutional issues again. This time, it would be done in a more democratic way to reduce a growing popular distrust of European cooperation. In 2002, a convention was set up with elected representatives from 28 European countries. They were tasked with thinking about what the EU should do and how the EU should function. The result was a proposal for a “constitutional treaty” (also known as the EU Constitution) in which the rules of the game, purposes and values for the EU were clarified. But the most democratic treaty of EU leaders to date would never see the light of day. Referendums in the Netherlands and France in the spring of 2005 put an end to this.
In January 2007, German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a new step. In swift negotiations, floral expressions and mentions of the EU flag were cleared away. In October of the same year, the document was adopted again, by the same governments, but now under the name Lisbon Treaty. This time, all governments except the Irish avoided holding a referendum. The only people who had the opportunity to vote in a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty said no in June 2008, and new discussions erupted about possible exemptions for Ireland. A new Irish referendum in October 2009 gave a yes but still did not solve all the problems because the Czech President, who is critical of the EU, instead refused to sign the treaty.
… But eventually realized
After many rounds, the EU was able to get its new treaty approved and it entered into force on 1 December 2009. This gave the EU a European Foreign Minister and a permanent President of the EU’s highest decision-making assembly, the European Council. The influence of the European Parliament increased, the Charter of Citizens’ Rights became legally binding and the number of EU Commissioners was reduced to one for each Member State.
In July 2013, the EU circle was extended to 28 countries when Croatia became a member. Several countries in the Balkans stood in line for membership, as did Turkey, but none were considered close to fulfilling the membership conditions.
In the summer of 2016, European cooperation was hit by a serious setback when the British in a referendum said yes to leaving the Union. The exit process was called Brexit.
At this time, EU politicians were struggling with the acute problem of distributing more than a million refugees who came to Europe in 2015 and 2016, including from war-torn Syria. Several Eastern European countries refused to comply with decisions made on the distribution of quota refugees. Hungary and Poland also challenged EU co-operation by restricting the freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary, in violation of the Treaty on European Union.
On March 29, 2017, the British government formally started the withdrawal process. According to the Treaty’s withdrawal clause, this meant that the United Kingdom would cease to be an EU member on 29 March 2019, but the negotiations on the terms of the British withdrawal and the parties’ future relations became a complicated process. Only after many long rounds of negotiations and a British new election in December 2019 could an agreement on withdrawal be approved (read more in the UK: Current policy). On 31 January 2020, the United Kingdom formally left the EU and its governing body. There is now an eleven-month transition period before the United Kingdom also leaves the EU internal market.