Contemporary European History

Milestones of European History 1945-2022

Oliver RathkolbJuly 31 – August 114 ECTS credits


In order to understand the decision making of the European Union in 2022 it is necessary to analyze the milestones of European history after the end of World War II in 1945 in a geopolitical context. The Super Power confrontation, the “Cold War”, between the US leading the Western Bloc and the Soviet Union dominating the Communist Bloc system shaped the development of the “West”. This development of superpower confrontation was influenced by fears of Atomic Warfare in the 1950s and 1960s but contained by efforts of Détente in the 1970s. The formation of the western alliance of NATO and the European integration with the Council of Europe and the European Coal and Steel Community are a result of the Cold War. Simultaneously the Soviet Union changes the economic and political structure of the Communist East and Southeast in Europe establishing the military system of the Warsaw Pact and the economic socialist counterpart of the European Economic Community, the Comecon.

In this course, we shall analyze and discuss the reasons for the first major integration step, the foundation of the European Economic Community (EEC) in Rome in 1957 with six member states. Still the US plays a major role as a hidden hand mediator helping to overcome the still strong resentments between France and Western Germany. Individual European decision makers like Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer and others played an important role to overcome deep routed prejudices and hatred.

Already in the 1960s – a few years after the establishment of the EEC – the French President Charles De Gaulle vetoed the decision-making and hindered an integration of Great Britain – until 1973.

Under Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission 1985-1995 the EU already seems to fall behind Asia and the US in economic terms during the beginning globalization. Delors convinced the EU member states to move towards a strong and tight political, economic and military union (the later outside NATO). The unexpected end of the Cold War 1989/1991 and the mostly peaceful political transformations in the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe and the Russia reduced this strategy to the economic union and a common currency.

The enlargement from 15 member states in 1995 to 28 and the negative effects of the world financial and economic crisis since 2008 as well as the recent migration and refugee flows pushes the EU into an unknown direction and forces the necessity of total reform.

After Brexit and the UK leaving the European Community the EU is facing a major and deep crisis with an open end in the growing geostrategic and economic struggles between the US, China, Russia and the EU. These economic and political problems are influenced by the EU-responses to the negative effects of the Covid-19 crisis hitting the international community world-wide. By analyzing the soft but very important emotional basis of Europeanism like identity, value systems and culture after 1945 as well as the integrative impacts of institutions like the European Court of Justice and the European Court for Human Rights options for the future of the EU will be presented and debated.

Requirements: Your final score will be made up of the following three elements: participation in class room discussions (20%), oral presentation of a short paper on a topic of the course based on provided literature and supported research (3-4 pages) (40%), and writing an individual final essay on a broad general topic of the course written in class during the final exam (40%).