The European Community (EC), most important of three European Communities, was originally founded on March 25, 1957 by the signing of the Treaty of Rome under the name of European Economic Community. The 'Economic' was removed from its name by the Maastricht treaty in 1992, which at the same time effectively made the European Community the first of three pillars of the European Union, called the Community (or Communities) Pillar.
European Communities is the name given collectively to the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (EEC), and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), when in 1967, they were first merged under a single institutional framework with the Merger Treaty.
EEC soon became the most important of these three communities, subsequent treaties adding it further areas of competence that extended beyond the purely economic areas. In 1992 the word 'Economic' was removed from its name by the Maastricht treaty.
The other two communities remained extremely limited: for that reason often little distinction is made between the European Community and the European Communities as a whole. Furthermore in 2002 the ECSC ceased to exist with the expiration of the Treaty of Paris which established it. Seen as redundant, no effort was made to retain it -- its assets and liabilities were transferred to the EC.
The Maastricht treaty turned the European Communities as a whole into the first of three pillars of the European Union, also known as the Community Pillar or Communities Pillar. In Community Pillar policy areas decisions are made collectively by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). Furthermore it is within this first pillar that the member states have relinquished parts of their sovereignty to partly supranational structures, as contrasted to the 2nd (Common Foreign and Security Policy) and 3rd (Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters) Pillars, where member states maintain a veto over many policy decisions.
The Treaty of Amsterdam enlarged the scope of the authority of the European Community by transferring to it the areas of illegal immigration, visas, and political asylum from the third pillar (then called Justice and Home Affairs).
| Evolution of the structures of the European Union
The future of the European Communities
The signed (but as yet unratified) European Constitution will merge the European Community with the other two pillars of the European Union, making the European Union the legal successor of both the European Community and the present-day European Union.
Euratom will, under the terms of the present treaties, cease to exist in 2007, when its own founding treaty expires. It was for a time proposed that the European Constitution should repeal that treaty, in order to terminate the legal personality of Euratom at the same time as that of the European Community, but this was not included in the final version.