On March 25, 1957, the representatives of six Western European nations met in Rome to sign a treaty that has since shaped a new Europe from a divided postwar continent. When the treaty took effect on Jan. 1, 1958, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands became the European Economic Community (EEC).
After centuries of warfare and bloodshed, the Treaty of Rome was an ambitious step forward on the path to securing a peaceful future for Europe. The founding members agreed to develop an integrated economic zone with freedom of movement for financial capital, goods, services and people.
They also committed themselves to be subject to common policies for agriculture, competition, trade and transportation, with “community law” taking precedence over national law. The concept of supranational law was a major leap in a Europe made up of competing national states.
Those founding members may have been motivated by different viewpoints. Under President Charles de Gaulle, France might have seen itself as the potential leader of the new project. Germany and Italy could have looked on the EEC as a further step in their rehabilitation within the community of European nations. The Benelux countries tended to have open economies anyway, and the integration of Germany into a larger European context held the promise of protecting them from again being overrun and occupied by their much larger neighbor.
“An ever closer union”
The preamble to the Treaty of Rome invited other European countries to participate in the EEC, promising to “lay the foundations for an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.” Only 10 years after its start, EEC members achieved a customs union for a range of products that has since been expanded to be nearly all-inclusive.
The success of the community attracted more members, and the original EEC was absorbed into the European Union (EU) in 1993. The unification of Europe via the EU was largely completed on May 1, 2004, when the biggest group of new members ever admitted (10) became EU members, bringing the total to 25. On Jan. 1, 2007, two new members in Eastern Europe, Bulgaria and Romania, brought the number of countries in the EU to 27.
The success of the Treaty of Rome can be measured by today’s results. The EEC was to promote economic prosperity among its members by a system of economic integration. The EU has become the world’s largest contiguous market in terms of its gross domestic product, and its largest national economy, Germany, leads the world in exports. Germany especially benefits from the customs union within the EU.
The subsequent Schengen Treaty has effectively removed border controls among participating EU members, and the euro was a further remarkable step toward full integration by transferring domestic monetary policy—and with it a good measure of national sovereignty—to the European Central Bank (ECB).
Considering that 50 years prior to the Treaty of Rome, Europe was divided into a system of entangling alliances that led to World War I, the development of Europe since 1957 is amazing. How will the EU develop in the next 50 years?
Europe at a crossroads
With 27 members comprising most of Europe, the EU is confronted by various challenges and two major questions as it looks to the future. Many Europeans describe the union with comments like “eurocracy” or “eurosclerosis,” reflecting the impression of a distant, cumbersome entity. That’s borne out in its decision-making process, which needs to be amended as more members are admitted.
The original mechanism provided each member state the right to veto any agreement by the EU Council of Ministers. All decisions have to be unanimous, which worked reasonably well when there were fewer members. The veto right also meant that smaller countries like Luxembourg had the same negotiating power as the larger members. As a result, the final negotiations on EU internal treaties tended to become late-night bargaining sessions where smaller member states extracted favorable concessions in exchange for their votes to approve a decision.
It is clear that a 27-member EU cannot function efficiently on this basis. The proposed EU constitution was intended to rectify this weakness by instituting a “double majority” decision process: A majority of member countries comprising a majority of the EU’s population would be sufficient to approve EU decisions. However, the constitution has to be approved by the existing approval process, meaning if only one EU member votes no, it is finished. That is exactly what happened in the spring of 2005 when voters in France and the Netherlands rejected it.
Officially the EU constitution is on hold during a “period of reflection.” However, in January German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced her commitment to get the ball rolling again and has made the issue a priority during her term as president of the rotating EU presidency of the Council of Ministers.
Chancellor Merkel told the European Parliament that not resolving the constitutional impasse would be a “historic failure.” As long as any EU member is willing to put the issue to a national referendum, the chance of getting the constitution approved is marginal, even if the EU uses the familiar tactic of repeatedly putting the issue back on the agenda until voters give the “right” answer.
The other major question the EU must answer is how much farther its expansion should go. Balkan countries aspiring for membership are likely candidates, but what about Muslim Turkey? If Turkey is admitted to the EU, what about other Muslim countries on the fringe of Europe?
Europe’s traditional population is declining, while its Muslim minority grows due to a much higher birth rate. The EU needs to consider the long-term implications of admitting predominantly Muslim states as full members, especially in view of existing latent tensions in several EU countries.
The EU also has several economic issues needing resolution. Social welfare reform and a leveling of tax rates are important considerations for the future health of the euro zone. Currently, some 40 percent of EU funds are allocated to agricultural subsidies. Joint economic and tax policies within the euro zone would likely mean a further transfer of sovereignty to a central authority.
Security concerns since Sept. 11, 2001, and the Madrid bombings of March 2004 have led to increased cooperation among the interior ministries of EU members. The EU has also deployed its troops in peace-keeping missions in the Balkans, the Congo and most recently along the border of Lebanon and Israel.
The basic question faced by the EU, as it looks to its next 50 years, is: Will the EU proceed on to full political union, or will it be largely a free trade zone with its members retaining sovereignty in key areas like foreign policy and defense?
Europe in Bible prophecy
What does Bible prophecy have to say about Europe’s future? In Revelation 17 the apostle John saw a vision of a Beast that represents the revived Roman Empire dominated by religious influence. Centuries earlier, the prophet Daniel saw a comparable vision (Daniel 2 and 7).
John sees a “great whore,” picturing a religious institution as one “with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication” (Revelation 17:2 Revelation 17:2With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
American King James Version×). Politics and religion have been inseparable through almost 1,700 years of European history following the conversion of the Emperor Constantine to Roman Catholicism in the early years of the fourth century.
John then describes a union of “ten kings [leaders] who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour [a short time] as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast” (verses 12-13).
The “beast” appears to be some kind of central authority, to which the leaders of 10 nations or groups of nations voluntarily cede their power (sovereignty). In Europe’s history, empires have been formed by conquest and intimidation instead of voluntary submission. The wording of verse 13 corresponds to a variation on that pattern, one already well established within the European Union.
Verse 14 reveals the time setting: “These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them…” The Lamb is none other than Jesus Christ. Clearly, at the time of the end of man’s rule, there is to be a revived Roman Empire, whose armies will literally fight Christ at His return!
This is not to say that the European Union in its current form is the Beast or the exact configuration of nations that will make up those “ten kings” who cede their authority to the Beast. As some would point out, the EU currently has 27 members with other nations knocking on its door.
On the other hand, the Bible’s use of the word kings in Revelation 17:12 Revelation 17:12And the ten horns which you saw are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.
American King James Version×does not have to mean literal kings. While in John’s day it described a government or its leader, today’s language and geopolitics could take on a different configuration.
The “kings” could represent national leaders or national entities that cede their sovereignty to a central source. In the case of the EU, that has been done most often by national governments proposing agreement with EU treaties and national parliaments approving the proposal, making it binding legislation.
Some predict the eventual collapse of the EU under the weight of its own institutions or a defection of several of its current members. Exiting the EU might not be an option. EU member states voluntarily became part of a mutually dependent community, making it more than just an alliance that one could leave at any time. Any country that leaves the EU would lose access to its huge internal market and financial institutions.
A more likely scenario is one made possible by the treaty of Maastricht: Some EU members will be content to remain in the EU and utilize the advantage of being part of a huge economic zone, while other EU members will proceed along the path to full political union, including joint foreign policy and military authority.
What would prompt them to take these steps? Most likely it will be some major crisis requiring quick action, like a major upheaval on Europe’s southern doorstep, the Middle East, or large-scale terrorist attacks within the EU.
Whatever the cause will be, out of today’s EU will arise a group of 10 nations or a combination of nation groups that will fulfill the vision revealed to the apostle John: “These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.”
Believe it or not, this is what Bible prophecy reveals about where events in Europe are ultimately heading!
For more information, see our booklets The Book of Revelation Unveiled and You Can Understand Bible Prophecy . WNP