Many of the processes of EU economic and political integration were … unseen by your average European”


Yugoslavia: nationalism unleashed, Europe’s first refugee crisis since world war II

The birth of the EU & the European ‘super state’

Maastricht Treaty leads to the political union of member states and the birth of the European Union (EU) in 1992.

Schengen Agreement enables free movement through the abolishment of borders between 5 of the 10 EU member states in 1995.

Euro establishes a common currency between member states in 1999.

Eueosceptic parties emerge inN protest

Yugoslavia: nationalism unleashed, Europe’s first refugee crisis since world war II

More than two million people fled the former Yugoslavia's borders since the country begun to disintegrate. | PHOTO BY KAEL ALFORD/NEWSMAKERS
“The breakup of Yugoslavia was something that Europe hadn’t anticipated and Europe wasn’t ready for”

Communism had held the multi-ethnic republic of Yugoslavia together since 1945, despite it being outside of Soviet control.

But as communist rule fell, Yugoslavia fell with it.

Prior to the wars in Yugoslavia, the 1990 Charter of Paris had already drawn Eastern Bloc countries into the West’s ideological framework.

As Europe’s axis shifted, European integration was on the threshold of a historic union.

But nationalism, far from consigned to history, would threaten to pull Europe apart.

Europe's first refugee crisis since WWII

  • The exodus resulting from war and suffering in the former Yugoslavia presented Europe with its biggest refugee crisis since World War II.
  • Roughly 2.3 million people fled from towns and villages in the former federation of six republics since the country began to disintegrate in June 1991.
  • Of the 2.3 million refugees, more than 400,000 fled to countries outside the former Yugoslavia's borders. Germany has admitted the largest number, 200,000, followed by Hungary, with 60,000, Austria, with 50,000, and Sweden, with 44,000.

The European Super State

Stone memorial in front of the entry to the Limburg Province government building in Maastricht, commemorating the signing of the Maastricht Treaty | IMAGE: WIKIPEDIA, CREATIVE COMMONS 4.0
“The Maastricht Treaty was about the single currency … but was plainly leading towards the creation of a political entity in Europe, a European state, a European government.”

The end days of communism had brought uncertainty and opportunity to Europe. Still coming to terms with the war in Yugoslavia that had left more than two million refugees in its wake, Western Europe pressed ahead with its most ambitious plan for greater integration.


By February 1992, the Maastricht Treaty made the 12 member states beholden to shared economic, social and security policies.


It would also pave the way for a common currency – the euro.

On January 4, 1999, the euro is established in 11 of the 15 EU member states and begins trading at $1.1747, hitting a high of $1.1906 on the same day.

Britain, Sweden and Denmark stay out of the single currency and Greece is initially excluded because of its weak economy.


By 1995, the Schengen Area allowed people from EU member states free movement across countries.

But freedom of movement would not be freely available to all.

A disused customs control point in Brunehaut, Belgium. The Schengen Agreement, which led to the creation of Europe's borderless Schengen Area, was signed on 14 June 1985. | PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES

The political and economic strings of Europe were being pulled from the EU headquarters in Brussels.

The gap between governance and the governed, was getting ever greater.

Eurosceptic parties emerge in protest

Joerg Haider, governor of the Austrian state of Carinthia and former leader of the Austrian right-wing Freedom Party. | PHOTO BY SEAN GALLUP/GETTY IMAGES

By 1999, a spate of newly established or newly invigorated populist-nationalist parties began to emerge.

The True Finns in Finland, the Sweden Democrats and the Danish People’s Party were all, to some degree, vehicles for anti-EU sentiment.

France’s National Front refocused its own nationalist manifesto against the supranational union, while in Britain, the UK Independence Party would begin to campaign to get Britain out of Europe.

Jörg Haider

  • Jörg Haider (1950-2008) was the long-time leader of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) and later Chairman of the Alliance for the Future of Austria (Bündnis Zukunft Österreich, BZÖ), a breakaway party from the FPÖ.
  • Several countries imposed mild diplomatic sanctions against his party's participation in government.
  • Haider died in a car accident shortly after leading the BZÖ in the 2008 Austrian Parliamentary elections.

But at the dawn of a new millennium, Austria had shown that after half a century of being held in check, nationalism was rising through Europe, and taking a new form.

Watch the film