In the mid-1980s, my new hobby was shortwave DXing, that is searching for and listening to distant stations within the shortwave radio bands. On a large world map, I’d mark the call letters with a red pen. One of my favorite radio stations was Radio Netherlands Worldwide. I found out that the location of the main studios and transmitter are in Benelux.
There was a small problem with my maps, Benelux was not listed anywhere on them. I hadn’t been taught about Benelux in school, so I was clueless. In the 1980s, that meant a trip to the reference section of the public library was in order. What I found out about Benelux birthed my long term interest in Europe’s Low Countries. I had expected to find the location of a city, instead I discovered that Benelux is a region.
To my delight, I found a new branch of 20th Century history to ponder. In particular, the history of Benelux is the history of the three sovereign nations that later became the much larger European Union. The name, Benelux, contains abbreviations of its three member states. BElgium, the NEtherlands, and LUXembourg.
The seeds for Benelux sprouted on July 25, 1921 when the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union was established. The actual start of Benelux happened at the tail end of World War Two at the London Customs Convention. The governments-in-exile of Nazi occupied Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg met to discuss their economic future. The treaty that established the Benelux Customs Union was signed by representatives of the three governments on September 5, 1944. The treaty entered into force in 1948. By the mid 1950s, nearly all of the trade between the three partners had become tariff-free.
On February 3, 1958, the Treaty of the Benelux Economic Union was signed. It became fully operative on November 1, 1960, when The Benelux Economic Union fully replaced the Benelux Customs Union. The Benelux Economic Union became the first totally free international labor market. Also, the movement of services and resources had become more fluid. Accompanying these changes, came the coordination of welfare policies and the standardization of transportation and postal rates.
Benelux is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium. The Benelux Parliament was founded in 1955. It consists of 21 members of the Belgian national and regional parliaments, 21 members of the Dutch parliament, and 7 members of the Luxembourgish parliament. Decisions are final only after unanimous votes. In addition, the decisions only become locally applicable after approval by each nation’s individual approval and incorporation into law.
The treaty that established the Benelux Court of Justice was signed in 1965 and came into force ten years later. It is comprised of judges from the three nations’ highest courts.
While the Benelux Customs Union was still in force, they were fundamental in the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community. The 1951 Treaty of Paris was signed by members of Benelux plus France, Italy, and West Germany.
In 1957, Benelux, along with the other three members of the Coal and Steel Community signed the Treaty of Rome. This agreement created the European Economic Community, EEC, also known as the Common Market. The EEC brought together more economic integration of Europe. Changes included a unified customs establishment and common external tariffs. In turn, this led to common agricultural, trade, and transportation policies. The EEC also had the goals to recruit other European nations to enlarge their organization and to establish a federalized Europe.
By the 1990s greater expansion of the EEC had become a reality. With the falling of the Eastern Bloc, more nations planned to join the organization. In 1991, Benelux again became instrumental in the further integration of Europe by hosting the EEC members at Maastricht, Netherlands. The European council drafted the Maastrict Treaty, formally known as the Treaty on European Union, TEU. The TEU went into force November 1, 1993 during the Delors Commission. It was at this time the present-day European Union came into being.
Practically speaking, Benelux served as the template and working example for today’s European Union.