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Global recession and inflated energy prices - Europe’s post-war boom comes to an abrupt end in the 1970s. New social movements challenge the political order.

Amid the economic and social turmoil, the European Community continued to build up the common market. Greece, Portugal and Spain became New Member states – all of which had shaken off the shackles of dictatorship.

Riven by structural problems, communist countries entered a period of decline, and in 1989, the bicentenary of the French revolution, these regimes are brought crashing down through mostly peaceful revolutions.

The ending of the Cold War offered the chance for Europe to gradually come together in closer co-operation. Former communist countries started the process of joining the European Union, doubling the number of its member states. Nations agreed to abandon more and more of their powers in order to achieve supranational efficiency.

Although the financial and Euro crisis of 2008 has shown the European Union how closely bound together it is, these problems also highlight shortcomings. They are tests of European solidarity.

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Entrance to fifth floor - Shattering Certainties


In 1973 oil costs rocketed by 70% as Arab producer countries belonging to the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cartel quadrupled their prices. The knock-on effect was a global energy crisis and recession, ending Europe’s boom.

Western European belief in unlimited growth was shattered and traditional industries such as steelmaking and mining went into decline, while new technological and economic sectors emerged. Western countries now had the harsh realities of low growth, inflation and mass unemployment to deal with.

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Inspired by the student 'revolutions' of the late 1960s, a new generation wanted change and were prepared to fight for it. Tired of the old attitudes and ways of doing things that had been in place for decades, they now demanded more individual rights and opportunities to participate in politics.

Greece, Spain and Portugal all saw their ruling dictatorships collapse between 1974-1975. Although the events were different in each country all three experienced political instability, economic crisis and painful historical legacies on their paths to democracy. They would eventually enter the fold of the European Community.

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The contradictions between communist propaganda and the realities of people’s daily lives became increasingly obvious in the 1970s and 1980s. Economic stagnation replaced former rapid growth, and debt crippled countries.

By the end of the 1980s, food shortages, constant surveillance, censorship, restrictions and even prohibitions on travel outside the communist bloc were causing frustrations and tensions, in some cases to an unbearable degree, among citizens of these countries. Such frustrations would all play their part in the eventual fall of communism in 1989.

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A thawing of relations took place between the Western and Eastern blocs. In 1975, thirty-five countries, including the United States and the Soviet Union, met in Helsinki, Finland, for the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

1979 – a historic occasion for increased democracy in Europe, with the first direct elections to the European Parliament by citizens of the Member States. No longer would this important assembly be selected by national parliaments; it was now the first international body directly elected by universal suffrage.

What is the Single Market? It’s the creation of a unified economic area where people, money, goods and services can move freely. The European Single Market had been one of the European Community’s main goals from its foundation.

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The map of Europe was transformed again after 1989 with new nations emerging and old borders re-drawn.

A re-united Germany came peacefully into being in 1990 under international supervision. The same could not be said however for the former Yugoslavia where ethnic, religious and cultural differences led to brutal civil wars and ethnic cleansing.

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Whether they like it or not, Europeans' modes of living are increasingly similar even if their diverse cultural identities remain vibrant... Open borders, increased mobility, better communications, shared laws and a single currency are all having an effect. You could call it ‘Europeanisation’.

The European Union is now more politically united than it has ever been, but internally still very diverse. What will the future bring? Will Europe continue to integrate? Or will it fragment again? Will its original beliefs – in peace and the four freedoms – survive the test of time?

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Much has changed in Europe over the past 25 years since the eclipse of communism. Archives and files once locked away have been opened up to reveal the experiences and memories of people which had been repressed. This resulted in a ground-breaking change in the interpretation of history.

Public monuments, memorials, street names, museums, even school books have and continue to be contested sites in the process of remembering or forgetting. The question of ‘What is European memory?’ takes on new relevance.

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