Western European Union (WEU), European security and defense organization. It was set up in Brussels in 1955 as a defensive, economic, social, and cultural organization, consisting of Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands; Portugal and Spain became members in 1988, and Greece joined in 1995. After France had refused to ratify a treaty providing for a European Defense Community, the WEU was created as a substitute solution embodied in the Paris Pacts. Since Western military cooperation had been dominated by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Western economic coordination by the European Economic Community and later the European Free Trade Association, the primary function of the WEU was to supervise the rearmament of Germany, as provided for under the Paris Pacts. In 1960, the WEU transferred its cultural and social activities to the Council of Europe. Under the Maastricht Treaty (1992), the WEU was envisioned as the future military arm of the European Union (EU); it remained institutionally autonomous. In 1995 the Eurocorps, a joint force drawn from some of the WEU members, became operational. An additional 18 nations from central Europe, NATO, and/or the EU joined the WEU as associate members, observers, or associate partners in the 1990s. In 1999 the EU voted to absorb all the functions of the WEU in preparation for making the EU a defensive and peacekeeping military organization as well as a social and economic one.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.