Organization established in 1955 as a consultative forum for military issues among the Western European governments. It ceased to exist as a treaty-based international organization on 20 June 2011, at which time its membership had comprised Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Luxembourg, the UK, Germany, Spain and Portugal (from 1990), and Greece (from 1995). The Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, Poland, and Turkey were associate members.
Policy was agreed during meetings of the foreign ministers of the member nations, with administrative work carried out by a permanent secretariat and specialist committees. The WEU was charged under its charter with ensuring close cooperation with NATO. However, the European Council meeting at Cologne, Germany, in June 1999, agreed that the European Union should be given responsibility for many of the military crisis management activities previously the remit of the WEU.
During its early years it supervised the gradual rearmament of West Germany and the transfer of the Saarland back to West German rule in 1957. In the early 1990s attempts were made to transform the WEU into a body to coordinate Western European security policy either within NATO or within the European Union (EU). In 1991 WEU member states who were also signatories to the Maastricht Treaty agreed on the need to develop a European security and defence capacity.
Prior to the WEU, the Western Union was formed by the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, to implement the Treaty of Brussels in 1948, ‘for collaboration in economic, social, and cultural matters and for collective self-defence’. In 1950, the defence functions of the Western Union were transferred to the newly created North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Following the failure to establish the European Defence Community in 1954, West Germany and Italy were invited to sign the Brussels Treaty and to join NATO. They joined with the five original signatories to form the WEU.