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Is the European Union Worth It?

Is the European Union Worth It?

As Great Britain was deciding whether to remain within the European Union or to separate itself from it, the debate prompted worldwide considerations of the real benefits that the European Union actually provides for its members. The people of Britain expressed in their referendum that they would be better off as an independent European nation, one with complete sovereignty over its borders and economic affairs. But at the end of the day, we really do not know what will happen to Britain as it moves forward in a different path than its European counterparts. What real benefits are there to the European Union, and at what cost?

The European Union, shortened as EU, started as the European Economic Community (EEC) with the Treaty of Rome in 1957, which created a “common market” between the six founding countries: Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. This essentially created free trade between member nations and a common external trade policy towards nations outside of the community. The goal was to reunite nations, in particular France and Germany, and create economic and political stability in the aftermath of World War II. Over time, the EU grew as more nations joined into it. In 1987, the EU passed the Single European Act, which removed all lingering trade barriers and gave the EEC more control over policy on issues over the environment, health, consumer protection, etc. Finally, in 1993, the “Single Market” was completed in the Treaty of Maastricht. It allowed for the “four freedoms” of movement of goods, services, people, and money. Essentially, it created a common currency to be used and exchanged among the member nations called the Euro. The treaty also made significant changes to border policy by granting all citizens of member nations an EU citizenship, which allows for people to move more easily within the EU. All these policies combined make Europe more of a fluid and interconnected continent allowing for a more solidly-set feeling of pride in Europe, rather than the nationalism that Europe had become notorious for prior to World War II.

The European Union has made trade among European nations far more efficient and accessible. As an economic union, goods and services can be traded without tariffs or customs restrictions, which allows the market for these goods and services to achieve full economic efficiency and spurs on beneficial competition among firms. Travel is also extremely quick and easy, allowing citizens to go anywhere within the European Union without breaking a sweat. Europe has become leagues more accessible than it had been only 30 years ago when western European nations were in constant struggle with the communist regimes under the Soviet Union.

With this new unified Europe, conflict has been at an all-time low for many years. In fact, the Europa.eu claims that Europe has experienced 70 years of lasting peace. Undoubtedly, the EU has been a promoter for so much good in the world, yet it has done so perhaps at the expense of the nations that make up the union. As evidenced by the British’s discontent with the EU, those who enter into the EU have given up some of their sovereignty as an independent nation. Members are restricted from making some decisions without consent by the EU, and violation of any of the codes of EU law result in some form of penalty from that higher governing power.

Another reality to consider is that by joining a larger organization of governance every member is subsequently affected in some way by events outside of its borders. If there is a market crash in Germany, that crash will have a negative effect on the value of the Euro, which consequently will have effects on the economic conditions of Italy, France, and other member nations that use the Euro. Similarly, a citizen of one member nation is granted EU citizenship, and with that citizenship, he is able to travel freely among all EU member countries without need of passport or other vetting tools. This was a key reason why Great Britain decided to leave the EU, as immigrants from France were pouring over the English Channel into Britain. Great Britain believed that it should have more control over its borders so to protect itself from terrorism, especially in the wake of so many terrorist attacks throughout all of Europe. Essentially, entering the EU limits the amount of control a country’s government has over externalities that otherwise would not significantly affect them.

One relevant example of the devastating influence that a singular nation can have on the EU as a whole is the Greek Debt Crisis. Beginning in 2010 and continuing throughout the decade, the Greek government was hard-pressed to pay back its debts, asking for multiple extensions on payments and enacting bank holidays to mitigate the effects of the bank runs by worried Greek citizens. These effects carried over and strongly devalued the Euro, which consequently negatively affected those nations that use the Euro like France, Germany, and Italy. This called into question Greece’s position in the EU and the EU’s purpose in general after the crisis had such a big shock on the other members.

Although every member is represented in the European Parliament and can vote on matters of policy and action, they are still subject to the final decisions made by the Parliament, whether or not they agree with the resolution. This is especially concerning for those smaller nations such as Luxembourg, Estonia, and Malta, all of whom have less than 7 members of the European Parliament (MEPs). These nations have very little power at all in voting, and there is no second legislative body similar to the United States Senate that acts as a check for this imbalance of representation. Obviously, such little representation can pose huge problems to the small self-sufficient nations of Europe.

There are multitudes of international organizations that in some way restrict the control a country has over its own policies and affairs, such as the United Nations, NATO, or the International Monetary Fund. The key difference between all of these organizations and the European Union is the massive amount of control that the EU has over all of its member nations. Although the EU has helped Europe to flourish economically, it only takes one crisis in one country to reverse years of growth among all the European nations. Perhaps Britain made the right choice by leaving the EU despite all the backlash.


 

Sources:

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “European Parliament.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 3 May 2017.

Eguskiza, Imanol. “Official Website of the European Union - European Union - European Commission.” European Union, 5 Dec. 2017.

Gabel, Matthew J. “European Community.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 Aug. 2014.

Gabel, Matthew J. “European Community.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 Aug. 2014.

Gabel, Matthew J. “European Union.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 13 Apr. 2018, www.britannica.com/topic/European-Union.

McBride, James. “What Brexit Means.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, 9 June 2017.

Chu, Henry. “Greece Debt Crisis Puts Euro, European Union in Peril.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 28 June 2015.

Brand Baggage

Brand Baggage

Civil War or International interference?

Civil War or International interference?