What has the European Union (EU) done for Europe?
What has the EU ever done for us, and how does it affect the countries that join it?
Before we can answer these questions, we need to know how the EU has changed over the last 25 years?
The year is 1992 when the modern-day European Union was founded.
The curtain has closed, the Soviet Union was no more, a shattered Eastern Europe sought the wealth of the west.
The collapse of communism across central and eastern Europe, which began in Poland and Hungary, is symbolised by the fall of the Berlin Wall in ‘89.
A wall that had split Germany in two since the end of WWII.
The unification of all of Europe began by ending the partition of Germany in 1990: bringing together two Germanies after more than 40 years.
This is significant as ever since WWII the economies of Germany and France had been in equilibrium.
But with this addition of new territory, new resources, and new manpower, Germany would soon be the strongest and one of the fastest-growing rich economies on the continent.
This greatly upset the balance of Europe.
2 world wars were started because the world feared and tried to halt Germany’s power.
The unification of Germany created a nation too powerful to be on equal footing with other European powers, but not powerful enough to lead Europe.
Leaving us today with a Germany unsure of its position in the world: where many view her as the giant leading the EU while in reality having its plans shot down many times and a people reluctant to take their place among the world powers after the last two world wars.
What has the EU done for Europe?
So who is allowed to join the EU?
Up until this moment, there were no clear requirements for joining the EU.
And with so many new countries in Europe wanting to join the union it was time to make a list.
1. The country must be a democracy with the rule of law, human rights, and protection of minorities.
2. A market economy able to compete with the other EU economies
3. Be able to eventually participate in all EU activities such as the Euro and Schengen.
Austria, Sweden, and Finland joined the EU in 1995 as they pretty much had everything covered already.
But the next enlargement needed more time.
Eastern Europe wanted to join the EU, seeing the benefits of having such a giant market open up for trade.
Not to mention that sweet, sweet development fund.
So, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria began working hard to becoming free-market democracies.
Romania and Bulgaria were a bit slower and joined in 2007, but the other 8 countries, as well as Malta and Cyprus, joined the EU in 2004.
Finally ending the division of Europe decided 60 years ago, by the ‘Great Powers’ of that time.
And in 2013 the newest member joined the EU, Croatia.
Giving us the 28 members we know today.
Over the years, the EU has adopted its own currency, taken the lead in reducing climate change, and is currently reducing roaming charges across the EU.
So what was one of the Union’s biggest failures?
It tried implementing an EU-wide constitution.
It would replace the national constitutions, make the EU more efficient, and create a single agency dealing with foreign affairs such as trade deals, a seat in the United Nations, and negotiate treaties concerning important EU topics.
But this was a change in the constitution and therefore required a referendum in 9 countries.
Spain and Luxembourg voted in favour, but in France and the Netherlands, the constitution was voted down.
This meant an EU-wide constitution had become impossible and the other 5 nations cancelled their referendums.
And here is where the biggest critique of the EU comes into play.
After people voted down an EU proposal, the leaders of Europe decided that, instead of calling it a constitution, they would make it a treaty.
And seeing as countries didn’t need a referendum to sign a treaty, this ‘treaty’ came into effect across the EU.
Whether an EU constitution is objectively good or bad.
This: the refusal of the EU to listen to its citizens is what’s creating Euroscepticism across the EU today.
It is here that we see perfectly the complaints summed up by the likes of Marine le Pen, Geert Wilders, and Nigel Farage.
It is no coincidence that Euroscepticism is greatest in France and The Netherlands, their Eurosceptic parties formed in the wake of the referendums.
So, what has the EU ever DONE for the US?
If you want to study or do an internship in another country, the EU will give you a fund to help pay for your expenses.
While this isn’t enough to cover everything, it does mean that you can gain experience unique to that foreign country, that you can learn a valuable foreign language, that you learn unique skills from that foreign country.
Well, what if I’m not a student?
Then your country benefits from unique experience and skills that will develop businesses once those students return.
Over 2 million people have thus far benefitted from Erasmus, linking the European countries together, creating unity, and help develop their own countries with unique foreign skills.
Secondly, the EU has massive influence in the world.
If you are a small country, let’s say Malta, and you want to have a trade deal with a large country such as the USA or China to increase trade.
Well, those big countries are going to ignore you “yeah, we have more important economies to negotiate with, thanks”.
But being part of the EU means that you get to benefit from EU trade deals.
As one of the largest economies, you get to dictate terms.
“But such a small country has no say in the negotiations” that’s not true.
All 28 members of the EU have to agree with any deal the EU makes with other countries.
So if Malta doesn’t agree, then the deal can’t be put into place and the EU will hammer out an agreement until all 28 member agrees.
This is to assure that large countries such as Germany, France, or the UK can’t have too much power in the union.
“But what is in this for the large economies?”
Well, France might have a large economy, but it is no equal to the USA, China, or Japan.
This way, being part of the EU means you get to dictate many more terms to large countries and those countries will actually come to YOU as you are now part of the largest market in the world.
On top of that, the EU has a seat at the UN meaning that your country is represented twice in the largest international organization.
But the shining Example of European progress in recent years?
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Poland and Ukraine were on equal footing: similar size economy, similar population, similar resources.
Poland chose Europe, Ukraine Chose Russia.
Poland received massive economic help from the EU, while Ukraine did not.
Poland reformed it’s government and economy a lot, Ukraine did not.
Now, 25 years later, the average pole earns 3 times as much as the average Ukrainian.
Poland’s economy is now 3 times larger than Ukraine.
And the rest of the EU countries earn over 140 billion dollars every year by trading with Poland.
The EU currently earns 10 times as much in trade with Poland every year as it invested in Poland for the past 25 years.
The European Union isn’t perfect, as I will show in the last 2 episodes of this series.
But think of all that the EU has brought us: It has brought Democracy and Unity to a continent divided by communism and dictatorship.
Bringing together a war-torn continent to establish 70 years of peace.
It has brought wealth to millions of people who knew only hardship.
Europe is a harbinger of freedom.
Bringing peace, prosperity, and democracy to millions of people.
So what do you think?
Has the EU been a good influence or a bad influence on Europe?
Let me know in the comments.
What has the EU done for Europe?