Try to imagine what historians will recall about the European Union in 100 years regarding its future – does it still exist? Were all the common goals achieved? Did a war ever threaten the safety of the member states? The first goal ever set by EU was to achieve peace among its member states after the second world war, which coincides with the hopes of its founders when it was established in 1993. Since that time, all member states have existed in somewhat harmony and no major conflict has ever erupted since then. This important goal has been sustained. The prospect of war in this current climate seems quite slim. Over half a century of integration has created a profound interconnectedness between the political, economic, and social fates of member states. At the same time, however, the fortunes of member states have started to diverge dramatically (OUPblog.com, Vries).
This essay will introduce and discuss the origins of the European Union and the goals established at the time of its creation. It will also delve into the current state of the European union and the possible threats it faces in this current climate. It will then touch on the prospects of the European Union and the challenges to be faced in the future. This essay will also mention the effects of Brexit and the Handling of the Covid-19 virus since it started to affect European countries last March. Britain leaving the EU and the Covid-19 Pandemic in a similar timeframe have both put tremendous strain on Europe and the rest of the world. We will also look at the effects of these happening at the same time and the increasing pressure on the European Union regarding equal distribution of Vaccines, and how all these combined externalities will affect the future of the European Union.
The true impact of this pandemic is difficult to access as we are still very much living in it. Despite all these unprecedented events it still is unclear what the future holds for the European Union. In this essay we will look at the future of the EU, being a state with liberty, democracy, and solidarity.
Origins of the European Union.
The European integration process was established in the 1950s as a direct result of the negative events experiences by the six original founding member states in the aftermath of the Second world war. The prospect of another war at this time was apparent and threatening to the European people, hence why the European Union was founded, there was a growing realisation that only peace and teamwork across each member state could make a strong and united Europe come true (EU politics, Cini). In 1951 the Treaty of Paris was signed which kickstarted the beginning of the (ECSC) the European Coal and Steel Community, the function of which was to provide a trading bloc for coal and steel products across Europe. Following this, The Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957 which began the new European Economic Community (EEC), its founding members became known as the European Communities. After 36 years the European Union as we know it today was finally erected by the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993). The Maastricht Treaty paved the way for the creation of a single European currency: the euro. It also established the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European System of Central Banks and describes their objectives. The main objective for the ECB is to maintain price stability (ECB, 2019).
One of the striking things about the various initiatives and proposals that have been on the table since 1950 is the subject of European Unification (Lodge, J and Spinelli, 1991). Since the first enlargement of the European Community in 1973 northward, which saw the inclusion of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark, more and more countries were clamouring to join the European union and have a taste of feeling united. When the EC recommended that another 10 countries join the union in 2004, it pushed the European Union towards a new level as it become involved in a larger Eastern European market, which in turn helped the EU compete in a larger global economy. We have seen a lot of change and development across the Union over time but some of the problems faced by the founding fathers still plague our leaders today. This Union was to ensure stability across European countries safter the shattering events of the War, to guarantee peace for the future of the EU citizens. Despite this, some people believe that the EU goals have shifted dramatically and are not the same as the original goals of the 1950s. It appears that European integration is less prevalent in this current modern society. There is a reduced sense of togetherness as a Society. Recent surveys taken in different European countries show that some people feel that they are just a citizen of their sole country rather than a citizen of a bigger community- the EU (EU barometer, 2020). This in turn could be damaging to prospects of the EU and could lead to countries leaving since their people feel unattached from the union’s goals and future development plans.
Over recent years, there have been multiple public calls for the European Union to take up a bigger role in areas such as Security and justice, Migration regulation and reception of asylum seekers fleeing from conflict, as well as crime and corruption at our borders. It seems that there are a multitude of issues stemming from our borders and the influx of migrants is becoming too much for them to handle. Immigration was a large factor in why Britain decided to leave the EU and could be a factor in why other countries could potentially leave in the future. There were also calls for improvements in areas of economic and social cohesion and an increase in greater employment opportunities for the public. The original goals made by the EU have shifted since the organisation was first established, but the goals set out when the Treaty of Maastricht was signed were designed to unify Europe in more ways than just economically, 1. To strengthen the democratic governing of participating nations 2. To improve the efficiency of the nationâs 3. To establish economic and financial unification 4. To develop the ‘community social dimension.’5. To establish a security policy for involved nations, and to better protect the future of these member states.
Current Climate of the EU.
A lot has happened in the past decade regarding the European Union, between Brexit, the refugee crisis, and the outbreak of the Covid-19 Pandemic. When the pandemic hit Europe, its economy had decelerated largely, and unemployment had reached its lowest level for years, while inflation remained below 2%. All these events were however accelerated massively by an enormous economic shock as the economies of the member states went into lockdown (social Europe, 2021). Europe is in a particularly difficult stretch in this current climate and depending on what unfolds in this year will directly affect the next few years as well as the economy, quality of life and welfare of the EU’s citizens.
“The European Union is rich, scientifically advanced and endowed with excellent health-care and welfare systems and a political consensus tilted strongly towards looking after its citizens. Yet during the pandemic it has stumbled” (The Economist, 2021). How has Europe fallen so badly behind other countries such as America, and the UK who are indefinitely ahead of the EU in terms of patching up the problems of Covid-19. Covid-19 has swept through Europe’s member states in multiple waves since March 2019. Each new increase in infection brings another round of economic issues not to mention lack of services and jobs to keep the economy ticking over. Europe is facing a huge economic downturn when countries slowly exit lockdown as vaccines ramp up in the coming months. This economic hit could take years to reform. Many experts have also described the downturn as the worst crisis since the great depression (Vatican News, 2020).
The European union is amid attempting to equip its member states with vaccines that will immunise their population from covid-19 so the world can reopen and get back to normal life again. The Advanced Purchase Agreement with BioNTech-Pfizer provides for the initial purchase of 200 million doses on behalf of all EU Member States, plus an option to purchase up to a further 100 million doses. On 15 December 2020, the Commission decided to purchase these 100 million additional doses and will distribute these evenly in the coming months (Europa.eu, 2021). Despite Europe’s immense manpower and political leadership, the teamwork around the handling of the Vaccine distribution has been extremely poor and disappointing. A measly 14% of the European Union’s population has been vaccinated compared to more than half the British population and over 38% of Americans. At this moment in time, it seems that the future of the EU is not as promising or bright as it could be all due to the way the EU is handling Coronavirus in this current state. It will have disastrous economic affects in the future. Not to mention the job loss and lack of spending around the member states which will wipe out small businesses and floor our economy.
For the first time in the history of the European Union’s crisis record, Brexit raises extreme public existential questions about the future of the EU. Before, crisis like this have always been interpreted as exceptionally difficult but not impossible challenges, which can be kept under control in the given framework of the Union. And this framework was the continuous deepening of the integration process, the ‘ever closer union’ as stipulated in the preamble of the treaties (Wahl, P, 2016). The European union’s influence on member states is very consistent across all countries but perhaps the shock of Britain voting to leave the EU will encourage other member state leaders to treat the decision of whether to remain in the EU or not a bit more delicately (GFB.com, 2021). For example, a country like France which is very similar to the UK and just as influential in the European Union also has many pf Eurosceptic politicians that could gain traction as Brexit develops. French politician and leader of Frances far right front National party, Marine Le Pen has increased her campaigns for a French referendum on EU membership. Perhaps more member states will have referendums in the future and the European Union could collapse on itself. There have been some calls among the public for a “Frexit” of their own. The Gilet Jaune (Yellow vests) have called for release from the economic prison of the Eurozone. According to the Journal, France was the country with the highest support of a Brexit result, showing that there is also an existing appetite among the French public for a possible referendum (The Journal, 2016). As well as this, the current French stance on immigration and the great Burkini and Hijab debates will no doubt come into debate if France were to go to referendum. However, shocking the Brexit referendum outcome might have been, it is somewhat not surprising. Since 1973 the British public have been the most Eurosceptic electorate in the European Union (B. Hobolt, 2016). The have always slightly doubted the increasing powers and expansion of the EU, and this can be seen by their insistence on retaining the British Pound as their currency to further aid their economy. It is apparent that since the Danes rejected the Maastricht treaty in 1992, referendums held by the European parliament have always had extremely defining consequences. It is plain to see that the Brexit referendum is one of the most significant in the history of the EU. It is probable the unprecedented political and economic outcomes from this exit will likely have considerable effects on the future of the European union. It will undoubtedly harm the EU’s internal equilibrium. Brexit will harm the EU’s cohesion, confidence, and international reputation. The biggest consequence of all, therefore, is that Brexit will undermine the liberal political and economic order for which Britain stands by and could affect the Eurozone banking significantly (Financial Times, 2016). It is another fine example of British exceptionalism and their deep-rooted traditions. A quote by French ex-president Charles de Gaulle states ‘England is in effect insular, she has in all her doings, very marked and very original habits and traditions’.
Future of the European Union
The European Union is an integration of different member states that intertwines different political systems, institutions, and economic styles. Currently the European union holds 27 member states with a combined population of 500 million people, but the oldest continent worldwide. The Eurozone has been revolutionary and eases trade between eurozone countries. However, this single currency market has led the member states to depend heavily on the European union for the success of their economies. Many of the leaders in the European Union have different agendas and goals for their individual countries and it is apparent that Europe needs to focus heavily on working together more often for common goals that will benefit all member states equally.
Euroscepticism could be a very defining factor in having the potential to break up the European Union as we know it today, after what happened in the UK, we should take this deep-rooted phenomenon more seriously. It is important to be able to recognise this as it is vital to realise that support for the Union remains high in bailout-battered member states that have experiences high levels of economic crisis such as Ireland or Spain (OUPblog, 2018). On the other hand, Euroscepticism continues to be common in countries that have hugely benefitted from the eurozone and single market and survived the global financial crisis quite well, the Netherlands and Germany being s prime example.
However, the EU has larger issues now that just differing agendas for each member states leadership. The European continent is the worlds oldest continent and faces a demographic crisis soon. The median age is 45 across the continent and the labour force is set to decline by 50 million people in 2035 (Walt, 2020). Emigration is a common occurrence especially in the East nowadays, young people going elsewhere in search of job opportunities and economic stability. Countries such as Bulgaria and Croatia have lost large percentages of their population in the last decade and this will continue for the next 50 years. With the impending lack of a young labour force economic growth will slow down which leads to less economic opportunities. A senile population also can cause strain on a healthcare system.
As well as this, a surplus older population and less young people tend to have more traditionalist views and more religious which can lead to countrywide rejection of the European Unionâs liberal ideas which can damage the EU’s vision for the future. The EU has had many crises since its birth but considering these issues, the union has bonded together and managed to stay a string and stable force in the global political scene.
Since the formation of the EU in 1993 the European Union has dealt with issues that are common problems for other leaderships around the world. The European model changed forever with rapid expansion to the East changing the model and structure of the European Union forever. In this globalized world The European Union should continue to develop its financial, political technological and military capacities to ensure its ability to adapt to global threats and have an input in the development of our world.