Pros and Cons of European Union
‘A federated Europe is essential to the security and peace of the free world.’ Jean Monnet, a French political economist and a founding member of the European Union reiterated in his quote, the need for European countries to set aside their differences and envision a unified Europe. The world wars had wounded Europe and it was time for it to heal. The only way Europe would rebuild itself would be through integration of European countries into a superstate. Essentially it envisioned a union of states and partly but not entirely a fully federated or supranational state.
Europe’s integration began with the formation of the steel and coal community in 1951, the original countries being Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The aim was to promote strong economic ties as well as establish trade development. The community then expanded dramatically in the successive years thus broadening its geographical scope. Currently, the union is made up of 28 member states and boasts of significant political and economic achievements. It is by far, the most successful institution and worth mentioning as an example of a strong regional intergovernmental organization. A majority of these achievements revolve around Europe’s economic growth, political stability, and regional security. Europe’s economic growth in light of Europe’s integration is tied to The Treaty of Rome of 1957 which saw Europe experience the beginning of a huge economic shift. In this treaty, a common market among member states was created making it possible for manufacturing industries to sell their products and services to neighbouring countries across Europe. Manufacturing industries could easily sell their goods to markets outside their countries. In 1968, the treaty of Rome was revisited and updated with an aim to further the already existing economic boost that was being felt across Europe. The treaty was updated to eliminate the heavy customs and tariffs that were being placed on goods. Policies of trade were outlined in articles 110-116 of the Treaty of Rome and policies of agriculture were standardized across every member state, through the common agricultural policy in articles 38-47 of the Treaty of Rome.
The common agricultural policy (CAP) was an area in which competence was shared between the European Union (EU) and EU countries. Goods were now being shipped easily and traders had no conflicting trade policies coming from their neighbours. The European Union common market began to apply itself not only to the manufacturing industries but every other industry after the Maastricht Treaty of 1st November 1993. Profit margins of many member states began to shoot up and the economy of Europe was on a rise. It has continued to maintain its momentum and despite the new economic challenges that began to arise, Europe is still standing as the world’s largest free-trade bloc.
Europe not only focused on economic growth but also actively sought to have political integration for the member states. Although a lot of controversy concerning Europe’s new political direction would arise, Europe still pursued a unified political structure. A European convention was held and it set out the blueprint of Europe’s political future in what was the European constitution. This was however rejected by France and The Netherlands who claimed that part of the content contained therein threatened their national sovereignty. What followed was the Treaty of Lisbon, also known as the Reform Treaty which was signed in 2007 and came into effect in 2009 . The aim of the treaty was to create a stronger European Union which was going to have the capacity to meet and address global challenges. Europe also wanted to strengthen its institutions so as to be able to serve Europe in a better way. The Treaty of Lisbon streamlined Europe’s decision-making process by introducing a unified approach to policy-making. This treaty provided for a structure under which there was a European Commission, consisting of twenty-eight commissioners who are nominated by EU member governments and who make up the EU’s central administrative unit. Secondly, it included the Council of ministers who set the policies and proposed new legislation. A European court of justice, as well as a European parliament, were also formed. The European Parliament has played a key role right from the start in unifying the politics of Europe and it has gained confidence over the years to have a strong footing in the contribution of the policies that are made in Europe. The people of Europe vote for legislation on a majority basis, due to the introduction of a system of qualified majority voting which allows democracy.
The adoption of the European charter of fundamental rights further protected the freedom of Europe and its political rights. It provided for common rights among members of the European Union giving more rights to European citizens. Any legislation made by the European government has to comply with the charter of fundamental rights and in this manner, the people of Europe are protected under the charter. The charter strengthens the protection of fundamental rights by making those rights more visible and more explicit for citizens. Europe, therefore, has achieved a strong political unit and with that is able to formulate policies that are well thought through having undergone intense scrutiny. It is little wonder that Europe’s policies are highly effective most of the time.
The regional security of Europe was directly tied to the economic and political or social policies of Europe. Once strong economic policies and political institutions were established, it followed that security policies must also be put in place. This was done so that the geographical regions in Europe are assured of security within and outside their regions. The much commitment that was centred towards Europe’s economic and political advancements was also put towards developing its regional security. The aim was to not only create new institutions or to agree on new political declarations, however necessary and useful both often prove: it was rather to ensure sufficient adjustment of the mandate and functions of the European security institutions to the new requirements. The need for regional security policies in Europe was key in continuing a thriving Europe and therefore it worked to develop strong regional security measures.
When The Treaty of Lisbon came into effect in 2009, it strengthened the European Union’s foreign and security policy by providing certain posts geared towards security measures. It created the post of the European Union High representative for foreign affairs and security policy. It also created the post of the European External Action Service which served as the European Union diplomatic corps. The European foreign and security sought to strengthen Europe’s international security and preserve peace. Europe not only focused on internal security but also focused on the security of neighbouring domains. This was evident when it got involved as a middleman in resolving the conflict between Russia and Georgia in August 2008. It contributed to a ceasefire in what was considered as the world’s trouble spots at the time. Another significant aspect of the European Union in light of the foreign and security policy was the European Neighbourhood Policy( ENP) which was put in place to govern Europe’s relations with its Eastern and southern neighbours. Europe undoubtedly secured the impressive clout of security which would not have been achieved if the countries worked as individual entities as opposed to a unified European entity.
By 2015, the European Union had created a connected digital single market and multiple new job opportunities were created. This, in turn, reduced the percentage of unemployed people in Europe. The Living standards of Europeans were improving dramatically. The European Union made contributions to environmental conservation. It played a key role in trying to curb climate change by creating a resilient energy union with a forward-looking climate change policy. These are only but a few of the many achievements the European Union has made since it was established.
All these achievements portraying the European Union as a successful institution did not, however, fail to bring a number of serious challenges along. The European Union has had its fair share of challenges that have led to a number of crises in Europe. It has managed to curb some of these challenges but others keep cropping up and continue to challenge Europe’s decision to Integrate. Some of these challenges have become so intense as to question the sincerity and credibility of the European Union. These challenges have also threatened the continued membership of some of the union’s member countries. The competence and strength of the European Union have been put to test by many of these challenges and Europe has had to face these challenges because the option of disintegrating is not something Europe wants to explore.
The issue of sovereignty has been the bone of contention for many member states. Many of the members have had to deal with the discussion on the extents of pooled sovereignty which was taking center stage. Many member countries appreciate Europe’s integration but contend with it on the extent to which it interferes with their sovereignty. With the gradual rise of nationalism, some of these countries have contended with the union over fears that it threatens the sovereignty of governments. The European Union legal and political hurdles can be traced back to as early as 1992 when the integration began experiencing resistance from some countries. For instance, the Danes rejected the Maastricht Treaty in the year 1992. They rebelled on account of their claims that this Treaty could endanger their sovereignty as a self-governing country. In 2001, The Irish people rejected the Nice treaty and finally in 2005 the French government and the Dutch government strongly reject the European Union constitution. All these actions were as a result of contention on the issue of sovereignty among sovereign countries within the Union.
Britain is the most recent example of countries that expressed outright resistance to the European Union. Britain recently held a referendum on its membership in the European Union and the larger majority of the people voted to leave the European Union. This is what was dubbed, Brexit which meant Britain exiting from the European Union. The United Kingdom announced that it will be exiting from the Union by 29 March this year. The government of Britain is currently trying to secure a deal with the European Union, in order to establish what its new relationship with the European Union will look like. Britain clearly expressed her desire to leave the European Union over what her citizens view as the roadmap to freedom. Whether or not Britain made a wise move or considered all the possible effects of her decision, what stands out is that it wanted to leave the European Union and it saw to it that they do that. Resistance within the European Union consequently hinders the union from forming deeper political ties and further unifying Europe as a global power.
Another major challenge that faces the European Union is the economic crisis that arose with the expansion of Europe. A number of member countries were troubled with serious debt and financial crises that took a heavy toll on the union. A good number of countries within the European Union have experienced a rising government debt, placing the burden upon the Entire Union. Crisis-hit countries such as Greece, Italy, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, caused the European Union to bear the responsibility of bailing them out of the crisis, therefore, stabilizing their economies. This was done in the spirit of inclusion for all states including the lesser developed European states. However, doing this caused greater economic challenges and was met with resistance from members of better economy countries like Germany and France.
A major discussion was focused on what caused the Eurozone crisis. The crisis began around the time when the global crisis arose and many economists attribute it to a lot of borrowing from foreign countries by governments. In the case of the EZ crisis, the imbalances were extremely unoriginal. They were the standard culprits that have been responsible for economic crises since time immemorial – namely, too much public and private debt borrowed from abroad. Too much, that is to say, in relation to the productive investment financed through borrowing. In addition to that, other claims on what could have caused the crisis were also presented. For instance, Germany attributed the crisis to overly extravagant governments such as those of Greece and Italy. In the eyes of Germany, this crisis was all about profligacy. Greece set the tone when it lied about its circumstances and lived beyond its means. Many economists, however, view this economic challenge as a complex challenge that would require a very long process to ultimately resolve and Europe would have to stand up to the challenge. This is because the situation clearly threatened Europe’s integration. Many Europeans were unhappy with the EU because of the crisis. Efforts that were being put in place in trying to resolve the challenge included imposing tax plans in a bid to resolve the problem. In Northern Europe for example, the idea was to have a plan which would raise funds through taxes for the countries where the crisis had hit hard but in doing so, a lot of resistance stemmed up from Northern Europe opposing this new plan. Another example is with the great revolt that happened in Greece when its government struck a deal with the European Union that would bail Greece out of its debt in exchange for austerity measures. This led to violent protests in Greece for the first time in a long period of time.
Europe still faces a migration of refugees crisis that has caused Europeans a great tumult over the past few years. Europe loosened its borders when it integrated into the European Union and people could freely move from country to country, within the member states. This meant that there were no strict border control measures and this saw a sudden large number of people migrating into and within Europe. The Schengen agreement of 1985 was responsible for the free movement of the member states because it provided that border checks be largely abolished. It was followed by the Schengen convention which brought with it the complete abolition of border controls and proposed that there be a common visa policy for the member states. It was first put into place as a step toward Europe integration and it did serve its purpose of bringing the people of Europe together, as well as contributing economically in the tourism industry.
However, it became a problem when Europe realized that a large number of people were seeking refuge in Europe and it was failing in managing these numbers. Refugees were fleeing Northern Africa into Europe because of the Arab wars. Illegal immigrants were already flooding Europe and Europeans began to fear for their security. This especially because they become susceptible to more terrorist attacks. Members that were skeptical about the sudden number of refugees flooding Europe began expressing their discomfort. This was evident when several anti-refugee protests began to emerge across Europe. Nationalistic individuals and member states began to call for the revision of the Schengen plan in a bid to start imposing border controls, ultimately controlling the flow of refugees and illegal immigrants in Europe. There were also Syrian refugees who were escaping war into Europe and were not going to receive a warm welcome from anti-muslim Europeans who were not so open to the Muslim refugees. This is also evident in their fear for the prospect of Turkey becoming a European Union member state. Populous Muslim Turkey does not seem welcome in the Union despite her constant attempts to join the European Union. Nationalistic feelings mounted constant pressure on the European Union to act accordingly.
The European Union has had to deal with the refugee migration crisis while employing humanistic measures at the same time, something that has proven a serious challenge, especially with the pressure arising from the anti-refugee groups in countries like Germany. In addition to that, Europe has also faced several terror attacks and the members attribute this to its loosely held border control measures and inability to curb illegal immigrants. Europe has had constrained relationships with its largest neighbor to the East.
Historically, they have had problems due to Russia’s authoritarian way of governance. The west has also always differed from Russia’s communist beliefs and has always portrayed itself as anti-communist. However today they recognize each other as individual states and cooperate on special areas of interest despite their differences.
The above challenges remind us of the European Union as a Regional Intergovernmental organization that is not exempt from overwhelming challenges just like all the other organizations. No single Regional Intergovernmental Organization is void of challenges. However, the amount of effort being put in place to curb or reduce these challenges is what makes the difference and with no doubt, the European Union still sets a remarkable effort for in doing that.
Many countries still want to join the Union because of its capacity to drive or influence change among its member states. Apart from Turkey, there are other countries that are keen on joining the union and are currently under review. According to BBC news, Turkey and Croatia began accession talks in 2005. This resulted in Croatia being formally accepted in 2013, but Turkey is still under review and could complete negotiations in about 10 years. Albania also wants to join the membership and it applied for full membership in 2009. The EU suggests that Albania does more to tackle issues of corruption, human trafficking, and organized crime before joining the union. Albania has been confirmed as a candidate but it may take a while before satisfying the European Union membership criteria. Iceland applied for full membership in 2009 and the EU has opened accession talks with Iceland since 2010. Kosovo is another country that has expressed its interest in joining the EU. Although some countries do not acknowledge Kosovo’s independence, there is a possibility that it may become a member of the European Union. Many Europeans are still split on Kosovo as a breakaway territory but this has not deterred its ambition to join the union. Macedonia applied for full membership in 2004 and was confirmed as a candidate in 2005. The main challenge that has slowed down the process of Macedonia joining the EU is the dispute with Greece over Macedonia’s name. Lastly, Serbia has also expressed interest in joining the European Union. Serbia applied for full membership in 2009 and was confirmed as a candidate in 2012. Both Kosovo and Serbia decided not to block each other in their quest to join the EU despite their bitter relationship with each other.
The European Union will continue to thrive and is unlikely to disintegrate any time soon. The foundation laid by the Union is strong and will stand in the face of the most difficult of challenges. Europe must only be more resilient and decisive in solving its problems while maintaining its decision to have great integration. It must carefully review its history and stick to the vision of its formation while expanding geographically. As for Britain, only time will tell whether its decision to leave such a strong economic and political union is a good move. This, however, is less likely to largely affect the Union given that more countries are likely to join the union. This integration remains by far, Europe’s greatest asset.
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