The European Union was a long time dream that has evolved into a highly sophisticated union of member states that packs a solid economic wallop and political purpose. The member countries: Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Slovenia, Swede, and the United Kingdom – work together to benefit all the citizens of Europe through a unified system of laws, and policies that cross international lines for the unity of all.
The Formation of the European Union
In 1951 the formation of European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) between France, West Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands caused these countries to pool the steel and coal resources of its member-states. They agreed to this by a treaty signing in Paris French economist Jean Monnet had the initial concept and was supported in this pursuit of the French foreign minister Robert Schuman who realized that there was strength in numbers. The United States also strongly supported this union as a positive step forward in recovering from the depredations of WWII.
The “Treaty of Paris” was effectuated in 1952 and limited to 50 years. The creation of this coalition was key as steel had played an important part in arms production during the war and was a fundamental resource of the western European states. It also kept major countries from exploiting it for their own ends. The goal of the treaty was to unite in cooperation and reconciliation especially of France and Germany by controlling steel and coal that were fundamental to war industries.
From the humble steel beginnings of the ECSC, came the impetus to create the European Community which ultimately became the European Union . To commemorate the role that the ECSC played in this creation, 9 May was chosen as The “European Day” to commemorate and celebrate the founding of the European Union. Robert Schuman presented the proposal on May 9, 1950 known as the “Schuman Declaration” that is considered to be the beginning of the creation of the Union.
The United States was all in favor of creating a European Defence Community (EDC) and a European Political Community (EPC) so that troops could be raised from Germany to face the Soviet threat but these attempts proved overambitious. Instead the NATO alliance had to fill this breach in defence
Ultimately those the European Union developed an European Commission that was formally the Commission of the European Communities as the executive body and alongside with the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union where the three main institutions govern the Union.
The Benefits of the European Union
This European Union has led to improved living standards and created export and investment opportunities throughout its member nations. The EU is an important player in addressing global problems such as, the world economy and its governance (European Commission, 2009). The recent financial crisis facing member country Greece allowed the Union to flex its economic muscles and rescue a faltering member state and help it achieve economic stability.
At first there was only a common market. This promoted duty free trade and free movement of labor and capital between member states. As time passed, the EU created a single market, with no borders. (Europa, n.d.) The advantages of a single market allows for the free movement of goods, persons, and capital throughout the states and has given European consumers access and the ability to buy from any EU country of their choice without additional taxes (Independent, 2007). Customs and border patrols have seen a huge reduction as well as providing lower costs to lower costs to business. The movement of goods and people has increased throughout the EU. Other less noticeable benefits make an impact in daily life as well. Product standards are now standardized and matched according to EU standards and laws. This has created equality for manufacturers in the EU. This has also spurred international cooperation in goods and services as goods produced in one country must be able to be sold in other EU member’s countries should there be a demand. (BIS, 2010).
An interesting benefit is that when airlines overbook, cancel or delay their flights for many hours the EU is required to help passengers find new flights. This came in very handy during the recent Icelandic volcano crisis as the EU scurried to find way to move millions of people onto outgoing flights. Unless the passenger asks for their money back, different travel arrangements must be made. Of course, another benefit is that driver’s licenses from one EU country are accepted in any other member state. (Independent, 2007).
The Detriments of the European Union
While there are many advantages to the EU , some member states use it to bypass their own parliaments, especially when it comes to unpopular legislation. There is a Council of Ministers who must agree with proposed legislation. This council has representatives of each member state’s executive branch. In this way it provides a way for some EU members to bypass their government by giving them an out from the democratic check on their activities and gives them their own way of sneaking their requirements in without a plebiscite. (Keegan, 2005).
The European Union’s accounts are another cause of disagreement. Taxpayers are never able to be certain that their money is being spent appropriately and if it appears that money is getting misspent there is no mechanism to check the accounts. Money contributed to the EU is also a problem because any government needs tax money to survive and the the EU does not have power to raise a tax but id dependent upon payments from its member states.(Keegan, 2005).
The EU lacks non-governmental, non-profit organizations (NGO’s) that operate under the EU moniker. These include: charities, universities, and political groups, even churches. Few European -wide membership organizations are in existence that would be able to take up the slack for the EU fill this void ofNGO’s. Unlike the United Nations or even individual states, there is no mechanism to establish NGO’s under current EU regulations. (Keegan, 2005).
As the EU has expanded to include Eastern European countries there is a certain lack, or backward focus on free movement of labor, capital, and possible reform of agriculture, although these are benefits to Western Europe. Since most of the most skilled workers from the east go to the western member states to take advantage of the higher benefits and wages, it leaves a huge gap in the east’s labour pool. While the western states have modern and productive agriculture, the EU is hesitant to provide financial support to ineffective farmers in the east. This does have the advantage of forcing the Eastern farmers may be forced to become more effective, however it does not address the short term disparity between east and west. Although not an undefeatable problem, the legal and economic structure of previously communist economies fall behind many EU countries and will need to modernize and upgrade goods and services in order to compete within the EU’s borders. (Economics Help, n.d.).
In 1973 the United Kingdom requested an application to join the EU. Earlier, in 1950, the UK was part of a the European Free Trade Association (EFTA ) along with Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland and Portugal. So in 1973 United Kingdom, Denmark, Greenland, and Ireland join the Union to increase trade and economic abilities with the other member states. ( Greenland left the Union in 1985.)
By the late 1970’s Greece, Portugal and Spain began their process to join the EU and ultimately they were brought into full member status during the 1980’s. By 1993 the European Union established some new internal rules that determined if a nation was eligible to join the European Union or not. Obviously the unified Germany, Austria, Finland and Sweden met these criteria and joined the EU.
By the mid 2000’s another wave of expansion rocked the EU and 10 more candidate members joined: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus. At the time it was revealed that the combined EU had a population of almost 75 million and a gross domestic product at about 840 billion USD at the completion of this expansion.
This expansion was different from the other enlargements of the EU. Either many countries in this wave were former eastern bloc countries and as such were not transitioned to a market economy or their democracies were just budding and needed nurturing. Culturally, linguistically economically and politically, this expansion greatly increased the number of languages spoken within the EU, augmented cultural heterogeneity and level of diversity, and brought into the fold newer poorer democracies to benefit from the experience of the more established members.
The democratic level of Europe has led to stability that has united most of Europe for the first time. While still maintaining their own individual identities, the member states have a common purpose and unification. As part of the ongoing efforts for this unification there is a concerted effort to bring in the remaining Eastern Europe states, since there is a firm conviction that the Union can prevent them from falling again into communism or dictatorship.
In 2007, the European Union negotiated a treaty in 2005, to promote the next wave on integration, Romania and Bulgaria. The third state R. of Moldova, didn’t agree to join at this stage but it still under consideration.
Plans are to encourage Moldova, and maybe Ukraine and later Belarus to the Union. There is an effort to encourage their belief that to play a much greater role in Europe they need to become active members of the EU. This in turn will bring economical stability and growth, and also politically and military security to all the members.
Since its official founding in 1992, the EU has made great strides in bringing together the disparate peoples, cultures, economies and political realities of its now 20+ member states. From its humble beginnings as three different organizations the EU has helped many people, on its road to unification. While the EU contains many benefits to the common people there are still obstacles to overcome during the next years of its development. Based upon its history so far, it does not seem as if the European Union will tolerate failure and will address its flaws for the benefit of all its diverse citizenry.
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