The first ideas of a European Union as we know it today began to form in the days after the second world war. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, sometimes referred to as NATO or the North Atlantic Alliance, created an intergovernmental military compact between 29 European and North American nations that was signed on April 4,1949.
The purpose of this initial agreement was to create a response to the Soviet Union in the days after Germany was defeated. The Russians were taking possession of countries surrounding their border as a way to protect themselves against another invasion. They were imprisoning civilians, forcing them to join the Soviet military, or worse. NATO gave the smaller nations a chance to cooperate with one another to prevent a complete takeover of the continent.
This relationship began to formalize into different industries and sectors over the next four decades until the economies of the smaller nations were directly tied to each other. Instead of continuing on with different economic priorities and currencies, the European Union formed on November 1, 1993. This process created an intergovernmental agency with oversight over industries and economies which were already working together.
It continues to grow with more member nations as a way to provide stability to the region. With the issues involving Brexit, along with the persistent threat of terrorism in the region, there are some critical issues the EU faces today as well. Here are the advantage and disadvantages to consider when looking at the European Union as an entity.
List of the Pros of the European Union
1. It builds a profile of security in the region to prevent instability.
The nations of Europe were often at odds with each other historically before they came together to form NATO? There are some cultures which do not get along with others, which creates preconceived notions about certain people that still exist. Population centers in Poland and Germany are frequently at odds with one another, as are the cultures of France and Britain. When you add in the history of religious hostilities in the region, including the organization of force and coercion found today, the cooperation of governments helps to keep the region at a relative level of stability compared to what it would be without its presence.
2. The European Union creates more jobs for the continent.
As of January 2019, the European Union consists of 28 different member states out of the 45 recognized governments currently operating on the continent. This combination of factors has led to an internal single market where there is a standardized system of laws which apply to each member state. It is a process which ensures the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people across the continent. These activities generate employment opportunities that would not be there otherwise. Up to 1 in 10 jobs on the continent are linked to the EU, with additional opportunities in exports or imports around the world linked to this structure.
3. It helps to improve the environment throughout Europe.
Over the 25+ years of existence, the European Union has worked diligently to make significant environmental improvements across the continent. Over 90% of tourism areas currently meet or exceed water quality standards today. There are beaches which have gone through a complete restoration process. Cities have had their town squares rebuilt, pedestrian-only streets created, and new business opportunities to pursue. Cycling has become a viable mode of transportation in several metro areas.
4. The European Union helped to industrialize its members.
The primary goal of the European Union is to create new forms of economic cooperation. This process dates as far back as 1951 when six countries (Italy, Luxembourg, Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands) began to work with each other. Joining the EU today is a complex procedure which takes time to complete. There are several conditions which an applicant nation must meet to be considered for qualification.
These key points are referred to as the Copenhagen criteria.
• There must be stable institutions in place which guarantee democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and respect for and protection of minority groups.
• It must have a functioning market economy in place, along with the capacity to cope with competition and additional market forces that happen in Europe.
• This new member must have the ability to effectively implement the obligations of membership, including the political, monetary, and economic responsibilities of joining the union.
There are additional requirements that the European Union can mandate as well. When the Western Balkans wanted entry, then a stabilization and association process was required to establish “neighborly relations” with regional cooperation.
5. It helps to create higher levels of prolonged peace throughout the continent.
Warfare is something that is an unfortunate aspect of human existence. It has been around since the beginning of our recorded history. Even the story of Cain and Abel suggests that jealousy created the foundation for conflict during our earliest moments, regardless of one’s religious preferences. The European Union changed that when cooperation began with the formation of NATO in 1949.
Before the last half of the 20th century, the lowest sum of years in war for all countries on the continent was 209, achieved during the 50-year period between 1701-1750. Between 1901-1950, this figure was 326. It was only 74 from 1951-2000.
6. The European Union brought the “Great Powers” of Europe together.
Since the start of the 16th century, the Great Powers of Europe fought each other up to 100% of the time during some periods. Since the completion of the second world war, that figure has plummeted to 0% – and has stayed that way for over 20 years. Even the absolute number of war deaths involving at least one state has been on the decline since 1946.
7. It creates an easier form of travel for residents and visitors to the EU.
The Schengen visa and passport gives people access to the largest free-travel area in the world that involves crossing borders to different nations. Only the United States offers a larger area of free travel with certain visa opportunities. If you receive this visa, which is the most common one issued in Europe, then it enables the holder to enter and freely travel within the zone without encountering border controls. You only need to apply for a national visa if you play to work, study, or live in one of the countries for 90 days or more.
Almost 15 million people used a Schengen visa in 2017 to travel throughout Europe. Residents with a passport can also travel to South America and the Caribbean without needing a visa because of territories held be Schengen-member countries.
8. The European Union creates an influential economic influence on the rest of the world.
The EU-28 working together creates an influential force on the world’s economics that is comparable to other large or wealthy member nations, such as the United States, Australia, China, or Russia. Even though there are nine member countries which do not use the Euro as their currency, they still offer a positive impact on the overall Eurozone and the economics available in the region. With this structure, it becomes possible to negotiate lower rates, work on economies of scale, and provide additional opportunities for workers to find gainful employment.
List of the Cons of the European Union
1. It creates more opportunities to bypass border controls.
Although having the freedom to move about the European Union is a distinctive advantage, there are some people who take advantage of this setup to create terror opportunities for political leverage. Since 2014, the number of attacks experienced on the continent has risen from two per year to 33 per year. Although the number of deaths has gone down, the arrests associated with terrorism activities as risen from 395 to 705.
Recent years have seen a dramatic increase of incidents, beginning with the Charlie Hebdo massacre in 2015. There were the coordinated Paris attacks, the numerous vehicle attacks, and more than a dozen foiled attempts that could have taken more lives. Having additional border at the security may have prevented some of these issues.
2. The European Union still encounters issues with division.
Although countries have been less inclined to go to war with each other after joining the European Union, which is why the former states of Yugoslavia are being pushed toward entry, that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues of political division to consider. You won’t find a neat line that goes down the middle of the continent when trying to determine this divide, but there are concerns of clashing values, visions, and national interests which tend to separate the east from the west.
Nationalism is on the rise in many areas, but none may be more blatant about it than Hungary. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has cracked down on the local judicial system, educational institutions, the free press, and civil society in general. It is at the stage where they might be denied entry to the EU if they weren’t already a member of it.
3. It features economic cooperation that comes at a price.
The members of the European Union are supposed to provide economic resources to this institution, just as they are to the structure of NATO to maintain their pact of mutual cooperation. 98% of the funding comes from the EU’s own resources, which includes sugar levies, customs duties on imports, a value-added tax, and a uniform percentage that is levied on the gross national income of each member nation. The latter was intended to be used as a balancing system only, but it has grown to become the most significant source of revenue for the EU-28.
4. The European Union sometimes lacks transparency.
Every eligible adult living in the EU is given the opportunity to vote on their representatives that go to the European Parliament. When these elections were held in 2014, it became the largest transnational election ever held in history. Each member nation sets the rules about how, where, and when to vote. The number of representatives permitted is based on the population size of each country. Malta currently receives six, whereas Germany receives 96. Although there is some control over who rules over Europe with this process, there isn’t the same levels of transparency on the executive layer of the administration.
5. It often requires currency support to maintain stable politics in the region.
Part of the global recession experienced in 2007-2009 occurred because there were multiple nations requiring currency support in the European Union. Although the trading bloc is making a push to turn the euro into a global currency, the nations that fall outside of the eurozone, along with the economic influences being pushed by the United States under the Trump Administration, make issues of austerity become more prevalent than they were in Greece and Cyprus in recent years.
Greece finally emerged from their eurozone bailout after spending years in austerity, creating high levels of demands on local households that saw unemployment reach as high 27%. Cyprus seized assets in individual bank accounts in 2013, taking up to 40% of the value that was present in some instances. Without these controversial actions, the economic stability of the European Union could have been brought into question.
6. The European Union can prevent national governments from acting on some issues.
Even though national governments still have authority over local concerns, they do not always receive financial or political support to meet unusual needs. Germany experienced this issue first-hand during the refugee resettlement process that happened during 2013-2014. More than 1 million people eventually came to their country, creating tens of billions of euros in costs that were unexpected. The European Union only provided EUR 6 billion in response to help build facilities, provide aid, and offer care despite numerous requests for more help. That means there are times when the EU wants members to provide financial support, but then is unwilling to offer it in return.
The current pros and cons of the European Union prove that when diverse cultures come together, it becomes possible to create strength. NATO set the stage for the success of the EU by proving people can work together for the greater good. Although there are still numerous challenges to face in the future of this economic bloc, including the uncertainty around Britain’s future in it, the fact that each nation can grow locally, become an international influence, and have support from its neighbors makes this a relationship that helps everyone in some way each day.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.