The European Union was officially formed on November 1, 1993 in Maastricht, Netherlands. It is an economic and political union that currently consists of 28 member states as of 2018. Most are located primarily in Europe, but overseas territories are included with the EU. That includes several Pacific islands, Caribbean Islands, and the region of French Guiana in South America.
The origins of the European Union are much older, however, with origins in the European Coal and Steel Community that was formed in 1951. The European Economic Community was also formed earlier, in 1958.
By creating a union of member states, there are a number of advantages that can be created. Small states can become competitive with larger states on a global scale, allowing them to achieve similar levels of GDP growth so that the people can work toward prosperity. The opposite is also true. If member states experience a recession, there is a good chance that smaller states would feel the same impact that the larger states would experience.
Here are the current advantages and disadvantages of the European Union to consider and discuss.
What Are the Advantages of the European Union?
1. It provides members with greater influence on international matters.
The country with the largest population in the European Union is Germany, with over 82 million. France comes in second, with a population of about 65 million people. In comparison, the United States is a country that is over 300 million people strong. Even the Russian Federation has an estimated population of about 142 million people. Together, the 28 member states of the EU become an influential block of 500 million people, allowing them to have more influence in regards to individual matters.
2. Each nation in the EU maintains individual sovereignty.
Although the member states of the European Union have unique political considerations that must be considered, each nation maintains its individual sovereignty. There is no formal requirement that keeps member states within the EU should they desire to leave. The recent Brexit process has proven that national sovereignty is still a top priority for every government that is involved in this cooperative structure.
3. There is better security available because of increased communication.
There have been security concerns in Europe in the 2010s, especially with an increase in terrorism and refugee movements from wars in Africa and the Middle East. Despite these challenges, the security which each government can provide is better because the governments communicate with more freedom within the structures of the European Union. Intelligence sharing has fewer roadblocks in place and that improved communication benefits everyone in some way.
4. Mutual investments throughout the EU provide a foundation for growth.
Investors are willing to put money into businesses within the European Union because the member states create trading advantages that wouldn’t exist otherwise. Imagine a trading relationship Europe would have with the United States before 1993. Every nation would need to negotiate a deal and they would be at a disadvantage because of their comparative size. By working together in the format of the European Union, every member state can negotiate on level terms, if not superior terms, with the rest of the world.
5. It provides leverage for better trade agreements globally.
The best trade agreements occur because of size and leverage. Walmart can sell items for less because it has a large customer base and can move more products than small businesses. That allows them to purchase items at a lower price, as they can purchase more items at a time and place orders with greater frequency. The same principle applies for the European Union when negotiating trade. Because they represent all member states, there is leverage for better deals because there is a larger population group involved.
6. It enables companies to grow and provides jobs.
Companies and small businesses, including freelancers, are able to find more opportunities available to them because of the European Union. Even the structure of the governing body provides jobs that would not be present otherwise. Because companies have better access to the rest of Europe, they can grow faster and provide more jobs on the local level. Freelancers and entrepreneurs have access to a larger initial market. Both allow for the chance to earn profits that wouldn’t be there normally.
7. The EU allows consumers to save money on needed goods.
Having better trade deals in place makes it possible for products to be priced lower for consumers throughout Europe. That means people can save money on the basics they need, including groceries, because of the leveraged power of the EU. At the same time, the structure of the single market has increased incomes. The average household is earning nearly 6,000 pounds more per year compared to income data from a year ago.
8. It allows for easier travel throughout Europe.
Although it is recommended to carry a passport when traveling in Europe because immigration officers can ask for proof of nationality, there is an area of free travel without border controls for land crossings. This region is called the Schengen Area and involves 26 European countries. This free area of travel has been in place since 1995.
9. The union has helped to heal the divisions of the past.
The number of wars that Europe fought in the past are too numerous to count. The presence of the European Union has helped to bring a level of harmony to the continent that has been rare in the past. Membership is so effective at maintaining peace in the region that the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for promoting international cooperation. It is such an effective medium for peace that most nations in the former Soviet bloc are working hard to join the European Union to take advantage of this benefit.
10. It has helped to reduce discrimination.
Europe never saw a movement like the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. There are still certain ingrained attitudes and personal biases that can affect a move toward complete equality in humanity from a societal point of view. The EU has provided a very strong commitment toward promoting human rights for all. That includes due process under the law and preventing individualized discrimination at all levels.
11. The EU has helped to modernize countries.
Before the European Union, there were certain countries that were beginning to lag behind in development from a socioeconomic perspective. Membership in the EU helps to modernize attitudes so that there is a greater commitment to all human rights, a market-based economy, and following a certain rule of law. Because of the many benefits that are possible with the EU, many countries have implemented specific laws to protect human rights, even if they are not a member state, since they have hopes of joining the union one day.
What Are the Disadvantages of the European Union?
1. It can limit the individual influence of member states on an international level.
Individual countries cede control over some of their laws and regulations over to the European Union when membership is pursued. Some of the laws and regulations that are essentially demanded by the EU may be counterintuitive to what specific nations may require. The perspective is that the good of the many must be pursued, even at the cost of a single nation. These policies can sometimes be forcefully imposed as well.
2. There are fewer controls allowed for individualized laws or regulations.
The European Union does allow for the establishment of certain border control policies at the member-state level. After the massive terrorist attack in Paris in 2015, restrictions were imposed upon the Schengen Agreement by several countries. Borders were tightened, security protocols were enforced, and specific requirements were allowed. At the same time, however, there are fewer controls allowed for certain individual laws and regulations. The EU can essentially demand that certain laws or regulations be rescinded.
3. It may limit certain forms of border control.
Certain forms of border control are not allowed within the European Union. That is because border controls are governed by a treaty that was signed in 1985 by the European Economic Community at the time. The goal of the treaty was to abolish border checks at common borders and to allow vehicles to continue traveling without being stopped. Since 2016, a handful of countries abiding by the treaty and convention that was later signed have reintroduced border controls, but are still limited in what can be provided.
4. Membership in the European Union is not free.
Every member state is required to pay membership fees to the European Union. For FY2016, the United Kingdom contributed 13.1 billion pounds to the budget of the EU. In return, the EU spent about 4.5 billion pounds in public sector spending. Contributions vary each year, but have been increasing, in general, since 2007. To receive the possible benefits that can be obtained by being part of the European Union, there are monetary responsibilities which must be taken into account.
5. Larger members may be able to capitalize on international trade deals more effectively.
The smallest members of the European Union definitely benefit from the inclusion that is offered by this political and economic union. The largest members of the EU, however, may not be able to fully capitalize on certain international trade deals because of their membership. The EU makes it possible to negotiate with large economic players, such as China and the U.S., with great effectiveness. The UK could negotiate directly with Japan and receive a more effective deal on their own because of their comparative equality. Germany and France often see this negative as well.
6. Bureaucracy within the EU is notoriously slow.
Any type of government moves with the speed of a snail. That is just a given. The bureaucracy within the European Union is notoriously slow, even more so than normal. It can take several years for needed changes to occur. Even the Brexit process was estimated to take at least 2 years to complete after it passed a public referendum. If changes to the process occur while it is being implemented, the amount of time required may be extended indefinitely. That can make it difficult to get anything done.
7. Increased taxation may be required to meet certain needs.
Because there are added fees and costs that come with the responsibility of being in the European Union, there may be added taxes placed on consumers to help pay those costs. In the United Kingdom, after all spending is considered by all parties, about 9 billion pounds are sent to the EU. That money needs to come from somewhere. There may be economic benefits which come with membership in the EU, but there will always be people and member states that put in more than they receive in return.
These advantages and disadvantages of the European Union typically divide people into two different categories. Each side sees the glass as being half-full, with the other side being wrong. There are many benefits that the EU has brought to the world from an international perspective. Individual nations may see themselves as being less independent, but they may also experience economic benefits in return.