Europe was in a terrible condition in 1946. There were two bloody wars that the continent had fought in just one generation, with both conflicts escalating to global status. Some of the countries had been at war with each other consistently for centuries. Many of the relationships were strained. The leaders at the time decided that the best way to prevent a third conflict would be to find a way to cooperate.
Six nations came together to start cooperating in the product of steel and coal to create more economic opportunities for one another. By 1967, the European Community was able to form as a method of administration for these industries. It would then start to grow in the 1970s as new members joined the coalition, giving citizens an opportunity to elect officials for the first time in 1972.
It would only take another 20 years for this group to agree on even closer cooperation, which is when the European Community would become the European Union. The historic agreement that formed this relationship was established by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.
Cooperation often leads to a number of different advantages, but the European Union does have some struggles to review as well. Here are the critical points to review with this structure.
List of the Advantages of the European Union
1. The European Union creates an allied front against outside aggression.
The past 50 years in Europe have been some of the most peaceful out of the last 1,000 years of history. There have been fewer wars fought on the continent then at any time since the reign of the Roman Empire over the region. The European Union creates stability because all of the nations belonging to the agreement (or NATO) work together for their mutual good. Although this does increase their operating costs because there are domestic and international governments which require funding, it makes everyone safer as well.
Europe has always had to balance the extremes in the past, from economics to religion, and that has not always been successful. Now that everyone is in economic cooperation at some level, the EU makes the smaller countries become international competitors.
2. There are more jobs and higher wages across Europe because of the EU.
Even with the uncertainty of the Brexit circumstances ongoing, there are more employment opportunities, better wages, and a higher-skill workforce available in Europe today because of the EU. Because there are 28 different countries that are part of this governing body, they can create a single market together which gives them more scale to use when negotiating international trade deals.
This advantage makes it easier for local producers to export their items at a fair price while receiving imports as needed that don’t break their budget. About 10% of the jobs in Europe are directly linked to the EU right now, and that doesn’t even count the import-export positions which exist.
3. The European Union takes eco-friendly policies seriously.
When one European nation decides to manage the environment more effectively, then they can make a small impact with their eco-friendly stance. If all 28 members come together to follow the same policies, then it can be a process which helps to change the world. Before the EU became a formalized government, about half of the areas on the continent met water quality standards. Now that figure is well above 90%.
Communities are putting in the resources necessary to rebuild their ancient squares, clean up their beaches, and create safe areas for exploration. Public transportation options are becoming more available. Even dedicated bike paths and lanes help to keep costs down in the EU. These benefits are also something that tourists love to see, which means they are more likely to come and spend money there.
4. Industrialization’s evolution has evolved dramatically because of the European Union.
During the rebuilding years in Europe after World War II, food was scarce and jobs were rare. Even the assistance provided by the Americans was not enough in some countries to help make ends meet. By 1951, the times dictated a cooperative relationship to help the continent get back onto its feet. Just six years after the conclusion of the war, Italy, Germany, and France (former enemies) came together with Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg to create an economic pact that helped to re-industrialize the continent.
This relationship became the foundation of the European Union because of the stipulations that were in place to maintain this lucrative membership. There had to be a guaranteed democracy, respect for human rights, the ability to introduce competition, and financial resources to meet the obligations of the relationship. It is this path that the current EU follows as well.
5. It stops the aggression from other countries outside of Europe.
The European Union creates a security profile that helps to share resources, including intelligence and military training, which proactively prevents other countries from taking advantage of the smaller size of most countries on the continent. Russia is large enough that it could swallow most of Europe without a second thought if each one was forced to defend itself independently.
Now that NATO and other alliances keep the cooperative security profile intact at all times, there is less incentive for other players to try to take advantage of the continent’s structure. The presence of the EU works to negate the ability of one leader, like Adolf Hitler, from conducting surprise attacks that could kill thousands before anyone knew what was happening.
6. The European Union allows for resources to be invested instead of fought over.
Up until the 16th century, the largest countries of Europe were often engaged in battle with one another. Some were even trying to manage internal conflicts and civil unrest while battling their adversaries at the same time. There were some 50-year periods in the past where these countries were always at war without a break. Now these countries have avoided problems with each other for over 20 years thanks to the presence of the European Union, with no threat of an internal conflict on the horizon either.
That’s not to say that there aren’t disagreements in Europe. There are plenty of them. The difference with the EU is that now these arguments run through the political spectrum instead of being settled by the military.
7. The EU makes it easier for people to travel all over the world.
If you live in the European Union, then you may have access to what is called a Schengen Visa. About 15 million people currently use this travel document, which is similar to what an Enhanced Driver’s License is in North America, to visit other countries on the continent. With this documentation, you can travel to any other country or territory in the EU which recognizes it without the need for a more formal passport.
Because there are still territories held in the Caribbean and South America that still fall under the governing of the European Union, this advantage makes it possible to see the world without going through an extensive security process. If you plan to work, live, or study in a country for more than 90 days, then you’ll need additional paperwork.
The only other place in the world that offers this level of free access consistently is the United States, where one entry visa gives you access to the states and territories under its control.
8. The economic benefits of the European Union extend to the rest of the world.
Because Europe comes together in the EU to become an economic force for trade, the value of the import-export industry all over the world benefits from their presence. Smaller nations can take advantage of better market access since they can make one deal to trade with 28 countries instead of separate contracts with each one. China and the U.S. can trade with Europe as equal partners while Europe benefits from a bigger scale and better pricing options.
This advantage makes it possible to add more value to each trade, increase job opportunities, develop new international relationships, and have access to more opportunities.
9. The presidency of the EU rotates every six months.
No one country can dominate the political spectrum in the European Union because every nation gets an opportunity to resident in the presidency. Romania took over this spot for the first time in January 2019. This process ensures that Europe cannot fall into the same peril that the individual nations did so long ago. It is an advantage which also means each country can ensure that it has a say in the formation of new rules and regulations that can impact the entire continent.
10. It creates high food standards and consumer benefits that support consumer safety.
Before the presence of the European Union, individual inspections by each nation were necessary to ensure the safety of the food supply. Now regulators from the EU can manage this task from the port instead of relying on local governments to get the job done. Because of the high levels of cooperation that exist because of this governing structure, it is much more difficult for an unscrupulous company to sell something contaminated since there are multiple levels of protection in place.
There are several consumer benefits which are possible because of the European Union as well. If you purchase something in Europe, then you can get your money back if you return the item according to policy. The standards which goods in shops in the EU-28 must meet are some of the most stringent in the world today for safety and quality. You can even get a refund on a plane or train ticket if your journey is canceled or delayed.
11. There is more consistency in the protection of human rights.
The European Union has a mandate to protect all vulnerable groups and minorities on the continent. It works to stand up for those who may feel oppressed to ensure that every person receives the same vote, equal rights, and a chance to pursue whatever opportunities they desire. Equal treatment for all in the EU means you get to use this advantage regardless of your gender, nationality, culture, disability, profession, or sexual preference.
12. Consumers have access to all services throughout the EU-28.
If you travel through the European Union, then you can use all of your online services and your phone without an extra cost. That means you can stream music or video as long as you remain in the EU-28. Your personal data also has a higher level of protection on the continent than it does in other developed countries, which means there are fewer worries about identity theft and similar problems.
That also means that you receive protection against the slippery slope of globalization. The European Union supports small businesses by implementing rules and regulations that always make the largest corporations pay their fair share of taxes.
List of the Disadvantages of the European Union
1. It is easier to cross borders in Europe today because of the EU.
The Schengen Visa might make it easier for the average person to travel throughout Europe and its controlled territories, but it can also become a security nightmare. Because there are fewer travel restrictions in place, the number of people who can make their way across a border without documentation or with a false ID continues to rise. Between 2014-2018, the number of attacks classified as terrorism increased from two per year to over 30.
The number of deaths due to terrorist attacks is actually going down despite the increase of their prevalence, but the arrests of suspected criminals in this field has nearly doubled during that same period. There are times when having tight border security can be an advantage, especially if you are a small country.
2. There are still many problems with division in Europe despite the EU.
There are fewer countries going to war with each other in Europe thanks to the presence of the EU, but that has not stopped a rise of nationalism, fascism, and other problematic government structures over the years. There are many different cultures and ethnicities on the continent which see things differently, and it is not always possible to reconcile their differences. Not only is there a clear divide between the east and the west, but there are divisions of size to consider as well.
You can see changes in freedom, access by the press, educational curriculum, and the judicial systems all slowly favoring more of the extreme views instead of the centrist notions that the EU was initially founded on. The EU-28 requires specific government structures to limit this disadvantage, but there are still 17 countries who don’t need to follow by those rules.
3. The EU can suffer from a lack of transparency at times.
One of the unique aspects of the EU’s structure is the fact that it holds transnational elections to staff its parliament. The number of representatives that each country receives works in a similar way to what each state receives in the House of Representatives in the United States, but without the same caps in place. That means everyone can express their opinion, but it is the larger countries that can typically sway the politics in the region.
Malta is an excellent example of this disadvantage, as they only receive 6 representatives in the EU parliament. Germany gets to send 90 more people to vote on key issues for the continent. Since many of these debates don’t happen in public, there can be an overall lack of transparency in Europe that makes people wonder what is going on.
4. European countries must pay to play in the EU.
There are numerous economic advantages to consider when joining the European Union, but each country must have a robust financial foundation available to participate. Only 2% of the funding that the EU receives comes from outside sources, which means the member nations are responsible for paying for the rest. When you add in the costs of NATO to that package, each nation must pay several billion dollars each year just to participate in this governing structure.
There are economic returns to consider as well, but the reason why the UK considered Brexit in the first place is because some years would create a loss of over $4 billion to their local economy.
5. The EU favors the larger countries at the expense of the smaller.
When you look at the financial data from 2010-2016 for the EU-28, Germany and the Netherlands are the clear winners. The International Monetary Fund shows that per capital GDP in these nations rose by 19% and 14% respectively. When you look at some of the smaller countries, Portugal saw its rates rise by 10%, while Greece saw it decline by 7% over the same period. Even Italy struggled with a 6% gain.
This issue creates a stench of double standards when it comes to the enforcement of the growth and stability pact that has been in place since 1997. Budget deficits should be no higher than 3% of GDP and national debt is supposed to be under 60% of GDP. By applying the rules differently, smaller nations like Ireland in the Eurozone can struggle to stay competitive.
6. Europe’s taxation structure doesn’t encourage the development of new businesses.
One of the most significant problems for the European Union is that its economic model is aging right alongside its population. There are numerous world-class companies there, but none of them were created in the past 25 years. Volvo and Siemens are still going strong, but there is no EU answer to Facebook, Amazon, or Google. You could even throw Walmart into that mix as well.
The idea of the euro was to create a currency that would help a single market work with greater efficiency. That would stimulate economic growth – but that never happened. Instead of getting better, most of the Eurozone countries are experiencing declines in their economic prospects. Italy is experiencing its fifth recession in 2019 in the past 20 years.
Conclusion of the Advantages and Disadvantages of the European Union
No form of government is perfect because humanity is an imperfect race. We will make mistakes more often than not. When we come together in the spirit of cooperation, then there are higher levels of accountability present in society. It becomes easier to avoid problems or correct issues so that everyone has a fair chance at success. That is what the European Union does exceptionally well.
The EU is also facing many problems on all sides with its membership. There are the ongoing negotiations for Brexit with the UK, Hungary is in open revolt against the policies instituted by the government, and the United States is trying to negotiate a better deal on trade. Italy is borrowing at 130% of its GDP as well, which is second only to Greece – which is finally coming out of a problem with austerity.
With the advantages and disadvantages of the European Union, there are many positives to consider from a relationship standpoint. The issue of economics is a very different question, since each member has unique needs that a continental body cannot always meet. That is why there will always be some level of discontent in Europe, despite the overall gains.
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send Natalie a message here.