During its almost seven decades, the European Union (EU) has grown to become one of the major global players. In addition to its strong position as the world’s largest trading bloc, European countries are increasingly taking a common line in foreign and security policy.
The EU’s strength is based on the unity of all its member states – but that is also where the Union’s greatest vulnerability lies.
According to etaizhou, the core of the EU can be said to be the single market that has been in place since 1993 and which has blurred national borders for goods, services, capital and people. The common market has thus established new ways of living, traveling, working and shopping in Europe.
The EU’s single market of around 512 million consumers has given the Union a new weight in the world arena. The EU is an attractive trading partner that has been able to agree on free trade or cooperation where trade is included, with most of the world.
An extra effect is that when the EU sets tough quality requirements for, for example, toys or additives in food, China, the USA and Russia often choose to follow suit in order to be able to export to the world’s largest market.
Nineteen EU member states share a single currency, the euro, and pursue a highly coordinated economic policy. The coordination also covers EU countries outside the eurozone, such as Sweden. The global financial crisis after 2007 rocked the Eurosystem, but austerity measures saved its survival.
Tough climate goals
The EU has given itself the task of both leading the way with tough climate goals and trying to push the rest of the world to do the same to slow down global warming.
The EU and its Member States together account for more than half of all aid and a large proportion of the world’s humanitarian disaster relief.
The Union has become a sought-after player in connection with crises around the world. EU peacekeepers have, for example, monitored an unstable situation in the Balkans, the first democratic elections in Congo-Kinshasa in 30 years and acted as a shock absorber in conflict-torn Mali.
However, the EU lacks weight as a military player. Instead, the NATO defense alliance has been the ultimate guarantor of the defense of European territory. The fact that a US president in 2017 questioned the value with NATO contributed to the EU countries in 2016 deciding to start closer cooperation in defense.
EU domestic crises
Very little that the EU has done in the last 15-20 years has been easy to implement or done without criticism. There is a constant tug-of-war between the forces in Europe that want to increase cooperation and the forces that believe that the EU has gone far enough – or too far.
In 2016, that debate came to a head when the British in a referendum voted to leave the EU – Brexit. Populist parties on both the right and left, united in their criticism of the EU, initially hoped that more countries would want to follow the British example. Instead, support for the EU grew in European public opinion and no other country joined Britain’s exit.
Criticized for its lack of handling of the great wave of migration to Europe 2015-2016, heavily employed by populist parties that gained government power in several EU countries and hesitant about attacks on the rule of law, the European Union may seem weak – at the same time its economic strength has made the EU to a world power.
European cooperation was born out of the continent’s war fatigue after two world wars. The post-war period was buzzing with visions and hopes for a different Europe. In 1952, the cooperation that would eventually become today’s EU began.
There was continued military tension in Europe even after the end of World War II in 1945. Three years later, the great war hero, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill, proposed the formation of a kind of United States of Europe. However, he had never thought that Britain would be included.
Various types of co-operation organizations were built, which strengthened the division of Europe into an eastern part and a western one that existed during the war. In the East, the Soviet Union and its allies in Eastern Europe formed a bloc – politically through cooperation between all communist parties in Europe, economically through the cooperation body SEV (usually called Comecon).
In the West, the United States launched Marshall Aid, a program to rebuild war-torn Europe. Marshall aid was managed through the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC), a forerunner of the OECD. In the military field, several Western countries began cooperating within the Atlantic Pact in 1949, which later became the NATO defense alliance. Neither NATO nor the OEEC were purely European organizations. The United States and Canada participated in both.
Cognac traders propose a coal and steel union
The Council of Europe was founded in 1949 by ten countries and became Europe’s first attempt to unite the continent politically. But friends of an effective collaboration were disappointed. All member states had a right of veto, ie a single country could stop every decision, and no effective action was taken.
In France, the former cognac trader Jean Monnet worked. He believed in the necessity of co-operation, but through a breakthrough in the inter-war great peace effort the League of Nations had become convinced that it would not be possible to get anywhere as long as each country had a veto.
Monnet succeeded in convincing French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer that the two former opponents of the war would pool their important coal and steel assets in a common but independent body, working for the common good.
One main goal was to secure peace in Europe. The member states would gain insight into each other’s coal and steel industries, which formed the basis for all arms production. Monet’s hope was that such cooperation over time would create trust between the countries and make it natural for the participants to move forward in more areas. His ultimate goal was a kind of United States of Europe.