Welcome, readers! This is the first issue of the weekly #IdeasToThinkAbout series, where columnists will write about important ideas that should come to the public’s attention. We need to debate reasonable and smart policies to counter the challenges that are coming our way. We need new laws that can keep our world from extreme poverty, global warming, hunger, and countless more issues. This article is a case for a stronger, united Europe. Please let us know what you think in the comments.
(NOTICE: This is an opinion article. We try to keep our articles as balanced as possible. We do not write these articles to alienate those people who disagree with us, rather to encourage debate and bring an issue to your eyes that isn’t discussed often.)
A fully united Europe may seem like a utopian dream these days, with Brexit right around the corner, and with French elections looming, where one of the front-runners, Marine Le Pen, has declared that France should also have a referendum on its EU membership. Governments constantly use the European Union as a scapegoat, blaming their countries’ problems on ‘Brussels’, while portraying themselves as heroes in the battle for national sovereignty. It works, and wins them votes. But in reality, the problem is that Europeans do not feel connected to the Union governing bodies and institutions. The exact workings of the system remain unknown to many, and so the EU is viewed as a faraway, bureaucratic agency. This makes the Union more vulnerable to attack from populist politicians. Likewise, many Europeans don’t have the chance to realize how much they benefit from the Union. If Europe would have remained divided, without the Union, it would not have come this far. New countries joined in the East after being liberated in 1990. Other countries, like Portugal joined after being freed from dictators. There was hope, and Europe realized it was stronger together. Some say the EU was too quick to admit new members in the East, who weren’t committed to the European cause. Certain countries that joined in 2004, like Slovenia, have already adopted the Euro. Others, like Hungary and Poland, specifically the members of the Visegrád Group, have launched a rebellion against the EU. Perhaps it was the refugee crisis, with governments rejecting the EU’s resettlement plan to even out the burden of taking in refugees amongst the member states, and completely refusing to take in refugees. The EU is in crisis. It has become clear that it cannot continue to function in its present state. Countries who are committed to the European cause should be accepted in, and others who use the EU as a scapegoat and political tool should be booted. Those who are actually interested could become part of an ever-closer union, with increased cooperation, perhaps leading to a federation. The institutions of the Union would need to be reformed and simplified. A good place to start would be to create the role of a directly elected President of Europe. Finally, instead of having leaders chosen by councils and the Parliament, Europeans could actually have a say on who they want as a leader. This might bring citizens closer to the Union, and end the perception of it as a bureaucratic, intergovernmental institution that has nothing to do with them.
The idea of a federal, united Europe is not a new one. In fact, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill supported the idea, though never intended for Britain to be part of such a Union. That could explain Brexit. Most Britons never really felt European, so on the emotional part, there was little connection to Brussels. The UK opted out of almost everything it possibly could, from the Euro to the Schengen border control free area. They picked and matched the policies of the Union so it would most benefit them. You could say that they weren’t fully committed. With other non-committed countries out of the way, the EU could begin reforming itself. However, in poorer countries in the East, it is in their national interests to remain part of the Union. Poland and Hungary get the most money from Brussels relative to what they pay in. Their citizens go to countries in the West looking for jobs and economic opportunity. Ironically, it’s they who are the most ungrateful for what they get from the EU. They will have to weigh: should they continue to be part of the Union, and accept that they will have to make do with the policies that they don’t like, or leave and no longer receive aid from the Union. Soon, they will arrive at the crossroads, and it will be time to chose which direction to go in. Brexit poses an opportunity for the EU to remake itself so it can survive in the 21st century and beyond.
The benefits from a stronger Union would be enormous not only to Europe but also to this world. If Europe had one foreign policy, it could become the keeper of peace in a world where tensions are rising. Its voice would be amplified in the United Nations and other international organizations, giving it a chance to stand up for its values. After the many wars and disasters of the last century, Europe could become stronger and less vulnerable to attack by foreign powers. It would have a population greater than that of the United States. It would be a superpower, and have an incredible influence over the world with its so-called soft power. The EU’s values and priorities are considerably different from those of the United States. After coming through two world wars, the division between East and West and the occupation of the East by the Soviet Union, Europe knows that too many divisions aren’t a good thing. If Marine wins, perhaps citizens will vote for the EU in a referendum, despite what populists are feeding them, going with their good sense. Although the British voted for Brexit, it is important to remember that the UK was only half-heartedly participating in the Union. The Dutch populist Geert Wilders’ party took less seats in Parliament than expected. I trust that the French will also make a wise decision. The new age of Europe is dawning. Although many were sad to see Britain go, all they were doing was keeping the rest of Europe from working closer together. Several prominent politicians, including a former Belgian prime minister, are advocates of a federal-style Europe. In a Eurobarometer survey, 69% polled said that they would be in favor of direct election of the President of the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, while 46% are in support of the creation of an EU army. That does not sound like a utopian dream. In fact, majorities of people in 21 out of the 28 EU countries support the future development of the EU into a federation of nation states.
When Robert Schuman first came up with the concept for the European Coal and Steel Union, he called it “a great experiment, the fulfillment of the same recurrent dream that for ten centuries has revisited the peoples of Europe: creating between them an organization putting an end to war and guaranteeing an eternal peace.” In ways, his dream came true. The EU’s present structure might have worked for what it did 20 years ago. There were only a few members, and it made minor decisions. Today, the Union has 27 members (excluding the UK), and faces many crises and has to make important decisions, yet many require unanimity between all member states’ leaders. If the same setup was in the United States, they would be able to get nothing done. The EU’s council has become a place for compromises, but doesn’t function like a political body. For the election of the European Council President, every country except Poland voted for the reelection of Donald Tusk. What all this sheds light on is that the EU lacks an identity; some might call it a loose confederation or federation, while others an international or intergovernmental organization. It needs to restructure itself and bring itself closer to its citizens. Those countries who are interested in an ever-closer Union should not be held back by those who are constantly bashing the European Union. Or else, with unprecedented challenges right up the lane, it becomes a question, how will Schuman’s dream continue to ring true 200 years from now?