Why Europe matters
It is time to defend the EU
For supporters of Europe, the last few years have not been happy ones. A perfect storm of growing Euroscepticism, fallout from the global financial downturn, and the tribulations of the eurozone crisis have left us wallowing in a sea of gloom about the future of the European Union. Few countries have been so perturbed by this as Britain, where the question is less how to address the problems of the EU than how much longer Britain will remain a member of the club.
But several points are worth bearing in mind. First, the EU has never been well understood by most Europeans, and Britain has one of the worst records in this regard: recent surveys by Eurobarometer have found that six out of 10 Britons admit to not understanding the EU. Second, into this vacuum of understanding have moved a Eurosceptic media and the United Kingdom Independence party, both of them adept at misrepresenting what the EU means for Britain. Third, in this climate of gloom it is easy to forget what the EU has achieved, and how much stands to be lost by backtracking or – worst of all – leaving altogether.
The EU has been a force for good in numerous ways. It has been at the heart of the longest spell of general peace in Europe in recorded history. It has strengthened democracy and free market ideas both among its members and among countries that would either like to join the EU or have better access to the European marketplace. It has helped bring down the barriers to trade and brought about free movement of people and capital in Europe, encouraging prosperity, innovation, opportunity and choice. It has helped Europeans better understand what they have in common, replacing self-interest with shared interests, and replacing exclusion with inclusion. And, rather than imposing more regulation and red tape, it has cut through legal barriers by harmonising laws and policies across Europe.
Its impact on the global stage has been dramatic. The EU is the wealthiest marketplace in the world, the biggest trading power, the biggest market for corporate mergers and acquisitions, the biggest source of (and target for) foreign direct investment, and the biggest source of official development assistance. The single market has allowed European corporations to grow and take on their American and Japanese competitors, while investments have flowed into small and medium enterprises. Most important of all, the EU has shown that it is possible to have global influence using civilian rather than military means.
To be sure, Europe has numerous imperfections and the process of integration has often been messy; hardly surprising considering that the EU has always sailed uncharted waters without much agreement on its final destination. But we should not give up just because it has short-term problems. In this Labour has a critical role to play in helping us redefine the achievements of the EU, stepping into the vacuum of misunderstanding, and getting the debate about Europe back onto even and productive ground.
John McCormick is professor of European Union politics at Indiana University. His new book, Why Europe Matters: The Case for the European Union, is published this month
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