A challenging topic to tackle, given the anti-EU wave that swept the European Union countries at the last Parliamentary election. Far-right parties across Europe have gained record seats in the European Parliament. Pretty much all of them are for either diminishing the EU’s role in influencing policies of national states or for the removal of their countries from the EU. So, if such parties are getting a lot of traction does it still make sense to talk about one big and happy United Europe?
I believe it does. The U.S.E. project is an older one, which has been around for quite some time: in the 19th century it was widely debated by thinkers or statesmen (such as Napoleon) and in the 20th century it became a pressing matter in discussing peace, following each world war. With the start of the European Coal and Steel Community, which later on went to become the European Union, the first step towards a federated Europe was taken. It was based on the principles of common peace and prosperity, free exchange of goods, capital and people as well as a the idea that a strong, united Europe has better chance to compete with the big international players, such as USA, Japan or China.
So if the European Union started with such high hopes, how did it get to the disillusionment that many are feeling today? My take is that the European Union brought a lot of change that many weren’t expecting or wanted. At first, in the booming years of Western Europe (the 60s and the 70s), it was all about economic prosperity and free trade; but with as early as the 80s, the population increased rapidly, together with the income gap. As the middle class descended into working class and the middle upper class took its place all across the developed world without any visible reason, and with no fault in itself of the people affected – the public opinion turned its attention towards what was most accessible: migration and the payments to the EU.
And it makes sense: the change that is visible to you must bring the change affecting you, because before you saw it, your life was just merry. Except…when it doesn’t make sense: decline for the middle classes began before massive internal European migration happened (which in itself saw a massive exchange of brainpower, not just cheap labour). The Eastern side of the European Union is blamed for dragging prosperity down whilst the Western side is blamed for hoarding all the resources.
So is there a future in our already old but still fragile Union? I believe there is because I see at as a key to our common prosperity. I believe that everybody can benefit from a strong united internal market, from the freedom of movement and the inter-cultural mix. I believe it builds mutual cultural understanding and is a great foundation for peace and stability. It is not the EU that is making people poorer…but that, for another day.