The European Union (EU), which began as a peace project after the trauma of World War II, brought Europeans together with the hope of avoiding another war.
During its short history of 60 years, the participating nations have worked together on creating a common market, the Schengen area and a common currency, the euro. At the time, the goal of the EU to stop war and create a peaceful continent was not opposed by anyone in the mainstream. However, today euroscepticism, the fear of further integration at the EU level, is on the rise.
The term euroscepticism has previously been most frequently associated with states, such as the United Kingdom and Denmark. This is no longer the case. Euroscepticism has spread to many of the other EU member states and even some candidate countries still waiting to join the EU. Euroscepticism has also sparked the formation of political parties based solely on the idea of halting further EU integration.
The main fear that fuels euroscepticism, which is connected to the concept of nationalism, is the loss of national sovereignty. Eurosceptics fear that the EU is going to take over in all areas of law. There are even some eurosceptics who want their state to pull out of the 27-member state bloc altogether.
I believe that euroscepticism is a reaction to misinformation and reflects the vast underestimation of the influence and benefits of the EU on the everyday lives of all EU citizens.
Being a European citizen is a privilege and an honour because of the array of benefits that EU citizens receive. First, having access to the common market allows consumers to access more goods at lower costs, due to the absence of tariffs between member states. European citizens also have the legal right to live, study and work in any EU member state. This allows Europeans to gain experiences abroad without the hassle of visas and residence permits.
With the addition of the European External Action Service, the EU’s new diplomatic service, EU citizens who are abroad will not only have access to their own country’s embassy and those of the 26 member states, but now they can also access an EU embassy. This is important if an emergency were to arise in addition to making travelling abroad less stressful. One of the other benefits is the EU-wide law that when at a consulate or embassy abroad, all EU citizens have the right to speak in the language they are most comfortable with and have documents provided to them in any of the 23 official languages of the EU.
The EU has also just passed new legislation calling for the creation of a common cell phone charger made by 10 of the EU’s leading manufacturers, which would work with all mobile phone models. The next time you are at a friend’s house and your phone dies, whether you have the same phones or not, you could use your host’s charger.
I believe that the value and role of the EU is misunderstood and underappreciated. Perhaps this is largely due to a lack of knowledge about the EU. During my experience with Learning Europe, a program through which master’s degree students studying the EU go to Italian high schools to teach about the EU, I found it surprising how little the 16- and 17-year-olds I was teaching in Florence knew about the EU. Many of them could not name any of the key figures or even the member states. When I asked for their opinions of the EU, many could not come up with an opinion or view point; it was clear that they had never even thought about it. Although few had never learned about the EU, many of them nonetheless considered themselves sceptical of the EU. My experience suggests that the member states need to ensure that EU citizens are educated about what the EU truly does, so citizens can form opinions based on facts, not hearsay or apathy.
And what about you, TF readers? Are you eurosceptic? Europhilic? Have you thought about the EU? Do you understand the benefits? Maybe it’s time to start learning.