The last three years has Europe exhausted, with people avoiding reading the news due to Brexit fatigue. Many people are concerned about what the decision means for the future of the European Union – is the cohesive governing system reaching its end? Let’s take a brief overview.
First, What is the European Union?
Due to the proximity geographically to one another, and shared interests as a result, the EU was formed to allow participating countries to combine their powers (necessitating compromise on their own sovereignty in some areas), while still allowing them to remain independent countries. The compromising comes in the form of the EU decision-making bodies or institutions, through which decisions are made democratically. The main decision-making bodies or institutions being the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, and the European Commission.
This is why Europeans are able to travel and move freely throughout much of Europe. However, not all members follow all of the policies of the EU, which is why countries, like Bulgaria for example, do not have the Euro but are still part of the EU. These countries that are not yet participating in all areas of EU policy and are considered Non-Schengen countries (the Schengen Zone allows citizens to travel passport-free throughout the member countries). The reasons for this divide being that some do not want to give up certain levels of control over their own policies and because there are certain criteria that need to be met that some countries have not managed to reach.
From agriculture and rural development, taxes and budget, to security, digital economy, human rights, and international relations, the EU and its affiliated decision-making bodies are involved in all aspects of its members not just internally, but on a global scale.
The Euro, the cohesive currency among the member states, has allowed for a more efficient market, making individual countries less susceptible to fluctuations in the market, strengthening the economy in many countries, and making it easier for transaction costs for travelers. Since it is not as risky to invest in the cohesive Euro than individual country currencies, foreign investment in participating countries has increased, while Euro-based companies could invest in developing economies for much less money. The currency currently stands as the second strongest in the world.
Trading has become far easier within the EU. Business methods have become more efficient, including with regards to paperwork and administrative requirements, standardization has been harmonized, and there is greater competition for services, which benefits consumers and businesses.
The EU also had its own Charter of Fundamental Rights, which brings cohesiveness to the various rights held by each member state. It promotes and protects the rights of children, human rights, and protect rights in common law and constitutional law.
The EU deals with migration and asylum seekers, requiring member-states to have a fair application process and to meet certain standards for the provision of housing, food, and aid. The EU is also among the leading donor globally for humanitarian aid.
The EU allows for a more cohesive effort, and broader support for members, with regard to climate change. They are investing in their green economy (an economic model that focuses on creating businesses and industries that do not have a negative impact on the environment), which they state will create millions of jobs. They are aiming to drastically cut transportation emissions down, invest in energy-efficient buildings, and focus on locally produced and renewable sources of energy.
The benefits of the Euro come with sacrifice, though. Those adopting the Euro requires member-states to give up their ability to print their currency, making them more vulnerable to inflation. Countries with their own currency are able to adjust interest-rates accordingly to lessen economic shocks, while adopting the Euro means getting rid of this method of recovery. Also, important to consider is that implementing the Euro cost billions and being a member of the EU costs billions of dollars in support annually.
Having one currency policy over countries of varying sizes, and socio-political backgrounds mean the ability to protect the interests of all is affected. And for the wealthy countries, it means putting in more money of their own to help out member-states facing financial difficulties.
While the EU may have standardizing laws regarding asylum seekers, how each country interprets meeting the needs of those fleeing over their borders, and what the basis of a standard of living should be, is greatly varied. Each member-state is also responsible for deciding how much money they can or are willing to put toward this area of support.
So, What is Going On with Brexit and Why Does It Matter?
For those unclear on the details, England and Wales voted in an almost 50/50 split in favor of exiting the EU, while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted more heavily in favor of staying. Multiple agreements have been drawn up, and subsequently rejected by members of parliament, and the deadline of October 31st, 2019 is quickly approaching. The UK does have an out – they have been given permission to cancel the process without requiring the permission of the rest of the EU members.
For years, the EU has been seen to have benefited the less developed countries more than the wealthy ones, and while studies have gone on to prove otherwise, the debate still exists. The vote by the UK – fueled by desire for trade independence, and concerns over border security, and the impact of immigration – has done more than just put question into the future of the EU, it has created divides among socio-economic groups, and brought to question issues surrounding immigration, racism, multiculturalism, and the concept of national identity.
People from all over the world who have moved to the UK – who have families, businesses, and friends, and everything else one associates with the feeling of home – are questioning the inclusivity, and how genuine the desire and efforts have been for creating multi-cultural societies. Hostility, anger, resentment, confusion are all increasing along with exhaustion from the news since Brexit’s announcement.
Even if Brexit does not end up going through, it is not possible to ignore the last three years, or the fact that internal divisions appear to reign supreme over the cohesiveness the EU seeks to create: a huge concern for the future of Europe, and for the world. This decision has raised questions globally over the issues that are dividing the continent: the challenging realities that come with integrating cultures, ethnicities, and religions, and the socio-economic impacts this has in an increasingly interdependent world.
There have been significant benefits to member states in joining the EU, but it is not possible to reap benefits without compromise, and what citizens and member-states are willing to compromise is up to them. If the future of Europe, and indeed the global community, are hoping to utilize the potential that comes from bridging political and socio-economic borders, it appears there needs to be some level of conscious and open awareness of the tensions it creates and be proactive in mitigating public concerns before they become real problems. Does Brexit mean the end of the EU? Not necessarily, but it will result in a permanent change to the socio-political climate.
Maybe this is like the long-term married couple that goes to counseling together, airing out a lot of repressed resentment, creating a lot of fights and tears before the healing and strengthening of the relationship can begin. Or maybe it will end in divorce. I for one am hoping the EU has hired a good therapist.