If you do a quick online search to answer the question “Why is the European Union important” you will find economic factors sitting at the top of the list of answers and explanations. This is partially true but it is not the most important reason and it is not chief answer for why is the European Union important. Following are the top 5 explanations to the question: Why is the European Union Important?
#1. Explanation for Why is the European Union Important – Stopping the Europeans from Killing Us All!
When I was in college a short-lived debate broke out in class regarding the effectiveness of the EU. For the sake of playing devil’s advocate I was on the side of “the EU is not effective.” I didn’t own the position, but I was also not in the camp of simply assuming the European Union was anything beyond a good idea. One of my classmates whose study focus was Eastern Europe countered, “Of course it is effective. There has not been a major European war for more than half a century.”
That’s the real #1 answer to the question “why is the EU important?” This is more or less stated by the European Union itself. At the official web site for the European Union is a document entitled 60 Good Reasons for the EU.
The #1 reason on this list is: “The EU has been keeping the peace for 70 years.”
That 70 year time span being referred to has seen massive wars in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Clearly the authors of this document are not referring to world peace. They are talking about peace in Europe.
Those living in the powerful nations and societies of the western world often carry an undeserved self-pride regarding their place among civilization and history. They look upon today’s violence of the Middle East, Africa or elsewhere and consider these the backward nations of the world.
The fact is there have been few civilizations in history as violent and prone to war as European civilization is. It was European civilization that presented world history with things like the Religious Wars, The Hundred Years War, not one but two World Wars, and the list goes on.
Add to this the dramatic rise in military technology and weaponry over the last century and we see how terrible and dreadful the potential for Europe’s self destruction and probable global destruction is.
Therefore, the #1 answer to the question “why is the EU important” is this: The EU is important because it keeps the Europeans from killing themselves and everyone else.
Another good starting point to for understanding these answers to the question Why Is the European Union important is this podcast episode I put together in 2013. This was part of my History of the European Union podcast series.
#2. Explanation for Why is the European Union Important – It Keeps Europe from Being Economically Irrelevant
Europe was the center of the world for much of the 18th, 19th and part of the 20th century. The World Wars changed this, as did the rise of the American economic empire and the collapse of the European dominated colonial system. More recently the rise of Chinese and Indian economies have pushed European nations further behind.
Consider the following:
- In 2013 France was the 20th largest economy in the world with a GDP per capita of $44,099. (Source IMF)
- In 2011, the United Kingdom had the 9th largest economy in the world (from the perspective of purchasing power parity) behind countries like Brazil, Russia and even the former jewel of the British Empire – India.
- Germany boasts the largest economy in Europe and the European Union and the fourth largest in the world. Sounds impressive right? But even though Germany has the fourth largest economy in the world, Germany’s economy is dwarfed by those higher in the rankings. The US economy is five times bigger than Germany’s. China economy is easily more than twice as large as Germany’s.
When we bring the European economies together into a united economy, a European Union similar to the united economy of the 50 states of America (that was the dream at least), this picture changes.
- In nominal terms the European Union economy is the second largest in the world.
- In 2018 the European Union represented 22% of the global economy.
Far from being passed up and forgotten on the world stage the European Union keeps the nations of Europe relevant in the global economy. It is up there with the United States and China.
Why is the European Union important? Because it maintains economic power and relevance for the nations of Europe that once dominated the world.
#3. Explanation for Why is the European Union Important – It Makes Europe Functional
On paper, the modern nations of Europe don’t make a lot of sense. Go back in time three to four hundred years ago and the large number of sovereign domains bound to a relatively small amount of geography made sense and helped bring order to the European continent. People were kept safe by the wide distribution of order and laws throughout the land.
Then came the days of planes, trains and automobiles. Multiple borders can be crossed not merely in a day but in hours. Imagine moving through customs, completing new nation entry paperwork, declaring your belongings and intents as you travel from one country to the next and then to the next and then to the next, over and over again throughout one or two days of travel. The many borders and governments of Europe would create a virtual standstill for the economy of Europe and the world as it came to Europe to do business.
The European Union changes this. It was designed, as Winston Churchill envisioned, as a United States of Europe in which the economy could work as one to facilitate everything from simpler, more efficient trade to tourism.
#4. Explanation for Why is the European Union Important – It Makes Life Better for Europeans
To see this we have to discount the current surge in nationalism and fear that is moving not only in Europe but throughout the world. This type of irrational behavior and perspective fueled the historical Brexit vote a few years ago and will continue to do damage to areas of the global order where reason and logic are ignored for the sake of fear and insecurity.
While the European Union (EU) is currently going through a period of change and transition, like many other areas and regions of the global economy, on the whole the European Union has been enormously beneficial for the people of Europe. It has facilitated an economy in which their standard of living has risen even while their cost of living has decreased. The nature of the European Union and its economic compacts might make this difficult to track on an individual basis but it is easily proven on a collective basis.
It is simple economics. When barriers are removed and economic health is fostered, jobs increase, wages increase, stability and consistency increase. These all lead to greater economic conditions for the people.
#5. Explanation for Why is the European Union Important – It Makes Europe Globally Relevant
The dirty little secret of history that few want to talk about today is that many of the modern problems of the world order which we all live in, were born out of the scars and damages of European imperialism in the 19th and early 20th century. From Africa to the Middle East to Asia much of the warfare, authoritarianism and inequity can trace strong linkages to the era of European imperialism – if not their source.
Thankfully that day is over, even if its damages remain on the world order. That does not mean that the European Union that the European Union is not still very active on the world stage. From the refugee crisis, to authoritarianism, to democratic values, the leaders and statesmen speak frequently to the issues that affect the world – and they are listened to.
This stature and weight would not be accessible to most of the nations of Europe, even many who were once great powers in their own right, if not for the European Union (see explanation # 2 to explain why).
Why is the European Union important? Because it has prevented the nations of Europe from being passed over by time as new empires and orders have replaced those positions once dominated by Europeans.
This is is part of my wider History and Backgrounder for Understanding the EU. If you have enjoyed this post please check out the larger guide for deeper insights and explanations about the European Union.