The European Union: An economic project or a political power?
Since the time of its inception, the European Union became one of the major players in both political and economic development throughout the globe; following the lead of the United States. This supranational organization consisted of 28 European states had developed from 1951 to the present, uniting the European region and adding more members to the fray. It is undeniable that the EU today is a force to be reckoned with, however, it is argued that the EU is mostly an economic power than a political bloc that must be taken in consideration. With the policies of the EU fostering a common economic development for its member states, member countries still make their own individual decisions in a political aspects. In this regard, while the EU presents instances throughout its integration that it is an influential political entity, the EU is mostly an economic project as its founding and current members imposed policies that would open up economic policies and trading between member countries throughout its integration and enlargement processes to improve its standing in the global arena.
Throughout the integration process, it is visible that the Europeans both saw the potential of the region to be a political bloc and an economic powerhouse, fueling the entire process from the post-war settlement up to its current state. According to Staab (2011) and Dinan (2004), the Second World War made crucial damage to all European nations as each found their economies and political capacity shattered due to the war effort. Europe even found itself in the middle as both the US and the USSR found the region vulnerable from attacks and invasions seeing that Europe still possesses an untapped potential as a political asset and an economic advantage. The US, the region’s financial backer and political ally, saw the region as a deterrent against USSR, who then see the region as a crucial partner in the spread of communism. With the threats of communism spreading in the European region and the reconstruction on the way, the remaining European nations had to prioritize which policies to impose to get Europe back on track. If Europe fell to the hands of the Soviets, political instability would return back to the region and incite another World War . Nugent (2006) stressed that it is at this moment that the Europeans realized the necessity to create a united European image that no longer would be held back by barriers and mistrust, and could stand on its own feet. Slowly, the European nations created the Organization for European Economic Cooperation to monitor the Marshall Plan and while it had created a rift between the East and West Europe, the OEEC was the first move played by the Europeans to see the possible integration of European nations. It also showcased that the European merger would be successful in promoting economic action within the region, turning into a political venture as seen upon the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty that created NATO.
While the essence of a “United States of Europe” plausible as seen from the OEEC and in the NATO, some federalist organizations had supported the notion of a “federal” Europe like the Union of European Federalists, the European Federalist Party, and the European Movement International. The sentiment has been taken into account upon the 1948 Hague meeting of European nations, which lead to the political and economic union known as the Council of Europe. Under the Council, it strives to create a more united Europe that would ensure the same economic, political and social development as one group. Its power as a political entity enabled the creation of the European Convention on Human Rights (1950), the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and the Cultural Convention of 1954; encompassing all member nations. Upon the fall of the Berlin Wall, former communist European nations acceded to the Council, proving that European integration is capable of uniting the European nations and have a significant political power within its member nations despite its vague decision-making structure. However, there was still a lapse with this Council as some European nations like the UK did not let go of their democracy and even join a cooperation that is mandatory .
Suchacek (2002) stated on that as the Council of Europe proved that it can be a political entity that can handle the European nations, the integration process soon saw the lapses in the region’s political and economic capacity that was once strong before the great wars. The Europeans slowly developed a union that would foster both economic, political, and social development within the region and also international partnerships and leadership by starting to edit the Council of Europe to form a much powerful union. However, the integration process slowly moved as an economic project with the proposal of French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman to create a supranational organization that would take into account the pressures from the Americans in integrating Western Germany into the fold. The resulting proposal enabled the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community under the Treaty of Paris on April 18, 1951, which would handle economic prosperity within the region and at the same time, ensure oil stability and sustainability.
It is visible that the European integration is fully moving on to an economic project as the Single European Act of 1987 had enabled the establishment of a Single European Market that also mirrored the European Free Trade Organization’s goal to create a trade bloc. Further economic development for the European nations was also pushed through because of the stagflation throughout Europe caused by weak economic growth and high inflation rates. The Europeans also launched in 1979 the European Monetary System to create the single currency. The political improvement of the European integration process before the establishment of the EU comprised the creation of the European Political Cooperation, which would foster further integration, the European Council, which cover meetings of member state heads for intergovernmental cooperation, and the establishment of the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice.
Not long after, the Europeans once more moved into economic improvement of its image as the EC is challenged by foreign competition and criticism that it is not capable of sustaining economic improvement and competitiveness in behalf of the member countries. This triggered the intention of the Commission, the Parliament, and the member nations to create the single market program that would sustain free movement of goods, services, income and people throughout the European nations. The SEA or the Single European Act of 1989 had enabled the single market programme to be launched within the Community . Zielonika (2008) had added that the European leaders further developed the economic capacity and development within the region with the development of an Economic and Monetary Union. Integration further called for two Intergovernmental Conferences in 1990 to discuss the EMU and the creation of the political union that would cover the European nations.
The resulting effect of the conferences is the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, sustaining the unified image and agenda of the European nations under the European Union. Upon its establishment, the EU, according to Delors, was an ‘unidentified political object’, but it had considerable political power in the international community, while still sustaining its economic power. Messner (2007) and Whitman (2010) stated that the EU has four assets that enables it as a political entity in the international arena: it could serve as a great actor in international negotiations, it could serve as the buffer for both East and West, it acts on international stability and security, and finally, it possesses a regional and multilevel political sectors that enables it to understand schemes that can be applicable to any situation. In addition to this political advantage in the global scene, the EU becomes a viable political asset and actor as the EU plays a key part in several important international organizations like the United Nations having almost 1/8th of the votes in the Security Council. While the EU acts independently, sanctions and decisions from the UN can be reassessed and vetoed once more if it influences the European interest . The EU’s political power can also be seen in policy-making, such as those in the environmental aspect as the EU is now the key leader on environmental policy after the US’ turn to other ventures on political influence and economic improvement .
While the EU is indeed an influential actor in the international arena, its current position as the largest and influential trading and economic partner of the globe is a result of the European integration process that fostered the removal of borders and policies that would foster the common market. Domestically, the EU now shares a common currency under the EMU as noted by Ahearn, Jackson, Mix and Nelson (2012), enabling it to rate the entire investment and trading power of the European region. Treaties such as Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon, which amended the Maastricht Treaty also fostered the single market programme, which opened the trading borders of each nation to the other. As a result of this single market proposal throughout the EU, it had enabled the international involvement of the EU to the world market. Currently, the region sustains 40% of the entire Gross Domestic Product of the globe alongside the United States and 70% of the world’s currency, the Euro . As the EU continue to enlarge to other acceding countries, the EU would remain to improve its economic policies and political influence, but it would mostly need to improve its economic capacity as it would need to integrate other nations to its already organized single economy.
Today, the European Union remains a key player in the global arena in terms of political and economic development much like the United States. On the one hand, the EU has been able to prove itself as a powerful political bloc like the United States, aiding in international and even regional policy making to maintain peace, order and sustainability. It can even serve as the alternative actor if the United States is not able to join in discussions that the EU is known for like in the issue of environmental protection. On the other hand, however, the EU, from its inception and development, is mostly an economic project that now handles an integral part of European unity and international stability. From the beginning of the integration process up to the current status of the EU, the European nations had opened all doors for its member nations to foster economic unity and oneness by creating a common market and currency that enabled it to be the largest and influential actor in terms of economic ventures and policies. In this regard, it is safe to say that the EU, with its economic capacity and control, would be a big loss to the world if anything threatens its further integration.
Ahearn, R., Jackson, J., Mix, D., & Nelson, R. (2012). The Future of the Eurozone and US Interests. Washington, D.C: US Congressional Research Service.
Dinan, D. (2004). Europe Recast: A History of European Union. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Messner, D. (2007). The European Union: Protagonist in a Multilateral World Order or Peripheral Power in the Asia-Pacific Century? Information Providers Guide, 11-27.
Nugent, N. (2006). The government and politics of the European Union. Durham: Duke University Press.
Staab, A. (2011). The European Union Explained, Second Edition: Institutions, Actors, Global Impact. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Suchacek, J. (2002). European Integration After World War II: The Way to the Treaties of Rome. Luxembourg: European Commission.
Whitman, R. (2010). The EU: Standing Aside from the Changing Global Balance of Power? Politics, 30(1), 24-32.
Zielonka, J. (2008). Europe as a global actor: empire by example? International Affairs, 84(3), 472-484.