Ever since its inception, the present-day European Union (EU) has surpassed a series of critical junctures. Its tumultuous era began with the financial and sovereign debt crises of the late 2000s, continued with a delicate migration quandary in 2015, and culminated with Brexit, the Covid-19 health emergency, and today’s energy crisis exacerbated by the ongoing war in Ukraine. Having its deep roots in the postwar period, the EU was born from the conviction that lasting, ubiquitous peace and prosperity could be brought to the continent. This noble and awe-inspiring ideal of its architects has ignited a decade-long sequence of efforts to foster and deepen political and economic integration in the region. The formation of a monetary union (the eurozone), the progressive enhancement of the Single Market predicated on the fundamental freedoms of movement, the convergence of security and foreign policy agendas, and the ever-increasing social and economic cooperation among member states have all shaped a more cohesive and resilient Union.
A wobbly dance in the heart of the storm: the EU faced with criticism
However profuse and undeniable the multilateral advantages yielded by the EU are, the public opinion has never fallen short of voicing fears, concerns, and assaults on European institutions. Ideologues driven by the slippery political rhetoric of sovereignty loss or theft have constantly overstated and deliberately misrepresented the Union’s perceived democratic deficit. Well taken, the EU may not be the utopian prototype of a perfectly operating democratic machinery working on universal consensus and flawless electoral accountability. Yet, it has managed across time to build a robust capital of popular sympathy by strengthening its platforms of representation and by empowering citizens to become co-producers of the EU policy making process. In this regard, the European Citizen Initiative (ECI), the recently established Competence Centre on Participatory and Deliberative Democracy, and the endless initiatives centred on the broader European electorate stand together for the EU's undoubted willingness to exploit and explore innovative instruments of civic engagement. However, regardless of EU’s unceasing attempts to democratise its structures, Eurosceptics keep portraying the European Commission (EC) as an unfettered technocratic tyrant, which, unelected, unaccountable, and hence undemocratic in its strategic mandate, undermines the sacrosanct sovereignty of self-governing nation-states. Indeed, the centralisation of the bureaucratic apparatus in Brussels has always been a bone of contention between Europhiles and Eurosceptics. But the Commission has made enormous progress in increasing its institutional openness and procedural transparency: lobbying meetings with Commissioners or senior staff members are being published and hearings with ambassadors of national parliaments have become more frequent, while the European Ombudsman investigates issues of EU administrative malfunctioning and the Parliament is entrusted with the means to hold Brussels accountable. Perhaps an even more terrifying and nerve-wracking impediment faced by the Union nowadays lies in the dissemination of populist, nativist, and nationalistic political factions across the bloc. The rise of extreme ideologies poses a threat to European identity by nurturing blinding polarisation and social fragmentation. The EU is now called upon to demonstrate its subtle art of bringing nations together to the benefit of all.
What the EU has joined together, let not man put asunder: the benefits of the Union
In spite of the tireless, venomous tirades against the “sovereignty-robbing” EU, the continent’s largest body for peace and cooperation has produced an invaluable strand of tangible benefits for its member states. The seamless access to the open common market, which allows for the unconstrained mobility of labour, capital, goods, and services, has engendered an unprecedented rise in free trade within and beyond the frontiers of the Union, whilst spreading investment and business opportunities for European households and suppliers. The common foreign and security policy mechanisms reinforced by the EU coordination of justice and home affairs have ensured the permanent collaboration against organised crime, terrorism, and corruption across borders. Furthermore, the pervasiveness of the supreme European law has guaranteed the protection of both consumer rights (through extensive food, drug, and product regulatory frameworks) and environmental rights (through air and water quality provisions backed by legislation for the conservation of natural habitats). Similarly, the common fisheries and agriculture policy directives have provided the sectors in question with substantial market stability and generous financial support. Under the EU, workers, volatility-prone small to medium-sized enterprises overwhelmed by the disruptive forces of globalisation, students, professionals, and numerous social categories are enjoying all-encompassing rights and liberties, from labour and welfare facilities to considerable research funds and projects of public infrastructure.
The recent Covid-19 experience, the daunting challenge of climate change, and the energy war waged by Russia have shown the capacity of the EU for cross-country solidarity, social cohesion, and effective collective action. The Union’s exhaustive strategic planning of vaccination, albeit deemed to be sluggish at first, has secured by and large a rapid and fair distribution of doses across members, while the Next Generation recovery plan has injected massive liquidity into EU countries in order to help them mitigate the negative, far-reaching impact of the pandemic. Moreover, the promising European Green Deal guides Europe's mission to become climate neutral by 2050 through a growing clean and circular economic model where nobody is left behind. In the spirit of the green transition, the REPowerEU joint action plan has pledged to phase out the systemic dependency on Russian fossil fuels by diversifying EU’s supplies leading to a cleaner, more secure and affordable energy.
A cause to be endorsed: European integration
Overcoming imminent, life-threatening hurdles by pooling the individual efforts of its member states together, the European Union has, without any shadow of doubt, brought to the table a boundless stream of benefits to the region, spurring growth, convergence, and collective wellbeing. The European citizens may rest assured that the Union is working assiduously to improve their living standards, combat poverty and social exclusion via humanitarian aid and welfare assistance, promote scientific progress, and enforce fundamental human rights, freedoms, and dignity. It is when states look beyond the short-sighted perspective of their short-term interests, when European integration is unanimously endorsed and allowed to thrive and prosper, when we all recognise our shared European identity, that we can all enjoy Europe’s Ode to Joy.
Barnier, Michel. 2021. “We Ask Michel Barnier: What Is the Future of Europe?” The Economist. September 30, 2021.
Donohoe, Paschal. 2023. “Paschal Donohoe on How the Euro Will Thrive in Spite of the War in Ukraine.” The Economist, January 4, 2023.
The Economist. 2021a. “The Black-Cod Theory of European Integration.” The Economist. August 5, 2021.
———. 2021b. “The European Union Should Not Give up on Enlargement.” The Economist, October 9, 2021.
———. 2022a. “How the EU Looks after a Decade of Horrors.” The Economist, August 18, 2022.
———. 2022b. “Europe Has a Problem: France and Germany Have Forgotten How to Argue.” The Economist, October 27, 2022.