What should Sashko know about the European Union? | NEXT STATION – BRUSSELS

What should Sashko know about the European Union?

Sashko is the newest and most curious friend of SmartiGraphs. He is going to vote for the first time this year in the European Parliament elections on 25 May. We promised to help him make an informed vote. For us to do that, we would lead him step by step to the “station” of Brussels!

A year ago SmartiGraphs presented the basic institutions in Bulgaria and the way they cooperate and function. The last-year campaign was dedicated to the National Parliamentary Elections in 2013. Our basic goal was to illustrate the institutional mechanisms and most of all to inspire you into being active part of the democratic dynamics. This year we are about to go beyond the national state and introduce you to the reality of the European democracy. In May 2014 the European Parliament Elections are going to take place and our aim is to present the European institutional dynamics to you. As a beginning, we would like to offer you to heat up a bit with topics such as: What is the EU? Why and how it developed? What is its purpose? If knowledge is said to be the window to the world, we would like to present you an esthetically beautiful picture (infographics) of the European Union.

European Union (Infographic) What is EU? Member-states, history and developement stages

European Union (Infographic) What is EU? Member-states, history and development

Being hectic in everyday life, we are left with little or no time to spend on thoughts about the nature or functions of the states, international organizations or unions. Yet we would like to drift off with to this philosophical heavens… The European Union is unique in its nature and construction. Today it is a pattern for many countries that would like to unite and cooperate more intensively on the track to become more competitive within the globalizing world.

If Europe has given the world the democracy, most of the political
ideologies and systems, today the European union gives an
example of a successful integration model of sovereign states.

EU is not only an economic organization of member-states (as for example the World Trade Organization is), neither is just an organization for maintaining and ensuring peace like United Nations. It is neither a unit lead by the idea of preserving security similarly to NATO’s nature. EU is colorful and manages to combine comprehensively characteristics of an international organization, economic union and of a unique political consolidation with such a span.

”The unity of Europe was the dream of a few.
It became the hope of many.
Today it has become a necessity for all of us.”
Konrad Adenauer

Many studies claim that the European Union of today is on the crossroad of either developing United European States or preserving the current status quo. Through the years since its formation in 1951, the European community has passed through many transformations – from a union of 6 countries dedicated to the control of arms industry to a consolidation of 28 countries with a high range of policies. It is not a doubt that the EU would continue to change and transform – yet its direction is not clear, whether it would be towards a narrow federation or a broad economic union.

But how does it actually work?

By nature it is a confederation of sovereign states that gives away part of their national sovereignty to the supranational body of the European Union. In other words, each and every member-state gives the right to the EU institutions to exert power in specific areas on behalf of them. After the Lisbon Treaty even more powers are transferred to the supranational level. With the financial and debt crisis, the role of the Union expanded more (especially for the countries in the Eurozone). Still, national states keep their leading role in terms of internal, external, fiscal and other policies.

As we know, the modern liberal democracy suggests high civil participation and an active position on policy and desision-making when it comes to the developement of the common EU society. The EU acclaims as well that is lead by liberal and democratic values, which means that civil society lays its grounds.

The supranational institutions and member-states claim to be driven by the fundamental liberal values of the Union. In that sence the civil society creates the foundation for the development of an democratic European society.

And it is obvious – a democratic state system cannot function effectively, if the basic foundation for an active civil involvement is missing. If only is it based on people being well informed and educated, then the civil society could be a successful one. That is why our active participation as European citizens suggests a definitive extend of recognition to the continental political realities.

Why and how the EU developed?

As to be completely precise on the exact moment in history when the idea of United Europe firstly originated, we should go back to the years during and after WWII. Every involved country suffered serious human and material losses. The outcome of the war became one of the main impulses for the consolidation of the continent. The leading European leaders made a promise to themselves not to let the WWII scenario happen again.

The British Prime Minister – Winston Churchill, is one of the first to publicly profess his support to the idea of United European States in 1946 at the University of Zurich. Actual steps on implementing those ideas, however, occur several years later.

On 9th May 1950 Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman create the so-called Schuman Declaration/Plan. It is to set the grounds for mutual control over coal and steel production. The focus is on those two heavy industrial sectors because they produce the raw materials for armament. In that manner by controlling the means of production of weapons, there is a common control on leadership and maintaining peace as well. The first politician to join the idea of Schuman and Monnet is the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. Later Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy joined and the date of April 1951 in Paris marked the beginning of the European integration.

That is why today we consider the founding fathers of the European idea to be Schuman, Monnet, Adenauer, Churchill, Spinelli and many other Europeans that contributed for Europe to be the peaceful place we know it to be today.

“Europe will not be made all at once, or according to
a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements
which first create a de facto solidarity”
Schuman Declaration

The main purpose of the Union is to preserve the peace within its borders. Another basic characteristic is the evolutionary platform on the foundations of which it has been build. In the beginning the EU was thought to be just an economic unit but later it evolved into a structure gaining more political powers, exactly as the legacy of the founders acclaimed.

All those changes in the structure, functions and powers are united in the perception and processes of Integration. The latest is developed in two areas – economic and political. Establishing one common market with its four freedoms: free movement of goods, services, people and capital is a result of the economic integration. The political one is lead by institutions such as the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, the Council of Europe. It is implemented by the principle of conferral of national states’ sovereignty to the supranational European institutions as well as including other countries. The mechanism is a succession of contracts that started with the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or Euratom). In this manner the states excel the cooperation between them on one hand and the influence of the supranational community grows as well. The follow-up contracts are the Treaty of Rome, Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon that shape up the EU as it is today.

The European Union today

Bulgaria joined the European family not long before the financial crisis of 2008. In a big extent that circumstance did not give a ground for our country to make progress in catching up with West-European countries in terms of living standards. A lot of people that strongly believed their lives would improve immediately after joining the community were highly disappointed. That is one of the reasons for empowering the evergrowing number of euroskeptics.

This phenomenon is more tangible in Western Europe. A lot of political parties that stand for the reduction or even freezing of the process of the European integration will participate in the upcoming elections. The last study of the EU dedicated to the distribution of seats in the European Parliament clearly shows that Euroskeptic right-wing parties would take more mandates than before.

Today the European Union is facing urgent problems that derive from the challenge of choosing the right direction for development of the EU as a whole. After the unsuccessful attempt of creating a common European Constitution it seems that the intense integration policy is deterred. Today it is not that popular to speak much about strengthening the political and economic integration and less we would hear about federalism and associations. Today the EU is to consolidate politically and institutionally, to strengthen internally after the local economic shocks as well as to look for future development opportunities.

Learning more about the development of the EU, we could give a broader thought on important social and political events both in the past and in our times. The European Elections in 2014 would give us the opportunity to change the development of Europe as well as to influence the direction of the community policies, including Bulgarian agenda.

“Use your power.
Choose who’s in charge in Europe.
Act.
React.
Impact.”
European Parliament Elections 2014 Slogan

Author: Dimitar Stanoev
Translation: Silviya Dineva