_ Richard Pettinger. Oxford, 3 July 2016.
The European Union is a political and economic union of 28 countries. Originally formed in 1958 by six countries (then the EEC), the EU has expanded in terms of size and integration. The aim of the EU is to promote European harmony through creating a single market, enabling the free movement of goods, services and people.
Some of the benefits of the European Union include:
Broad political and legal benefits
- European harmony – European Union countries are no longer at loggerheads like they were in the past. With the exception of civil war in Yugoslavia (which wasn’t in the EU at the time), Europe has managed to heal the divisions which were so painfully exposed in the two World Wars in the Twentieth Century. The EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for helping to promote peace and international co-operation. Many Eastern European countries are keen to join the EU because they feel it will help promote economic and political stability.
- Legal and human rights. The EU has a strong commitment to human rights, preventing discrimination and the due process of law. This makes the EU attractive to countries, such as the Ukraine who wish to share in similar legal and human rights.
- Prospect of membership has helped modernise countries, such as Turkey. The Copenhagen Criteria for EU membership enshrine a commitment to human rights, the rule of law and a market economy. The prospect of gaining membership of the EU, encourage countries to implement human rights legislation.
- EU is one of strongest economic areas in the world. With 500 million people, it has 7.3% of the world’s population but accounts for 23% of nominal global GDP.
- Free trade and removal of non-tariff barriers have helped reduce costs and prices for consumers. Increased trade with the EU creates jobs and higher income. Over 52% of UK exports are to the EU. Trade within the EU has increased 30% since 1992.
- According to one study – over ten years (1993-2003), the Single Market has boosted the EU’s GDP by €877 billion [£588 billion]. This represents €5,700 [£3,819] of extra income per household.
- A paper, Campos, Coricelli, and Moretti (2014) used the synthetic counterfactuals method (SCM) pioneered by Abadie and Gardeazabal (2003). The red dotted line shows estimated GDP if the country had not been a member of the EU. This shows that even more prosperous EU countries, such as the UK have benefited from higher GDP as a result of being in the EU.
- Removal of customs barriers mean 60 million customs clearance documents per year no longer need to be completed, cutting bureaucracy and reducing costs and delivery times
- Countries in the EU, are amongst the highest positions in the Human Development Index (HDI)
- Poorer countries, such as Ireland, Portugal and Spain have made significant degrees of economic development since they joined the European Union. A report suggests that over the period of the 1980s and 2004 enlargement, there are substantial positive payoffs of EU membership, with a gain in per capita GDP of approximately 12% for poorer countries. (Vox – how poorer countries benefit from EU)
- Social cohesion fund. This has invested in poorer areas of the EU to help reduce regional disparities. For example, Ireland benefited from the EU social cohesion fund (over €6 billion of investment in education and infrastructure spending)
- EU structural funds to help Eastern European economies develop will benefit the UK in the long term because as they become more affluent, they will be able to buy more UK exports.
- The European Union has attracted greater inward investment from outside the EU. Inward investment grew from €23 billion [£15.4 billion] in 1992 to €159 billion [ £106.5 billion] in 2005. The UK is the 5th largest source of inward investment in the world, and being a member of the single market is an important factor in encouraging Japanese firms.
he European Social Fund (ESF)
Labour and free movement of people
- Free movement of labour and capital have helped create a more flexible economy. For example, UK and Ireland have benefited from the immigration of Eastern European workers to fill labour market shortages in certain areas, such as plumbing, nursing and cleaning.
- Far from ‘taking jobs’, migration has helped increase productive capacity and makes a net contribution to tax revenues. (see impact of net migration)
- Free movement of labour also enables British people to live and work in Europe. Roughly 1.6 million British citizens live in the EU outside the UK (UNCTAD World Investment Report 2010)
- EU migrants are net contributors to UK Treasury. EU migrants tend to be young. Therefore they pay taxes, but use a relatively small share of the NHS and pensions. See: Fiscal effects of immigration. Net migration has helped deal with the UK’s demographic timebomb.
- EU has enabled people to travel freely across national boundaries making trade and tourism easier and cheaper. According to the European Commission, more than 15 million EU citizens have moved to other EU countries to work or to enjoy their retirement.
- 1.5 million young people have completed part of their studies in another member state with the help of the Erasmus programme. The possibility to study abroad is considered positive by 84% of EU citizens. (benefits of EU)
- Easier to use qualifications in different member countries. This makes it easier to work abroad without having to retrain in different national qualifications.
- Mutual recognition of safety standards and rules have helped reduce costs for firms. This has encouraged the development of small and medium business who rely on the low cost of exports.
- Social charter enshrines protection for workers such as a maximum working week, right to collective bargaining and fair pay for employment.
- European Arrest Warrant (EAW) scheme has made it easier to track criminals across the European continent.
Environmental benefits of the EU
- The EU has raised the quality of sea water and beeches, by implementing regulations on water standards ‘Bathing Water Directive’. 92% of tourist locations now meet minimum water quality standards. (Clean water at Europa.eu)
- Tackling global warming. In 2006, the (EU) committed to reducing its global warming emissions by at least 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2020. The EU has also committed to spending $375 billion a year to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. (global warming pdf)
- Tackling acid rain. Environmental treaties which have sought to deal with European wide environmental problems such as acid rain. The EU has set strict restrictions on emissions of pollutants, such as sulphur, and other causes of acid rain. (BBC Link)
Consumer benefits of the EU
- EU competition policy has harmonised regulation of monopoly and cartel power within Europe. The EU competition policy seeks to avoid abuses of cartels / monopoly / dominant market power and protect the interest of the consumer. There has been successful deregulation of airlines, electricity and gas markets.
- The EU has reduced the price of making mobile phone calls abroad. In 2007 EU legislation set maximum charges for making and receiving calls. The EU also agreed with 14 mobile phone manufacturers to create a standard design for chargers from 2011 in order to make life easier for consumers and reduce wastage. In 2014, it is has voted to scrap roaming charges which will drastically reduce the cost of using a mobile phone abroad. (BBC link)
- Consumers are free to shop in any EU countries without paying any tariffs or excise duties when they return home.