The European Union (or EU) – an assembly of 28 European nations with shared currency, laws, and trade agreements – is one of the most productive governmental achievements in human history and it benefits both its member states and the world at large. When one of its largest members, the United Kingdom, voted in a national referendum on June 23, 2016 to leave the EU for reasons that included a desire for improving the UK’s economic position, they set themselves up to achieve precisely the opposite. Not only did the EU serve as a crucial source of stability for a vulnerable post-World War II Europe, but it ultimately became both the rising tide that lifts all boats and more than the sum of its parts (pardon the redundant idioms).
Following the travesty that was the Second World War, Europe was in desperate need of stability and restoration. The world had experienced two massive global conflicts within four decades, focused largely in Europe and claiming the lives of millions, and there was no reason to believe that it wouldn’t happen a third time. What the continent needed most was a sustainable system of alliances and mutually beneficial trade relationships. As our course materials point out, “[a]fter World War II, modern western Europe started to form, and in 1951 six countries saw the need to create a shared trade market to help establish peace in the region by reducing competition for resources” (Penn State World Campus, n.d.). The first steps of what would become the European Union came in the form of the European Coal and Steel Community, formed in 1951 by Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands (Penn State World Campus, n.d.). The group’s name evolved over the succeeding years to become the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957 and then the European Community (EC) in 1967.
The next great event which would ultimately demonstrate the EU’s remarkable potential for both stability and prosperity was the 1973 inclusion of Denmark, Ireland, and the UK. The addition of these three large economies came as a result of the EC’s early successes in developing the member states’ economies (not to mention its prevention of additional European military conflicts) and was followed through the next several decades by expansions to include 28 total countries (Central Intelligence Agency, 2019). It settled on its current name – the European Union – in 1993 (Penn State World Campus, n.d.). One of the criticisms that has been leveled at the EU is that “poor countries may benefit more than rich countries – indeed, that advanced economies (like the UK) have little to gain from being a member of the EU” (Campos, 2019).
A study by economist Nauro Campos found quite the opposite. As you can see in the study’s visualized findings, both the per capita and per worker GDP performed much better for the 1973 countries than they would have as non-members of the EU (Campos, 2016):
The red dotted line shows the estimated GDP had the county not been in the EU, and the black line shows the actual GDP. The results are impossible to ignore; it represents decades of dramatic growth and prosperity marred only by global challenges like the 2008 recession (Campos, 2016). Notably, the periods of greatest growth coincide with the times when the most countries were being incorporated into the EU. This indicates that, rather than leaving the treasure trove that is the EU, the UK keep its seat at that table and focus on bringing even more countries into the fold.
There is no doubt that the millions of UK citizens who voted in the 2016 referendum weighed several factors when deciding whether to leave or remain in the European Union. One thing, however, should not be in doubt: the UK’s economy is far more poised for future success as a member of the EU than as a non-member. The EU has already achieved one well-earned Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for its role in shepherding generations of European peace (Central Intelligence Agency, 2019), and if it manages to reverse the 2016 Brexit decision in its ongoing negotiations, I think that similar accolades should be in order for those responsible.
Campos, N. (2016). How rich nations benefit from EU membership. Retrieved 25 November 2019, from https://voxeu.org/article/how-rich-nations-benefit-eu-membership.
Central Intelligence Agency. (2019, November 4). The World Factbook: European Union. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ee.html.
Penn State World Campus (n.d.). Modern Western Europe: The European Union. November 25, 2019, from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2008449/modules/items/27027021