Welcome to the EU Primer

The European Union is important. That may seem like an obvious statement, and one in which a lot of people agree. But, if you ask “Why the EU is important?” you may find that people lack an answer. Often, we’re told that the EU is a key organization for it’s member states, it helps smaller countries have a voice in global politics and it allows neighbors to pool resources and share the very best of their home with the rest of Europe. How does the EU do this? Where did the EU start? How do countries become members of the EU? These are very important questions that citizens of Europe may ask, and it is very important that members of the EU can answer and understand these questions. The root of a democracy is its people, this is true at a domestic level and it remains the same at the international stage. If the EU is to function as an international democracy its people and citizens have to be engaged and mindful of the functions, processes and debates happening in Brussels everyday.

Here we come to the ethos and role of this blog, only after many long nights and stressful hours have I developed a strong understanding of the European Union, and as I grew to understand the EU my passion and enthusiasm for the organization grew as well. I know that many member states would be lost without EU guidance, important voices and unique perspectives would drown in the swell of opinions and issues present on the international stage. Many EU member states rely on the economic support gained from their membership status and whole industries rely heavily on the support provided by EU regulations and subsidies. I hope that through this blog, I am able to translate EU jargon into clarity and cut through the dense jungle that is the European legislative process. I want to encourage my readers to learn, debate, and get engaged in Europe. I hope to provide a toolbox filled with everything someone needs to research, understand important Europe topics and form their own educated opinions on how the EU is run and its role in international relations. Use these tools to find you own voice, broadcast you opinions, shout your concerns from atop a soapbox, become involved in European politics.

It is easy to be apathetic about politics, to assume that you won’t heard among the countless others and this is a common misunderstanding. Without people there is no debate, no substance to the discourse. I want to encourage everyone to get out there, and shout aplenty to your local politicians, to your representatives in the European Parliament. There is no issue to small and there is no concern invalid. It’s time to get out there! Allow your opinion to be heard and share you experience and perspectives with your communities. This is how we make the world a better place.

On this blog you will find several different categories below is a short summary of everything you can find here at The EU Primer:

  • Informatics providing explanations for the most important institutions within the European Union, the most commonly used legislative processes, and some of the key roles and positions both inside and outside the European Union.
  • Current European affairs and discussions regarding important events to ensure that any readers are up to date and informed on the EU.
  • Informative pieces on the History of the European Union, the many forms it has taken and events through time that were key in the formation of what we know today as the EU.
  • Important links and information on how you can get involved in European and Domestic projects and how you can communicate with your representatives at the European Union.

EU’s Week – August 23rd – 29th

23/08 Further Funding for COVID Vaccines:

The European Commission has approved a further 108 million euro has been funded to Danish company Bavarian Nordic for the development and Manufacture of COVID vaccines. These substantial aid was given as a repayable advance and the funding will go towards the development of a novel coronavirus vaccine. This announcement arrived as COVID restrictions around Europe have begun to ease, the percentage of adults vaccinated against the new virus is on a steady rise across the continent and European states are preparing to return to normalcy after 2 years of restrictions and lock-downs. Bavarian Nordic’s vaccine has finished its phase II trials and hope to use this new funding to effectively complete the vaccines phase III trails which confirm the safety and demonstrate the efficacy of the injection. The executive vice- president of the Commission Margrethe Vestager said that this funding will “…contribute to much needed research and development activities to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.” She also reinforced the EU Commission’s support for Member states, stating “We continue working in close cooperation with Member States to find workable solutions to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, in line with EU rules.”

24/08 EU’s Remarks after G7 summit:

The European Union met with the G7 to discuss a co-operative approach to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The President of the European Council Charles Michel spoke to reporters after the summit, held over online video conference, was concluded. The statement focused on two key issues, the evacuation of people in Afghanistan, both European citizens and staff, and Afghani citizens fleeing the state, and the communication and relations with the new Afghan state moving forward.

Regarding this first issues, President Michel made it clear that the European Union does not want the sudden arrival of refugees at European borders, concerning the influx of refugees President Michel stated that the EU will “…work with the countries in the region, especially Iran, Pakistan, and central Asia, to address the different needs. International protection will be needed for those facing persecution and for other vulnerable Afghans. And EU member states will contribute to this international effort.” The President also expressed the worry for personal and their exit from the country. Regarding these worries, the president called on the new Afghan authorities to allow “free passage to all foreign, and Afghan citizens, who wish to get to the airport.”. He also reinforced the EU’s dedication to prevent the illegal arrival of refugees, stating “let’s be clear, let’s not allow the creation of a new market for smugglers and human traffickers. We are determined to keep the migratory flows under control and the EU’s borders protected.” a dedication that has been repeated by several European Commissioners over the past few weeks. The President also explained the need for co-operation between the European Union and the United States in the evacuation of personal. He expressed that the need to maintain a secure hold on Kabul airport and to maintain fair and equatable access to the area for “…for all nationals entitled to evacuation.”

On the second issue President Michel was clear that it was too early to make a call on relations with the Afghan state moving forward. The President admits that relations with the state will be necessary to maintain the progress made in the country regarding human rights and to maintain “…a positive influence for the Afghan people, especially in supporting their basic needs,…” but he promises that an interaction with the new authorities would be “…subject to strict conditions, regarding the deeds and attitude of the new regime. Both in preserving the political, economic and social achievements for the Afghan citizens, and their human rights, notably of women, girls and minorities. And in terms of the international obligations of Afghanistan – in particular, security, the fight against terrorism, and drug trafficking.”

Concluding his statement, the President highlighted the importance of international co-operation and data sharing in the fight against foreign terrorism. In his final remarks President Michel declares the European Union’s determination to protect its values and its mission to promote rule of law, democracy and human rights across the world. He states that this message is to any “…actors who are trying to take advantage of the current situation. The EU will continue to firmly protect and promote its interests and values.” He further highlights that there are lessons to learn from the situation in Afghanistan remarking that “These events show, that developing our strategic autonomy, while keeping our alliances as strong as ever, is of the utmost importance, for the future of Europe.”

27/08 EU supplies aid to Hati:

An European Union air bridge operation supplied 125 tonnes of life saving materials to victims of an earthquake in Hati. Alongside these supplies the EU also provided 14 million euro in financial aid to the country with a further 3 million euro in urgent humanitarian assistance. Regarding the crisis Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič, said: “At this critical time, the EU continues to support people in Haiti who are suffering the consequences of the terrible disaster that hit the country. Medical assistance, shelter and access to water are urgent needs that cannot be left unheard. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the EU and its partners, together with the Haitian authorities, vital assistance is being delivered to help the people of Haiti to survive this challenging time.”

27/08 EU provides funding through cohesion policy fund

The EU has provided over 300 million euro in funds to several member states as a part of its regional cohesion fund. These funds have been allocated to small and medium sized businesses for the development of e-commence and cybersecurity, support regional green economies, health services, and social security. These funds are part of the larger NextGenerationEU project, which plans to provide 50.6 billion euro to Cohesion policy programs over 2021 and 2022. These programs will focus on increasing the sustainably and resilience of Member State’s economies moving forward.

EU’s Week – August 16th -22th

The European Union and Afghanistan:

With the swift collapse of the Afghani state earlier this month, the EU commissioner for home affairs Ylva Johansson has released a statement outlying the EU’s reaction to the current situation. The evacuation of EU and member states staff and citizens and the preparation for a new wave of migrants from the area are the EU priorities. Comissioner Johansson applauded the Member States’ work in granting visas to staff and families. The Commissioner also warned of increased migratory pressure and calls for member states to work closely with the EU to ensure that a crisis can be mitigated calling for Member States to “… step up their engagement on resettlement, to increase resettlement quotas to help those in need and to offer complementary legal pathways”. The statement expressed the need to plan ahead of this new wave, explaining “We should not wait until people arrive at the external borders of the European Union. This is not a Solution”. The Commissioner also hopes to mitigate the use of illegal and unregulated smuggling routes, further stating “We should prevent people from heading toward the European Union through unsafe,irregular and uncontrolled routes run by smugglers.” She further empathizes the European Unions commitment in assisting Afghans who have been displaced internally and externally remarking on the already significant contribution towards this cause, both financially and through labor on the ground. In her closing remarks Commissioner Johansson reinforces the need for international co-operation “The rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan poses a global challenge.”

Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen released a statement on Saturday warning that communication with the Taliban is not the same as recognition of the new Islamic state, stating that the communication with the Taliban in Afghanistan are distinct from political talks. President Von Der Leyen urged caution and emphasized that the EU and its Member States have a “moral duty” to protect those coming from Afghanistan through “legal and safe routes globally, organized by us, the international community”

EU provides further COVID support:

On Friday the EU announced that they were contributing a further 41 million euro to help neighboring countries recover and combat the COVID-19 virus. The Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič outlined the EU’s already significant work in assisting those states in need. The Commissioner explained that this new funding will “…help address the intimidate repercussions of COVID-19, including vulnerable communities,”. Ahead of this explanation Commissioner Janez highlighted that the EU has been “Leading the multilateral response to the coronavirus pandemic.”. Throughout the ongoing pandemic the EU has been a leading force in fighting the novel virus. Having already provided 3 billion euro for the distribution of COVID vaccines to low- and middle – income countries. The EU has also promised 100 million euro for humanitarian assistance during the vaccine roll out in African states with “critical humanitarian needs and fragile health systems.”

From Community to Union: An Overview of EU History

The Idea of European Integration has a complicated history. Much Like the EU itself there are many different perspectives and debates surrounding the theories of European Integration but most agree that these modern ideas of a unified Europe began to take root after World War II when most of Europe was in ruins after years of devastating conflict.

1951

The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) is established and represents a commitment to rebuild Europe and to prevent a conflict on the scale of the Second World War from happening again. European States on the continent agree to pool key resources for the reconstruction of state infrastructure together. Key materials such as coal and steel were freely shared among ECSC members. Alongside the Marshal Plan funding from America the ECSC was a key organization for the redevelopment of European countries and it also marks the first time in Modern history that European States opened up their economies to this extent, allowing for each member state to redevelop quickly.

1950s

At the turn of the decade the ECSC becomes the European Economic Community (EEC). This is of course more than a change in name, this new community has a wider stake in its members economics, many of the current institutions such as the European Parliament and the Council of Europe are established. The idea of a unified Europe beyond economics was being debated by key European figures. EURAtom is also established at these treaty meetings, this hallmarks the beginning of co-operation in generating power for European states. These new powers also draw criticism and the European Community’s first major crisis looms on the horizon.

1960s

As the EEC expands other European states look to join and several different countries apply for membership, including the United Kingdom, Greece and Denmark. This expansion also brought suspicion, primarily from French President Charles De Gaulle who was skeptical of the non-European influences the United Kingdom would invite with its membership into the EEC. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is also established, providing key subsidies and regulations for European agriculture. De Gaulle’s opposition continued further when in 1965 he boycotted EEC meetings. Fearing a loss of sovereignty for France and other member states, De Gaulle brings the legislative processes in Europe to a grinding halt. Only after a year of careful negotiation is France brought back to the table. These negotiations enshrined the right for member states to veto legislation and also set limits on the powers for European institutions.

1970s

The EEC welcomes new members with the introduction the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark. These new members bring a strong voice into the room in the form of the United Kingdom’s prime minister. There was an expansion into the budgetary influence of the EEC and the European Monetary System is introduced in 1979. One of the foundations for the single currency we see in the majority of the European Union today. Notably the United Kingdom decided to opt out. The EEC looks to expand its influence into other policy areas as its membership grows. A bi-annual meeting in De Hague is organized between the heads of state and government of EEC member states. These meetings go on to establish the European Council in 1974, a organization that holds huge amounts of influence in the formation of the EU legislative agenda.

1980s

Debates and discontent arise in the United Kingdom when Margaret Thatcher is elected prime minster. Unhappy with the benefits the United Kingdom is receiving from the EEC Thatcher argues that the UK is contributing too much to the European budget and begins negotiations for a rebate of funds back to the English state. Thatcher resists further economic integration into the EEC as new memberships is given to Spain after the fall of Franco and the establishment of democracy. 1989 saw the fall of the Berlin wall and shortly after the re-unification of Germany. This symbolizes the final decline of the Soviet Union and fundamentally changes the international landscape.

1990s

With the the iron curtain of the Soviet Union finally drawn back there is a renewed push for European integration and in 1991 the Maastricht Treaty was signed. This treaty established the European Union (EU), its three pillars and, introduced new offices such as the European Ombudsman. Over the next ten years several reforms to the Maastricht treaty further strengthened the EU’s influence on member state economics , it also begins to gain influence in other policy areas such as defense and security policy. 1995 sees the further addition of Austria, Finland and Sweden as members of the EU. The European Central Bank (ECB) is opened and shortly after the Euro is developed as the currency of the European member states in 1999.

2000s

The Euro is adopted by the majority of EU member states, only the United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden opt to keep their original currency. There is a further push for European integration in 2004 with the referendum on the constitutional treaty of the European Union. This treaty ultimately fails to be ratified and after several years of negotiation the Lisbon treaty is published and voted on by European citizens in 2007. The Lisbon treaty expands the EU influence into other policy areas and establishes new roles for common security and defense. Key institutions such as the European Central Bank and the European Council are officially recognized EU institutions and the Euro becomes the official currency of the European Union. 2008 brings financial crisis as a global recession destabilizes the world economy. In the aftermath, the EU adopts stricter controls on borrowing and the ECB gains more influence in the economies of member states.

2010s

In 2012 the European External Action Service (EEAS) is established, providing the EU an organization for foreign action and provides a means to develop a EU foreign policy. After years of war and crisis in the middle east, a mass movement of refugees triggers a migrants crisis in Europe. Under the guidance of the EU, member states work together to ensure the safety of these displaced people and co-operate to provide homes and shelters for the refugees. In the midst of this crisis the UK vote in a referendum to leave the European Union. This begins many years of intense negotiation as the UK and the EU debate the optimum way for the United Kingdom to leave the union. This marks the first time an EU member state opts to leave the Union entirely and sparks fears of further disintegration

2020 – 2021:

The beginning of 2020 brings a global pandemic, effectively shutting down the world’s movement and places huge pressure on state economies as industries shut down for prolonged periods. As this pandemic continues through 2021 the effects of climate change bring calamity to European states as floods in Germany ruin towns and forest fires rage across Greece and Turkey. European fire and rescue services from across Europe come together to assist in fighting the infernos. In the middle east, the swift removal of US troops in Afghanistan see the collapse of the Afghani state and the rise of a new government led by the Taliban. These challenges prompt a unified response for the European Union and may see the further integration of EU member states as resources need to be pooled together to mitigate the further effects of our changing climate and provide reactions and responses to a new Islamic state in the Middle East.