Those of us who believe in a more integrated Europe have moved too closely and too comfortably to the idea that the best way to fight Euroscepticism is to label it as an anti-European movement operating on the fringes of our societies. Yet the recent surge of anti-EU parties, wishing to turn the time back proves that they are but a marginal force. Eurosceptics may represent a vision for Europe that is backward looking and outdated, but they do represent a vision that is becoming increasingly popular with more and more people. They despise the EU and wish to return to a system of limited cooperation (if any at all) between nation states. Some would say they love Europe but hate the EU. Clearly their vision of Europe does not fit with that of those arguing on behalf of the ever closer union. However, this does not make them the anti-Europeans that we often make them to be. For our own sake and for the sake of the future of the European Union, let us be honest: Eurosceptics are not anti-European. They are just wrong!
The European Union that we know today is the result of a long and successful integration process. For the most part during the decades of its existence, the European project has furnished Europeans with peace and stability, the Single Market, single currency, protection of fundamental human rights, equality, mobility along with also less salient but none the less still important achievements such as student exchange programmes or cheaper cross-border phone call charges. In other words, the EU is, has been and will continue to be, a space of opportunities and of success.
Nevertheless, looking at the results of the recent European elections one could easily gather that not all in Europe consider the EU in such positive light. It is certainly not seen this way by UKIP’s Nigel Farage who has called the EU the new Communism; or Marine Le Pen accusing the EU of having robbed France of its liberties; or even Hungary’s Jobbik party which has engaged in acts such as burning of the EU flag or throwing it out the window of the country’s Parliament. Eurosceptics form a rather broad array of ideas starting with extreme right and morphing into more modest ideas of a streamlined single-market community. Whichever end of that spectrum you take, however, they all share one thing in common: they are backward looking.
Put simply, ideas of Eurosceptics are outdated. They are not cut out for the 21st century. Global challenges require common solutions whether it be economy, environment or security. Think of, for instance, the recent power struggle over Ukraine which has highlighted the need for more harmonized EU foreign policy. Solutions to the recent financial crisis, a reform of the EU’s banking system and a subsequent creation of banking union are also achievements not possible without a collective action at the EU level. Buried under the layers of criticism for its imperfect design, the existence of the Euro has also brought numerous benefits both for the EU as a whole and member states individually. Since its introduction, the common currency has firmly entrenched itself in the global economy as a viable alternative to the American dollar. The Euro is equally instrumental in pressuring countries to enact deeper structural reforms – reforms that would otherwise be avoided as countries would reach out to monetary mechanisms no longer readily available (e.g. devaluation of currency). With the growing power of corporations and the rise of economic powerhouses of the likes of China and BRICS countries, the significance of individual EU Member States has diminished. In 1980, the share of the world GDP from EU countries was about 30%. In 2012 it was only 19%. Moreover, with this in mind and with Europe’s eagerness to trade globally, Member States are more likely to get more favorable terms on trade agreements as part of the bloc than outside of it.
Another popular issue or myth that Eurosceptics get wrong is the accusation that the running cost of the EU is too high. To disprove this we can draw a simple comparison between the EU and Member States. More precisely, between the numbers of employed by the EU bodies and states’ central governments. Using the economic papers published by the Commission we can see why the myth of over-employment of the EU does not ring true. Take Ireland for instance, which is certainly not a country aspiring to run a big government. Irish central government employs enough people to account for 2.5% of the entire population (106,000 in total). One will find that most European countries show similar proportions while the rate of Slovakia and Belgium is the lowest at 0.8%. In total, the European Union employs about 47,000 people (EU Commission 33,000; European Parliament 6,000; Council 3,500; Court of Justice of the EU 2,000 and; ECB 1,600 people). In absolute numbers this is similar to Slovakia’s payroll figures.
However, given the EU’s population size of 505 million, the proportion of people working for the EU is significantly lower. Indeed, the EU’s ratio stands at 0.0093% which means that it is proportionately 83 times smaller than that of Slovakia, 268 times smaller than that of Ireland and 408 times smaller than that of France. Of course, a comparison between the EU and Member States is not perfect. Both the former and the latter are in charge of different competences and they are in principle very different entities. Regardless of this, however, the EU offers good value for money. The efficiency of the EU is paramount because even if we accept the obvious fundamental differences, it would be difficult to image that the competences of Member States, as compared to the EU are 83, let alone 408 times bigger – especially since the EU covers as many as half a billion people and 28 countries.
Europe is a continent of many faces, one of which has taken a shape of an integrated community that we have come to call the EU. Sure, Europe could most likely survive without the EU, but at what price? United Europe is neither undesirable, nor expensive. It is the right answer to challenges posed both from within and from without – whether it be security, environment or globalization. Those who stand to agree and work towards realization of the vision of united Europe should defend it on its merit. Those who oppose united Europe and oppose the EU altogether, cannot and should not be brushed aside by being referred to as anti-European. Their opinions deserve our attention and they should be challenged – not by ideological shortcuts, semantics or labels, but by arguments.