HISTORY EUROPEAN TRAVEL COURSE, SUMMER 2005
the European Union
traveling on an eastbound train from Berlin to Prague I realized the process
of European Union (EU) integration would not happen as quickly as one might
expect. It was on this train that our group was first forced
to get our passports stamped and our currency changed. Yet problems with
the European Union are evident throughout Europe, not just in the accession
countries, and involve more than currencies and stamped passports.
European nations such as the Czech Republic and Poland, integration into
the European Union is slow at best. Indeed, the differences between Eastern
and Western Europe run far deeper than geography. Eastern European
states possess an entirely different alphabet from Western Europe, and
tend to affiliate much more closely with other Slavic peoples than with
Western Europeans. The economies of the accession countries also
tend to prevent them from fully integrating in the European Union as quickly
as they would hope. The financial institutions of these various countries
must be strong enough that joining the European Union will not place a
burden on other member states. This requirement so far works better
in theory than in practice as the EUís economy finds itself dragged down
currently by the stagnant economies of such countries as Poland and Italy.
The minimal debt requirement, which is forced upon the newly accessioned
countries while ignored by the likes of France and Germany, also slows
the process of fully integrating countries into the Union once their membership
has been approved.
Yet the economically
inferior accession countries are not the only ones confronting this problem
of integration into the European Union. Nations such as Great Britain,
Austria, and the Netherlands, are all having problems with the forced conformity
of this supranational organization. The problems facing Great Britain,
while a result of its own choices and actions, exist as a result of its
skepticism at becoming entangled in the Continentís financial affairs,
especially since that relationship has yet to prove lucrative at home.
In the Netherlands, concern over the consequences of EU integration on
their particularly liberal positions regarding euthanasia, marijuana, and
prostitution has the Dutch Left worried, while the proposed membership
of Turkey in the EU has the Dutch
Right anxious about increased terrorism after recent incidents in which
Islamic extremists attacked and killed a Dutch politician and a filmmaker.
In formerly neutral Austria accepting membership in the European Union
meant a mandatory defense payment and eliminating any ability to claim
neutrality. For Austria this defense payment has come at what many view
as a terrible price. Prior to entry into the EU, Austria laid claim
to one of the most famous and well-funded public arts programs in all of
Europe. Yet mandatory defense spending has required the Austrian government
to pull funds from their highly prized artistic sector to fulfill their
recently acquired commitments to the European Union.
EU integration will come but slowly and at a price. For some that
cost will be small, requiring minimal sacrifices for solid economies and
stable governments. Yet for others the price of joining will be high,
forcing the redistribution of funds that previously subsidized social institutions
and now must cover military quotas. Thus, further integration into
the European Union is a choice that each country must make, and for some
the price may be too high. As Turkey prepares to enter the EU and
flood member states with cheap immigrant labor and an increased opportunity
for terrorism, the price might be too high for even nations such as Great
Britain, France, and the Netherlands to pay.