UK to trigger Brexit in historic week for EU
On Wednesday Britain will formally begin its departure from the European Union — a 60-year project of co-operation that many now believe is in danger of falling apart. How has the EU done?
Rome, March 25th 1957. Almost exactly 60 years ago. In an austere Europe still recovering from two apocalyptic wars, the leaders of six Western European countries met at the Palazzo dei Conservatori.
The gathering would define the future of European politics. It brought about the creation of the European Economic Community, later renamed the European Union.
So there is enormous symbolism in the fact that, six decades on from the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the EU is set to lose one of its most important members. On Wednesday, Theresa May will start the two-year stopwatch for Brexit.
Many analysts believe the remaining 27 nations are still in shock at Britain’s decision. Like a jilted spouse they are asking where did it all go wrong.
The self-examination has not been easy. Even those who passionately support the EU admit that it has made many mistakes.
In one vital aspect, though, it is seen as a major success. It was founded in reaction to the nationalism that created the conflict of the first half of the 20th century. Its principles of free movement of people, goods, services and capital, aim to encourage international co-operation.
Since it was created, no EU nation has ever gone to war with another.
It was after the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 that hostility to the European project became widespread.
Maastricht was the moment when the EU adopted some of the trappings of nationhood such as a flag, an anthem and a common foreign policy. For its critics this was a huge mistake. The EU was weakening the democratic nation state in favour of an unaccountable federal structure.
One of the EU’s most important projects was the euro — the single currency that was introduced in 2002. The euro has made it easier to purchase things across borders, but has resulted in far greater economic centralisation.
And since 2008, it has been clear to many that countries as different as Greece and Germany will always struggle to use the same currency.
A big question this week is this: has the EU in its 60 years of existence done more good than harm?
The EU has been a disaster, say its enemies. It has turned into a bureaucratic empire. It has fed the success of sinister far-right movements across Europe. It has botched the euro zone crisis and the migration crisis. Brexit is the beginning of the end. Four out of ten.
Negative to the point of madness, reply others. The EU brought together bitter enemies and enabled an incredible era of liberal, tolerant prosperity for millions. Brexit must not be allowed to derail this amazing achievement. In fact one day the UK will probably return on bended knee, begging to be allowed back in. Eight out of ten.
- Has the EU been a force for good or for ill?
- Will the EU survive another 60 years?
- Write a longer version of the above report card for the European Union.
- Research public opinion towards the EU in one of its member states, and give a five minute presentation to your class about it.
Some People Say...
“If Europe were united, there would be no limit to the glory which its people would enjoy.”Winston Churchill
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- That the Treaty of Rome was signed 60 years ago on Saturday. From six original members, there are now 28 states (including the UK) in the European Union. We know that Brexit has prompted many in Europe to reflect on the progress of the EU.
- What do we not know?
- A lot! Most importantly, whether the EU will survive, expand, shrink or perhaps even disappear. It is still unclear whether there will be a knock-on effect from Brexit, with other countries holding referendums to leave. And we do not know the extent to which the EU will try to address the criticisms made of it.
- What do people believe?
- It is generally agreed by both supporters and critics that the founding purpose of the EU was admirable, but there is widespread disagreement over whether it has extended its power too far.
- Six Western European countries
- France, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands
- Technically, the first treaty paving the way for the EU was the Treaty of Paris, which created the European Coal and Steel Community. The latest important EU agreement was the Lisbon Treaty, which gave a president to the EU and established a stronger role for the European Parliament.
- This was the year the euro was made the day-to-day currency of its original members, when physical notes and coins entered into circulation. But it was introduced to world financial markets as an accounting currency in 1999. The euro is now the currency of 19 of the EU’s member states and is used daily by some 337 million Europeans.
- Far-right movements
- In France, the National Front looks set to go through to the second round of the presidential election, although it is unlikely that the leader, Marine Le Pen, will win the presidency. Elsewhere, in Greece, Hungary and Bulgaria, violent far-right movements are growing in popularity.