History 104: Western Civilization since 1648

Lecture: 1985 to Now

The European Union

EU flagEvolving from federation groups and the Common Market, the European Union formally emerged in 1993 as a valid confederation of European states. The EU is an international organization of member states that, to me, represents evolution of thought away from competitive capitalism and isolating nationalism. Its existence has economic, social, political and cultural implications.

One example is the condition of the Roma people. This ethnic group,Roma boy often referred to as Gypsies, has been persecuted historically throughout Europe. This primarily has been (like Jews and communists) because of their existence outside the structures of 19th century nationalism. They were even executed in the Nazi Holocaust. But in the EU, their wrongs are starting to be redressed, and they have a voice in the European Parliament. This can occur only because the EU attempts to rise above nationalism to create a new kind of federalism within which minority, anational populations can be considered.


As of summer 2011, the current member states are:

Bulgaria (2007)
Croatia (2013)
Czech Republic
Romania (2007)
United Kingdom

map of Europe 2011


Candidate states are:

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia





Potential candidates:


Bosnia and Herzegovina




The EU's main provisions were established by the Maastricht Treaty of 1990, which will give you an idea of its goals:

Web document: Maastricht Treaty

EurosIn 1999, the euro emerged as the new currency. Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom (Great Britain/Northern Ireland) are the only member states not using it. The Central Bank, located in Germany, is responsible for keeping it stable. Until 2008 it managed to absorb even the highly devalued currencies of places like Italy and Greece, but there is now significant controversy over how to deal with huge debt on the part of some EU nations, which threatens the currency.

The EU was not founded without squabbling, particularly over the quality and genuine nature of particular food products, such as cheese and wine. Thus only Greece can sell cheese called "feta", "champagne" must come from Champagne and Asiago cheese from Asiago. But now that most national differences have been resolved, they stand united on issues like GMOs (genetically-modified organisms), which are banned and which they refuse to import from the U.S., along with meat laden with antibiotics and hormones (which are routinely given to stock animals in this country).

Anti-war protesters in Spain
Anti-war protest in Spain, 2003

Food is not the only issue, of course. The U.S. war against Iraq was considered ill-advised by most EU states (excepting Britain, of course, and Spain). Germany and France in particular stood against it and helped prevent a U.N. Security Council resolution supporting the war. And it was not just because of economic interests, although that was a motive for everyone involved or opposing involvement, especially the U.S. It was that Europe has shown a marked tendency, especially since the violence surrounding the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, to use war as only a last resort. That's why millions of people in Europe protested against the Iraq war, reminiscent in their actions of protest in 1968 against the Vietnam War. In 2011, UN-sanctioned NATO actions against the Libyan government also was a divisive factor in Europe: Germany abstained on the vote, while France and Britain supported military intervention.

Even when united, however,we can't put the EU completely in the camp of the righteous. The WTO (World Trade Organization), through which the EU has hopes to liberalize global trade, continues the model of a capitalistic world as dominated by western powers. This western-guided "globalisation" has been protested in many countries, including this one, as keeping poor countries endebted and skewing global production in favor of the west. Attacks against globalization are just beginning, although they could potentially enlighten EU policy as much as restrict it.

Immigrants coming to Greece from Turkey

Immigration from Muslim nations (especially Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) into Europe rose greatly in the first decade of the 21st century. When combined with joblessness and economic strife following the global economic crisis of 2008, this has led to the emergence of political groups wanting to restrict immigration and/or legislate assimilation. Some have even become nativist and anti-Semitic, bringing issues of freedom and the state's responsibility to the fore once again.

In 2010, Greece was in such bad economic shape that there was fear the government would default on its loans and drag the whole EU into a bank crisis and depression. Instead of responding with Depression-style social spending programs, several of the most well-off EU countries decided on a Europe-wide program of austerity, which cut spending on public programs in an effort to balance bank budgets and borrowing. Keynesian economist Paul Krugman talks about how this has been a terrible mistake.

At mid-decade, liberal democracy was threatened throughout the region. The National Front (FN) in France, under Marine Le Pen, have promoted a nationalistic, conservative agenda, and are winning votes. Hungary built a fence against migrants. Russia under Vladimir Putin has shown itself to be authoritarian and fearful of the West. Anti-liberal feeling has been partly a response to massive immigration and continued lack of economic growth, but there is also a questioning of liberalism in general as being internationalist in focus. British Prime Minister Cameron risked the leadership of the Tory party by calling for a referendum on Britain remaining in the E.U. Despite predictions and polling showing the RemaIN vote well in the lead, "Brexit" won. I was in England at the time and evidence both the smugness of the liberals and the joy of the Brexiteers the next day. Focus then shifted to the United States, where the same thing happened: liberals assumed the election of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but unlikely nominee Donald Trump won. In both cases, the issues were similar.

>Trump Brexit cartoon

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