What I learned about the E.U.

Representation of the E.U.

I previously wrote about the activities I engaged in during my attendance at the Fulbright conference on the E.U. Now I’ll attempt to share some of what I’ve learned. If you’re just looking for pretty pictures, this is not the post for you!

One of our speakers summarized the E.U. this way: It’s complicated.

Having spent a week learning about the E.U. I agree with that assessment. I have a better understanding of how the union works, but as with any complicated system I suspect if I dug deeper I would discover another layer. Digging still deeper I would learn more and understand even more.

One thing I realized during this conference was that as the E.U. grows it becomes exponentially more complicated. When it all began it was a small club. Many from the member countries spoke one another’s languages. Most members were quite close in geographic space. But now there are 27 countries that sprawl over a much larger area. Languages are diverse, some not even using the same alphabet. A discussion between delegates from Finland, Cyprus, Poland, and Spain requires a great deal of translation, with all the dangers of misunderstanding that provides.

It’s a wonderful idea, European unity, where everyone works together to achieve goals of economic prosperity and democratic freedom. I am impressed with how hard they are working to make it happen. As one of our speakers during the conference mentioned the everyday reality of the E.U. is less exciting and more frustrating than people thought it would be. There have been and continue to be big expectations for the E.U. The organization may try hard to fulfill the expectations people had for it, but that really is not possible in reality. But, like most of life, you do the best you can and hope for the best.

Being a social psychologist I couldn’t help but relate the challenge of European unity to the struggle each one of us faces in our simultaneous desires for autonomy and communion. We want to be independent people, making our own decisions charting our own future but at the same time we want friends who we can work with, knowing we can achieve more together than we could alone. A great deal of the discussion in the European Union comes down to sovereignty. Countries trade some of their sovereignty for the protection of a larger union. The union provides benefits, but it also incurs costs. Twenty-seven countries, soon to be 28 when Croatia joins, made that calculation and decided to become members of the club.

My final bit of wisdom from the E.U. conference is best represented pictorially. It took me a long time to sort out who is part of the European Union, who is part of the Eurozone (thus using the Euro), and who is part of NATO. Here’s what I came up with. Keep in mind this will be dated when Croatia joins and if/when any of the non-Eurozone countries start using the Euro.

EU, Eurozone, NATO overlap


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