Few fully understand the EU - its history, purpose, development and structure are only hazily grasped by many people, and that leaves the way open for it to be wildly misrepresented by its critics. My understand of it is also limited, despite having grown up during the war that preceded its foundation, its inception and having followed its evolution, triumphs and tribulations over almost sixty years. I’m still a Europhile after all that.
As far as I'm able to offer it, here's what I see as the essence. I am no expert – it’s a voter’s perception, aimed at voters who aren’t experts either. If it’s a bit confused and scrappy, it’s because my understanding of the EU is often just that. But there’s an abundance of information to be had, notably from the EU itself, so if this piques your interest, gorge yourself on all that other information and analysis
THE EUROPEAN UNION
1. Most wars - when they're not religious in origin - are about territory (land), resources (water, oil, minerals etc.) and access to markets, either an attempt to grab new territory, grab/exploit other people's resources, and attempts to sell goods and service. When they're not about grabbing or selling, they're about trying to stop other countries seizing land, appropriating resources, or placing barriers to trading, e.g. tariffs (imposing a tax on goods to or from another country to protect indigenous industries). Often they're simply driven by the fear of these things happening.
2. A key element in this is restricting the free movement of people from country to country - emigration/immigration - because of fears of overcrowding, too many people chasing too few jobs, housing, pressure on social services - and significant cultural fears centring around language, ethnic appearing/national physical characteristics, loss of core national identity, etc.
3. Defence is a mechanism ostensibly for defending a state from external attack or encroachment, but often is just a way of cloaking aggression. It is often a political tool for inducing paranoia about other nations in an electorate, a job creation scheme, and a useful source of power, wealth and patronage for a ruling elite.
Most European wars have been about these things. After the devastation of WW2 coming only 21 years after the end of WW1 – the war to end all wars(!) - the nations of Europe decided to set up a European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 and this became the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1958, with Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, as the founding members. UK joined in 1973, as did Ireland and Denmark, Greece in 1981, then Spain and Portugal in 1986.
From then on, from being a free trade community and economic union, it steadily expanded its remit and powers, and new member states have been added (now 28 countries) and in 1993 The Maastrich Treaty formed The European Union (EU), adding European citizenship to its options. The latest amendment was The Lisbon Treaty in 2009
After the 1993 Maastrich Treaty formed the EU, Austria, Sweden and Finland joined in 1995, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004, Romania and Bulgaria in 2007, and Croatia in 2013 after The Lisbon Treaty (2009).
The original purpose is still central - to avoid European wars over territory, trade and movement of people.
Its very real achievement has been attaining that end - there has been no European war involving all European states since 1945 and, other than the limited wars brought about by the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, where the states that were formerly the Balkan Countries re-emerged after the break-up of Czechoslovakia, which was formed in 1918 following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. The Bosnian war was an aspect of this.
(This is my over-simplification of a much more complex situation!).
But very real problems exist - loosely, they fall under the following headings (again, a gross over-simplification by me!) -
1. Currency and Eurozone
The EU has a common currency - the Euro - but Britain, while it trades in and uses euros, has not joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism and has not abandoned the £ - the pound sterling. Currency questions are many and complex, but basically, not adopting the euro by joining the Eurozone flies in the face of the free trade principle to some degree - but the euro has been unstable, significantly exacerbated by the unwise decision by the EU to admit new countries into the Eurozone (a currency union of some EU countries), notable Greece, who were - and are - very unstable. economically.
Each country in the EU jealous protects its sovereignty, i.e. its individual identity as a state with its own laws, courts and Head of State. Sovereignty goes to the heart of identity, as does language and customs.
But the EU always had a longer term objective in addition to free trade and free movement of citizens, namely ultimate political union - i.e. a United States of Europe, which would end individual sovereignty.
(Essentially, the UK is an early example of such a political union, including England,Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland)
Most member countries are opposed to political sovereignty, as is UK, and within it Scotland. (SNP is anti-political union).
Many believe Britain should be part of EFTA - a European Free Trade Area - but should dump most of the bureaucracy, and idea of a common currency (the euro) and should limit or end free movement of people. (The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is an intergovernmental organisation set up for the promotion of free trade and economic integration to the benefit of its four Member States: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland.)
The Association manages the EFTA Convention, EFTA’s worldwide network of free trade and partnership agreements, and the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement.
3. European Court and Human Rights
Although UK has its own laws, courts and legal system, as has Scotland, they are still subject to the European Court on a whole raft of legislation and to Human Rights law. Cameron want to abandon this, but there is widespread opposition to this across parties and within parties, from the EU - and Scotland is opposed, as a devolved country.
4. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)
NATO is a Western defence alliance founded in 1949, so it pre-dates all the EEC and the EU. It was founded by the allied countries, largely driven by USA and UK after WW2., its stated purpose being “to safeguard the freedom and security of its members through political and military means”.
It parallels the EU in its history and membership. Both NATO and the EU have 28 members countries, but some EU member countries are not in NATO and some NATO member countries are not in the EU. There are conflicts and tension between NATO and EU, and a certain rivalry, especially since NATO has been losing relevance since the end of the Cold War, and, to put it bluntly, the USA is not to happy about the prospect of political union and the emergence of a United States of Europe. Much of the hostility in UK to the EU derives from this, some might say actively encouraged by right-wing US hawks.
Bureaucracy is often used as a pejorative word, but in fact a functioning bureaucracy is one of the vital components of a democratic state, the others being the Law, The Courts, the Defence Forces and the democratic assembly (the elected government).
For example, between the prorogation of Parliament before the May 7th election the re-opening of Parliament, the UK had no government, no Cabinet and no MPs - but life went on more or less as normal because the other component parts of the state still functioned. (Non-democratic states function without any elected politicians because they have the component elements of a state, including a bureaucracy!)
The EU Bureaucracy
However, there is no doubt that the EU bureaucracy has become overly-complex, partially corrupt and is in urgent need of reform - virtually all member countries agree with this.
Most political parties in Britain are committed to reform but a significant number of voters, politicians and one political party - UKIP - want out of the EU.
CAMERON, UK and BREXIT
Cameron wants to re-negotiate terms, then - succeed or fail - to hold an IN/OUT Referendum. He has placed himself between a rock and a hard place, the rock being the EU’s determination not to negotiated any fundamental changes to Treaty terms , and the hard place – or places – being the Tory hardcore 50 or 60 Eurosceptics, and some four million UKIP voters.
He must come back with some kind of deal – bad or good – stand behind it, then campaign for a YES vote to stay in the EU in an IN/OUT referendum, with a chunk of his own party campaigning against it, and try to avoid BREXIT – the British exit from the EU, which would be an economic disaster for Britain, bad for Europe, and a political catalyst for a challenge to his leadership and tight majority and possibly a catalyst for a second Scottish Referendum, unless the double majority principle is accepted.
Happy days, Dave …