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A United Europe—Why Would It Matter?

A United Europe—Why Would It Matter?

 A United Europe—Why Would It Matter?

CHAMPAGNE corks popped. Fireworks lit up the skies. What was the occasion? A new millennium? No, this event was arguably more significant than a mere change of digits on the world’s calendars. It was January 1, 1999. The new single currency for the European Union (EU)—a type of money called the euro—was officially launched on that day.

Many Europeans see the introduction of a common currency as a historic step in Europe’s long quest for unity. The Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf hailed the launch of the euro as the “crown upon European unification.” Indeed, after decades of dreams, diplomacy, and delays, European unity seems closer than ever.

Granted, people living outside of Europe may wonder what all the hubbub is about. The arrival of the euro and the efforts toward European unification may seem to have little effect on their daily life. However, the unification of Europe would bring about one of the world’s largest economic blocs. So a united Europe would be hard to ignore—no matter where one lives.

For example, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Marc Grossman recently told a North American audience: “Our prosperity is linked to Europe.” Why? Among the reasons he noted was that “one out of every 12 U.S. factory workers has a job in one of the 4,000 European-owned businesses in the U.S.” It is reported, too, that Europe’s new currency may affect the price of imported goods—and even mortgage rates—in countries far from Europe.

Developing countries may benefit. How? One study notes: “The replacement of the various European currencies by the euro will simplify the developing countries’ commercial relations with the EU.” Additionally, some predict that Japanese and U.S. firms doing business in Europe will benefit. With the euro in place, there will be no fluctuating exchange rates between European countries. Doing business in Europe could well become more economical.

If you are planning to travel in Europe, you may likewise feel the benefits of European unity. Soon you will be able to purchase goods and services in different European countries with one currency, the euro, which has about the same value as the U.S. dollar. Gone will be the days of puzzled tourists juggling guldens, francs, lire, deutsche marks, and pocket calculators.

However, Europe’s move toward becoming a unified continent offers something even more appealing—hope. Just think, a few decades ago Europe was engulfed in war. From that perspective, European unification is an amazing phenomenon. People all over the world are taking note.

Many cannot help but wonder if world unity may be a realistic expectation after all. This is a tantalizing prospect indeed! Will Europe’s steps toward unity bring man closer to a united world? Before addressing that question, we need to take an honest look at European unification. What obstacles on the road to unity still need to be removed?

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The idea of European unity is not altogether new. There was a measure of unity during the time of the Roman Empire, then under the rule of Charlemagne, and later under Napoléon I. In such cases unity was based on force and conquest. After World War II, though, a number of war-ravaged countries felt the need for unity based on cooperation. These countries hoped that such cooperation would lead not only to their economic recovery but also to the banning of war. The following are some of the historic steps leading to the current situation:

1948 Hundreds of European political leaders gather together in The Hague, the Netherlands, and vow: “We will never war among ourselves again.”

1950 France and Germany begin to cooperate in order to protect their coal and steel industries. More countries join them, and this leads to the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The ECSC begins operating in 1952 and includes Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany.

1957 The six ECSC members form two other organizations: the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).

1967 The EEC merges with the ECSC and Euratom to form the European Community (EC).

1973 The EC admits Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

1981 Greece joins the EC.

1986 Portugal and Spain join the EC.

1990 The EC is further enlarged when West and East Germany merge, bringing the former East Germany into the organization.

1993 Efforts toward greater economic and political union of EC members lead to the creation of the European Union (EU).

2000 The EU consists of 15 member countries—Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

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The euro will replace many European currencies

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Euros and euro symbols on pages 3, 5-6, and 8: © European Monetary Institute