Regional cooperation is the unification of nations of the same region with similar goals for political and economic gains. In many regions of the world, nation states have formed unions and regional cooperation for economic gain and attainment of political supremacy. This involves signing of treaties allowing goods and people to move freely between the borders of the member states of the formed unions. These unions have been used for many years by nations to develop economic cooperation and monetary regulations. Some regions have even gone to the extent of formulating a common currency for common economic good of the region. In this paper, the European Union (EU) will be discussed as regional cooperation that has led to economic prosperity of European countries. The paper will particularly focus on the historical background of Europe leading to the formation of the European Union, its success and failures. Included in the paper is also a prediction of the future of EU.
2.0 How and why the European Union was developed
2.0.1 The European cooperation’s that paved way for EU
Towards the conclusion of WWII, it seemingly became ostensible that hatred and wars could not unify Europe. After 1945, many cities in Europe lay in ruins, people lost their lives while others were left homeless. Factories were destroyed bridges and railroads were bombed out With no homes and source of livelihood, many Europeans were left hopeless, not knowing how their lives could be the same again. Europeans required to take an entirely new approach of thinking to rebuild Europe and help people resume their normal lives. There needed to be peace and harmony for resumption of the economic status that was initially present in Europe. The earlier enmities and impartiality had to be put aside, with the new spirit of cooperation taking their place. This marked a new dawn for peaceful unification of Europe.
126.96.36.199 The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC)
In 1921, the governments of Luxemburg and Belgium had the notion that if they could cooperate in trade dealings, they would be more able to compete with larger countries.. The Netherlands and Belgium also took the initial step of cooperation during World War II. Eventually, in 1958, the Benelux Treaty was signed. This officially established the Benelux countries as a free trade unit. Economists and statesmen throughout Europe were also suggesting a prospect that an integrated Europe could have both political and economic benefits. For instance, France’s Jean Monnet believed that cooperation among European nations would better compete against nations with a larger resources pool, such as America.
Similarly, French foreign minister, Robert Schuman believed that France and West Germany, being the major producers of coal in the region, could integrate their industries of coal and steel. Moreover, the cooperation would enable France and other European nations to take a look at the enlivening economy of Germany. As Germany was recovering and rebuilding its state from the outcomes of WWII, the other European nations wanted to monitor it in order to ensure that it did not utilize their steel and coal industries to rebuild a powerful military (Alderman, 2010). This is what facilitated the formation of European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in February 1951. The union integrated the production and sale of iron, coal and steel in European countries, including Netherlands, France, West Germany, and Italy. This marked the beginning of a unified group of European countries for economic and political gains.
188.8.131.52 The European Economic Community (EEC).
The operations of ECSC took effect in 1952 and removed tariffs and quotas on trade in iron ore, steel, coal, and coke within the six members of the union. This is the union that laid a foundation for future stability and prosperity that would unify European countries. The founders of ECSC garnered the trust from the citizens and in 1957 and 1958, two pacts were signed that increased the areas of cooperation between the six countries. These are the treaties that created the European Economic Community (EEC).
184.108.40.206 The European Community (EC).
After the consent of the Merger Treaty in 1968, the EEC became to be known as the European Community (EC). Later, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) was created. The organization led to moderation of tariffs on industrial products, but not on agricultural products and was not as powerful as the common market. Nevertheless, political tension between European leaders stalled the formation of a stronger, more unified regional cooperation for several years.
In 1973, three more countries joined the EC from EFTA, after several changes in leadership and much negotiation. The EC now consisted of United Kingdom, Denmark, Ireland, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, The Netherlands, and Belgium. The enlarged European Community proofed very successful in promoting economic cooperation among its members thus leading to their prosperity. Nevertheless, more needed to be done before the EC would have the political supremacy and impact on world affairs that the European Union (EU) has today. For example, the member countries were yet to conduct a general election for European Parliament by the citizens of the member states. Moreover, each of the nine EC countries had its own currency. However, economists from the EC countries were working to regulate financial instability in the region.
Finally, in 1974, the heads of state of the EC countries started meeting three times per year as a union formally called the “European Council”. Gradually, following many more agreements and steps towards amalgamation, the European Community would become an influential organization for economic and political power, by enhancing security and environmental welfare of its citizens.
In early 1970s, the European Community continued to enhance the economy of its member states. The European Auditor Court was formed in Luxemburg in 1977, and the European fiscal System took effect later in 1979. This helped to regulate the economy and currencies of the EC member states. The first election of the representatives of European parliament also took place in 1979, and Madame Simone Veil became the president of the union. This also led to a greater unification of the economy of European countries.
In the 1980s, Greece, Spain, and Portugal enteredthe European Community in 1981, 1986, and 1987 respectively. Thisraisedthenumber of EC memberstates to twelve. Within thesame decade, a solitary European Act wasestablished. This is the Act that would ultimatelyenhancetotalintegration of theeconomies of EC memberstates, and homogenize their policies on othermajorissues, includinghealth, environment, andemployment. Finally, themosthistoricevent of the 1980s wasthefall of Berlin Wall in 1989, leading to theunification of East and West Germany. Thisincreasedthesize of the European Community. Addition of thenewnationsandtheenactment of thesingle European Act created a new dimension forthe European Community. Thestandard of living of thecitizenswasalsoput into consideration by the European Commission, over and above theeconomicprosperity of thememberstates
220.127.116.11 The European Union (EU)
In the 1990s, dialogs and statutes continued to create the framework for the European Union (EU). The Schengen Agreement was signed in 1990, making it possible for people to freely travel throughout member states without border crossing restrictions.. Essentially, in 1993, the Maastricht European Council approved the treaty on European Union, which demarcated the EU as it is today. The same treaty also called on all members of EU to use a common currency by 1999. This is what triggered the introduction of the Euro. The treaty also gave EU more authority over other issues of regional concern, including security, environment, and health, education, and consumer protection. Within the same decade, more countries joined the EU, including Australia, Finland and Sweden in 1995. Eventually, in 1999, the Amsterdam agreement was signed and became operational, giving the EU more power and responsibility on its citizens. By the late 20th century, the EU had become a prevailing political and economic unification consisting of 15 member states.
The European Union (EU) is a conglomerate that represents cooperation among European member states. The Union presents the latest integration in the process of inter-state cooperation after WWII. The union was initially formed by six Western European countries, in order to foster independence and prevent the occurrence of another world war. Presently, the Union is composed of 28 member states, including most of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The union has helped to uphold peace and stability, as well as, economic prosperity throughout the European continent.
3.0 Success and failure of the European Union (EU)
3.0.1 The European common currency (Euro)
As was previously mentioned, according to the Maastricht Treaty, all EU member states were to be using the same currency, the euro, by 1999. This almost happened but did not succeed as was expected. Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom satisfied the requirements of the treaty, but did not participate. Similarly, Greece had not met the requirement in 1999, until one year later. Essentially, only eleven of the fifteen EU countries were transacting by a single currency by 1999. In 1999, therefore, euros were only used for electronic transactions. It was not until 2002 that the Euro policy completely came into effect, with the individual currencies of the participating nations being replaced by Euro coins and banknotes. The countries currently using the Euro are Belgium, Slovenia, Portugal, Finland, Germany, France, Greece, Spain, Luxemburg, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Austria, and Slovenia.
By the using the Euro, the EU member states have had a chance to have smart transactions, since there are no longer costs involved in changing currencies. This has greatly benefited the business model of these countries. It has led to price transparency, since it is now possible to accurately compare the price of goods and services in different European countries. This has helped to improve the inflation performance. The ECB, which formulates interest rates for the Eurozone, ensures that inflation is low for countries using the Euro.
Through the formulation of the same currency, a lot of expenses were involved. This involved making changes on the accounting systems, software, vending machines, printed material, phone booths, parking parameters, signs, among other machines that accept currency. Similarly, there were hours and resources spent on training employees. The national governments incurred cost of the transition, with time being spent in planning, organization, and implementation. Moreover, with a common currency, regulation of economic fluctuations may not be possible for a single country. This creates a chance for economic shock.
4.0 The future of European Union (EU)
The future of European Union in would be rather unpredictable, especially based on the current prosperity of the union. Nevertheless, economists have predicted two directions for the union. One involves the breakup of the Euro, while the other involves an unparalleled transfer of wealth across Europe’s borders. This may lead to analogous surrender of sovereignty of nations. However, Europe leaders have always strived to keep the Euro intact. The Northern European creditors, led by Germany, may not pay out enough to warrant the survival of the Euro.
The grand deal to save the Euro will only appear authentic when European nations share a sense of common drive. Chancellor Angela Merkel maintains that the failure of Euro is a possible threat needed to keep rebellious governments on the path of reform. German brinkmanship was uncertain that Euro has a future, which amplifies the cost of the liberation and accelerates the possible collapse that many leaders in Europe are avoiding.
As debate on the future of the European Union gathers momentum, the European Commission is currently trying to reach out to the citizens asking for their opinions. As the leaders of European countries try to maintain the superiority of the Euro in order to prevent its downfall, the way in which they deal with this problem could either improve or decline the economic and political standing of Europe in the future, or relegate it into an economic crisis. Currently, the situation of Euro may not warrant a healthy future for the currency. This can be particularly reflected from the recent troubles in Greece that have driven the currency lower against the dollar.
With a common agenda for regional integration, Germany and other wealthy Northern European nations may, in the near future, find themselves relocating tax payer’s money to support their poorer affiliates in the south, among them Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. Britain, one of the wealthiest nations in Europe, may have predicted the outcome, and that could be the reason why it did not surrender its currency to the EU.
When European governments started using the Euro like a credit card, this is when investors started questioning their ability to repay debts. In January 2010, Greece tried to raise funds to finance its 53 billion Euro debit. This made investors force the government to pay an annual interest rate of not less than 6 percent on bonds maturing in five years. Currently, governments in Spain, Portugal, and Italy are on high demand to increase rates, and fears that they may abandon the Euro are intensifying. The bailout of Greece appears to mark the turning point of the cooperation of the European Union. The dreams for a more united Europe still remain far from clear. When everything stabilizes, the EU may continue being a union, but with separate national parliaments and monetary policies. Global economic experts have predicted that the European Union will only endure its current debt crisis if the Northern and Southern states overcome the political and social divisions that separate them.
Regional cooperation is an important factor for economic prosperity among member states. However, the way in which operations of regional cooperation are coordinated, including the equality and distribution of resources in the member countries significantly impact on the robustness of cooperation. As this paper has highlighted, the European Union is one of the most robust unions that have succeeded in uniting European nations after World War II, however, following the formulation of a common currency for the union in 1999, the future of EU still remains unclear. The common monetary policy appears to be the major factor that may create divisions in this union in the future. Nevertheless, the Euro has greatly led to economic prosperity of European countries.