As you probably noticed, this is a travel website/blog, not a political one. But what has been happening with the European Union really struck a nerve for me.
First, because I’m a student of International Relations and a self-confessed addict to world news (maybe that has something to do with my travel lifestyle )…but also because the European Union is really dear to me – even though I understand it’s a huge and complex project with a lot of issues and challenges.
What inspires me the most about the European Union is that, if you go back in time just 75 years ago (which is a very short time compared to the human history on this planet), Europe was in flames!
In all corners of Europe, people were killing and hating each other.
I’m sure that if you would have told anyone in the middle of World War II that, 75 years in the future, they would all be together partying in endless Erasmus parties or at Tomorrowland, working jointly in big cosmopolitan cities such as London, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, or Amsterdam…..and even taking their holidays together in the French Alps or on the beaches of Spain, nobody would believe you.
But it seems like some people in the EU have difficulty realizing the benefits of being a citizen of the European Union.
You hear the same complaints everywhere: how Brussels keeps giving us orders, how my country keeps giving money to the EU in exchange for “nothing,” etc…..so I decided to list here some of the benefits that being part of the EU brings, to help remind its citizens how fortunate they are to be a part of it all:
(PS: I know the EU isn’t perfect, but I’ll get to that at the bottom. The point I’m trying get at is that being a part of the EU has a lot of benefits…and its own citizens don’t always know them!)
1. You can live and work legally in any of the 28 (soon 27) countries of the European Union….plus Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland!
Yes! It’s true. If you are a citizen of any EU country…..you also have a European Union citizenship. And it’s full of rights!! You can legally live, work, and study in some of the most awesome countries in the world!
For example, if you are French, you have the right to legally live, work, and study in Finland, Germany, Ireland, etc.
Do you have any idea what some people in the world would give to have such a privilege? I know, because I’ve met a lot of them…so maybe you shouldn’t take it for granted?
2. So obviously, you can also visit and stay in all the countries above as much as you want during your holidays or business trips – visa free!
Maybe you don’t plan to live, study, or work in another EU country…but maybe you need to visit another EU country for business or want to visit for your holiday.
I’ve been through quite a few visa interviews and border controls….and they are NOT fun. But if you are an EU citizen, visiting any other EU country is as hassle-free as visiting the town next door.
Plus, you will also be able to do business within 30+ countries and visit your clients/partners without spending hundreds of dollars and lots of time “begging” for a business visa. Pretty lucky, eh?
3. You can study in universities everywhere in the EU for the same tuition as the local citizens…meaning you can even get an undergrad or a master’s degree for FREE!
The deal is that, according to European Union law, EU students are considered “home students” in other EU countries. As an example, someone from Italy can apply to study in Sweden and, if they are accepted, will be treated the same as a Swedish person.
So, since most higher education degrees in Sweden are free for the local population, they will also be free for that Italian student (or Spanish, or Polish, or Estonian or British…oops, sorry).
So yes, if you are accepted, you can STUDY FOR FREE in a lot of universities in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Germany….or quite cheaply in other EU countries. And most of these universities offer a bunch of courses and programs in English!
If you don’t think this is a big deal, just talk to most Americans in their 20s or 30s and ask how much their college/university debt is!
This isn’t even mentioning how hard it is for people from the least developed countries to have the same access to higher education….
4. You have access to the European Health Insurance card which works almost everywhere in Europe!
Ok, I’m copying the exact words from the EU official website: “As an EU citizen, if you unexpectedly fall ill during a temporary stay abroad – whether on holiday, a business trip or studying abroad – you are entitled to any medical treatment that can’t wait until you get home. You have the same rights to health care as people insured in the country you are in.”
Well, that doesn’t mean the treatment will always be free…but since most countries in the EU have a universal health care system, it will probably cost you MUCH LESS than going privately (which you would have to do if you were a non-EU citizen).
Sorry Brits, I guess you will have to spend a bit more buying good travel insurance on your next beach trip to Spain. In this case, I would recommend you check out these 3 options here.
5. Free trade agreements within the EU save consumers (like YOU) billions of dollars in tariffs, taxes, and customs checkpoints.
Today, a merchant in Portugal can sell his or her products to someone in Estonia, on the other side of the continent, the same way someone from California can do business with someone from New York: without tariffs, extra taxes, and custom controls.
I know that a lot of these savings go into the pocket of that Portuguese merchant….but a lot of these savings go to the Estonian customer as well.
Don’t believe me? Just pull your country out of the European Single Market and you will see how much more you will have to pay for that imported Portuguese fish, that Polish apple, or that French cheese.
6. If you are a university student in the EU, you can participate in the Erasmus program….which is f#@%ing awesome!
Putting it simply, Erasmus is an exchange program financed by the EU. It allows EU students to spend one to two semesters studying abroad at a university in another EU country, supported by a stipend from the program.
Can you think of something more amazing than being paid to study abroad?!?!
Plus, if you have been a university student in the EU in the last few decades, you have probably been to an Erasmus party or even an Erasmus trip. It will be a pity to see the Brits go…they certainly knew how to party!
It’s unbelievably amazing to see young people from so many different countries just partying and traveling together and having a good time, regardless of the national anthem they sing.
And believe me, SO many couples come from this program… enough that they are even creating a whole generation of Euro babies!
7. Roaming phone costs for you within the EU are much cheaper than out of it…but soon, these costs will be gone entirely!
Another perk! Are you going on a holiday within the EU? Or on a business trip? Maybe buying groceries (or booze….looking at you, Swedes and Fins) on the other side of the “border”? Soon, your phone (and its costs) is going to work as if you haven’t even left your local city.
The EU has just reached a deal to allow EU citizens to “roam like home” starting in the middle of 2017. No more “bill shock.” Okay, it might not be the most important thing in the world, but it’s still a pretty cool benefit.
Thanks, Obama!! (Er, I mean, European Union!!)
8. Open skies agreements within the EU and with the US make flying much cheaper for you.
Open skies agreements are exactly why flying within the EU can be so cheap!
How many other places in the world can you find flights that take you between two countries for USD $20? (And I’m not joking about these prices – once, I flew from Madrid, Spain to Rome, Italy for USD $17!)
You can find all these “low-cost carriers” flying everywhere inside the EU almost as if they were flying domestically. Companies like the famous Ryanair, Norwegian, Wizzair, EasyJet…they all have bases in a bunch of EU countries, even if their headquarters is located in a separate nation.
The same goes about flying between the US and the EU. From a flight standpoint, the European Union is almost seen as a single country. This increases competition between airlines, brings down costs for consumers, and improves efficiency between the two continents. Have you heard about the USD $65 flight between the US and the EU?!?!
And I’m not even going to get into all the rights you have as an EU air passengers…..oh, those evil regulations to protect customers…how dare they?!
9. You enjoy lower credit card and banking fees within the European Union.
Wow, another benefit of being a member of the European Union….and we’re only halfway there!! How surprising!
Again, I’m going to quote the EU official website: “If you make a cross-border payment within the EU, banks should provide clear information on any charges or fees applicable. If the payment is in euros or Swedish krona, they should not charge you more than they would for a national transaction of the same value in euros.”
Another good explanation: “Under EU law bank charges for financial transactions should be the same within EU member states and between EU states. For example, if you withdraw money from your Irish bank account using an ATM in Germany the charge for this transaction should be equivalent to the charge you would pay if you withdrew the same amount using an Irish ATM which is not part of your bank network.”
Basically, in terms of banking, the EU is almost seen as a single country. Try to send or receive money outside the EU and you will see how insane the costs can be!
Cool savings for being part of the EU, eh?
10. The Frontex makes it easier and cheaper to protect the EU’s Schengen external borders.
Frontex is the EU agency in charge of border control for the European Schengen Area.
So, how does Frontex make it easier and cheaper to protect the EU’s Schengen external borders? Simple: just imagine the resources it would take to control all internal borders throughout the EU. (As an example, just Austria alone shares borders with 8 other countries.)
Naturally, it’s much more efficient to use all that money and personnel to fortify the external borders of the EU instead of all the little ones in between. Yearly, Schengen countries save a ton of money by not having to operate checkpoints with border officers, border maintenance/infrastructure, etc…
Plus, it could be as much as 100 billion euros to actually reinstall all the EU’s internal borders.
Is the current EU border system working perfectly right now? Probably not. But most borders in the world (except for islands and maybe North Korea) aren’t working perfectly either.
But the EU is trying. Since 2016, the Frontex has been strengthened and became the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. This process is overhauling the whole border control system to avoid a border crisis like the one in 2015.
Once again, nobody said the EU is perfect! But as we can see here, it can certainly change and improve to adapt to a new environment.
And remember, the refugee and migrant crisis would have happened REGARDLESS of the existence of the European Union!
But without the European Union, Spain, Italy, and Greece would be dealing with the problem all alone…instead of having the burden shared among 28 countries. Some people call this weird phenomenon “solidarity”!
11. If your country uses the euro, it saves loads by not having to exchange currency every time they do business with other euro countries.
Living in a country with a strong and trustworthy currency is a great thing.
You know your money can be exchanged (or accepted) almost everywhere in the world. Also, you don’t run the risk of having your savings turned to dust because of inflation (just ask Venezuela how unpleasant that is).
But until not a long time ago, only the US dollar (and maybe the British Pound) were seen as real international currencies. Not anymore.
The euro today, besides being in the IMF currency basket, has given a strong financial voice to the EU in the world. Yes, your money is strong!
Plus, this is not even counting how much people, companies, and other institutions save every year on currency exchange fees and transaction costs when dealing with the 24 other countries that also use the euro officially.
Banks should hate losing all those fat international transfer fees…
By the way, have you heard about the European Central Bank? Well, last year, through its monetary policy, it saved Euro area countries €50 billion in interest payments…extra money that will be invested back into countries that use the euro currency….not too bad, eh?
But why wasn’t this news everywhere? Good question!
12. If you care about the environment, the European Union is the place to belong to.
Regardless if you believe that climate change is real or not, or if it’s caused by humans, I guess we can all agree that pollution is bad, right? (Or is pollution yet another liberal conspiracy?!?!)
Otherwise, would you maybe like to breathe in an air like this?
Anyways, pollution or overfishing are examples of problems with the planet’s “commons” (or areas that don’t actually belong to anyone). We call these problems the “tragedy of the commons” since each individual or country is just acting in self-interest by exploiting the commons as they wish without thinking about the consequences for others.
An example: regardless of how much South Korea tries to not pollute (which I’m not saying it necessarily does), it still can’t completely eliminate the smog over its cities since a lot of it comes from China.
Therefore, we can solve these problems only if countries trust each to be able to cooperate.
And one of the goals of the EU is to help in this cooperation at the regional level! Today, the EU is at the forefront of the world in terms of protecting the environment.
This is awesome for you because, when you see that nice blue sky above you every morning or play in that clean river during the summer, you can thank EU environmental standards and regulations for these privileges.
…..oh, those evil regulations to protect the environment, how dare they!…again?
13. Big transnational corporations can’t bully around your country when it’s part of the EU.
Transnational corporations (TNCs) – companies that operate across several countries such as Shell, Apple, or Volkswagen – are becoming some of the strongest actors in the world today.
At the same time, countries are “begging” for FDI (foreign direct investment) from those same TNCs to create jobs.
This means it is becoming easier everyday for TNCs to pit countries against each other when directing their investment: “who will give me more tax credits?”; “who will impose less environmental, labor, and consumer regulations?”; “who has the lowest minimum wage?”
So, countries engage in a “race to the bottom” by lowering their standards the most they can to attract FDI…..
And who LOSES in this scenario? The workers, the consumers, the environment, and the countries (who’ll be receiving less tax from TNCs for the same FDI).
And the BIG WINNERS? The TNCs!
But what if I told you that countries could gang up together and tell TNCs that if they want to access and invest in the biggest single market in the world (AKA the European Union), they would have to play by our rules, not theirs?
Well, that’s where the EU comes into play. By setting minimum labor, consumer, and environmental standards, the EU makes sure that its citizens are the ones who benefit the most from FDI, not only TNCs.
We still have some work to do in regards to tax avoidance, regulatory arbitrage, and tax competition, but the EU is getting there….just ask Apple! Your country would just not be able to fight these big corporations alone!
And yes, to actually fight together, countries do have to sacrifice some autonomy in return for improved collective action….but just remember, there is no free lunch!
14. You can easily drive with your local driver’s license anywhere in the EU.
Well, this is an easy one. By being a citizen of the EU, you can drive with your national driver’s license in almost 30 countries….no questions asked.
Can you imagine the pain it would be for truck drivers to work around Europe without the EU? Forget about that expensive international driver’s license!
Again, maybe not life changing for most Europeans, but still a nice benefit to keep in mind!
15. It’s much harder for your country to go to war with another country if they are both part of the EU.
Again, this is almost self-explanatory.
If both countries are members of the EU, they have a supranational institution through which they can voice their disaffection with each other and solve issues by talking instead of fighting.
On top of that, if both countries are part of a single market and therefore economically interdependent, they have much more to lose than to gain by fighting each other in a war. Why bother fighting another country if you can do business with it and both get richer?!?!
16. If you are an EU citizen, you can count on equal pay and nondiscriminatory laws in the workplace.
Does your individual country have laws and regulations about equal pay and discrimination in the workplace?? Maybe. But I can tell you that a lot of countries don’t.
Yet again, those silly EU regulations trying to protect workers….tsk, tsk….the EU is so mean!
17. If you are part of the EU, your country saves loads in time and money when dealing with regulations.
Let’s face it, your country WILL do business with other countries close to you and around the world.
Just look around you! Your clothes, your electronics, your car, your food! How much of it was 100% produced inside your country? Not much, I’d guess. But to import or export all of this, your country needs to follow certain rules and regulations from other countries.
So, how nice would it be if we would have common rules and regulations for all the countries we do business with? Well, we might not have something like that worldwide, but you do have it within the EU.
So just think about how much time and resources you save in the EU by having 1 set of rules instead of 28.
Although I do agree, some regulations can sometimes be unnecessary…but there’s plenty more that actually make a positive difference in people’s lives.
18. You have the right to be protected by the diplomatic and consular authorities of any other EU country while abroad.
Let’s say you are from the Czech Republic and are traveling in Tajikistan. Tajikistan does not have a Czech Embassy, but it does have a German one.
If you need any consular assistance during your trip (because you lost your passport, got robbed, encountered civil unrest/conflict, etc.), you can count on the help of the German embassy – all because both the Czech Republic and Germany are members of the EU.
Naturally, this works for any combination of the 28 countries of the EU.
19. Loads of EU money is invested in infrastructure and research in your country.
Have you seen a sign like this before in your town or country?
It means that a road, bridge, hospital, railway, school, tunnel, etc., was partially financed by the European Union.
It’s funny because some countries receive a massive amount of funding from the EU (much more than they give back), yet some of its citizens have a pretty negative view of the EU…..I understand criticizing, but bashing all the time, seriously??
So next time you’re driving on that brand new road or bridge, think about this article here….maybe YOU are one of the ungrateful complainers.
And did I mention all the money used for research and innovation? Well, who needs money for research and innovation in the 21st century anyways?!
20. Eurojust and Europol help fight criminal networks around the EU to keep you safe!
Seriously, unless you are a criminal, you should think this is a good idea.
With the super connected world we have today, organized crime can act from any part of the planet. And, although we also have Interpol, it has some limitations in a lot of countries in terms of resources and authority.
Have you heard about the European Arrest Warrant? Yes, if you commit a crime and are caught inside the EU, they will extradite you to your home country!! They even have the Schengen Information System to identify people wanted by the police in each EU country.
And this cooperation does work in a lot of cases…unless you live outside the EU….
21. By being part of the EU, you are a counterbalance to Trump’s America and Putin’s Russia.
Sorry my American friends – you know I love most of you – but things don’t look good.
Right now you are being run by a guy who doesn’t believe in climate change, the United Nations, the EU, global cooperation, and who wants to pull the United States inwards, regardless of the consequences to the rest of the 7.2 billion people on this planet….in a typical beggar thy neighbor policy.
And regarding Russia – can you imagine what a dream it would be for Putin if the EU were to break apart?
Currently, there’s an ideological competition between Russia’s semi-authoritarianism and the EU’s liberal democracy. It would be much easier for Putin’s Russia to spread its ultra-nationalistic and illiberal values across a shattered continent than across a strong and confident European Union.
That doesn’t give a very bright view of the future for our planet as a whole.
So, what should we do? Just close ourselves in our own nationalistic communities and let our world’s almost 200 countries compete against each other for the crumbles of the modern economy?
Hopefully, your answer is a resounding “NO!”
Look, I know the EU is not perfect, but I believe that its influence and its values (respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality, and the rule of law), are unmatched by any other major world player today. Sorry USA, maybe in 4 years?!
That makes the role of the European Union in the world today more important than ever before. Or, as a certain country used to say about itself, “a beacon of hope.” (Yeah, super tacky….I know….)
….and you, as an EU citizen, are a part of it!
Too idealistic? Maybe. But it’s better than being a constant cynic….which really gets you (and the rest of the world) nowhere.
Final criticism for the European Union
Even with the reasons above, the EU is far from being perfect. But since I love it for what it is and what is striving to be, I guess I can criticize it as well….just a little bit of tough love.
So, European Union, here’s a few ideas for you:
- Hear your people. Understand why so many EU citizens see you unfavorably, what their complaints are, and try to solve them!
- At the same time, make it clear that globalization, automatization, offshoring, and immigrants/refugees coming from struggling countries would happen regardless the existence of the European Union. Plus, explain that it’s actually easier to deal with the consequences of these events by working together instead of individually.
- Remember that you don’t exist to serve yourself, your politicians or staff, but to serve the people of the European Union! So, learn with the private sector in cutting costs, being more efficient, and avoiding waste.
- So, uh….why do we need two European parliament buildings? Do we really need Strasbourg and all the costs when going back and forth to Brussels? Really? Do we really need all that EU administrative personnel to be stationed in Luxembourg City? One of the most expensive cities in the world? Again…really?
- And for Pete’s sake, work on your marketing!! You are awesome and you know it, so start selling yourself properly or you are going to end up all alone!
And now for you, Mr. or Ms. EU citizen, please stop complaining and give some value to what you have. I know the EU isn’t flawless, but I strongly believe that its benefits outweigh its negatives.
And I know that complaining about everything is almost part of the human nature.
But you can be sure that a big portion of the 7.2 billion people in this world “would give an arm and a leg” to have half of the benefits and privileges that you have just by being a part of the EU.
If you don’t believe in what I’m saying, just travel around the world to open your eyes a bit (use this site to plan your trip by the way )
So, instead of just complaining – start giving some recognition to the EU, show that you care about it and that you want to improve it so it can get stronger every day. (Which at the end of the day, as we saw above, will only benefit you.)
And let’s all stay, as the EU motto says: “United in Diversity”!
Now, just like the European Union, I’m also not perfect!
So if you see any information here that’s wrong, misleading, or incomplete, please help me by writing your comments below in a civil manner. This way, we can have a productive “conversation” and hopefully improve our ideas and knowledge from our interaction.
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