What has the EU ever done for us?

14 January 2013



For many people the EU is best known as a place of crazy policies, an amazing waste of money in an immense and greedy bureaucracy. But, however this may suit the agenda of some sectors politics and media here, the EU is now home to 27 states and over 500 million people, is 7% of global population with a huge economic value of 20% of global GDP. So, more realistically ....

What has the EEC/EU ever do for us? Not much, apart from... :


  • providing 57% of our trade;
  • structural funding to areas hit by industrial decline; 
  • investment across Europe contributing to better living standards and educational, social and cultural capital.
  • bloc EEA negotiation at the WTO;


  • clean beaches and rivers;
  • cleaner air;
  • lead free petrol;
  • restrictions on landfill dumping;
  • a recycling culture; 


  • single market competition bringing quality improvements and better industrial performance;
  • break up of monopolies;
  • Europe-wide patent and copyright protection;
  • no paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market;
  • price transparency and removal of commission on currency exchanges across the eurozone;
  • EU-funded research and industrial collaboration;
  • cheaper mobile charges;
  • cheaper air travel;


  • improved consumer protection and food labelling;
  • a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives;
  • better product safety; 
  • access to European health services;
  • smoke-free workplaces;


  • freedom to travel, live and work across Europe;
  • funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad; 
  • labour protection and enhanced social welfare;
  • equal pay legislation;
  • holiday entitlement;
  • the right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime;

Animal Rights

  • strongest wildlife protection in the world;
  • improved animal welfare in food production;

Interrnationalism and Defence

  • EU diplomatic efforts to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; 
  • European arrest warrant;
  • cross border policing to combat human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling;
  • counter terrorism intelligence;
  • European civil and military co-operation in post-conflict zones in Europe and Africa;
  • support for democracy and human rights across Europe and beyond;
  • EU representation in international forums;

All of this is nothing compared with its greatest achievements: the EU has for 60 years been the foundation of peace between European neighbours after centuries of bloodshed.

It furthermore assisted the extraordinary political, social and economic transformation of 13 former dictatorships, now EU members, since 1980. Now the union faces major challenges brought on by neoliberal economic globalisation, and worsened by its own systemic weaknesses. It is taking measures to overcome these. We in the UK should reflect on whether our net contribution of £7bn out of total government expenditure of £695bn is good value...

We must play a full part in enabling the union to be a force for good in a multipolar global future.

Simon Sweeney
Lecturer in international political economy, University of York

(Expanded from his letter in The Guardian)


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