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Everything you wanted to know about the EU but were afraid to ask,
This review is from: The European Union: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
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I found this book a fascinating read, and since it is into the third edition of the book I imagine plenty of others have enjoyed it to.
It contains pretty much everything you might want to know about the European Union. It begins with a very good history of the EU and how different countries have joined over the years - I believe there are around 28 countries as members at the moment.
It gives an excellent account of how countries really get things done through what might be called "trading" - if you do this, I'll do that. Right when the EEC was getting started the Germans wanted an Economic Plan, the French a Common Agricultural Policy and the Italians a Social Fund, so they all agreed to what the others wanted, and things got moving.
A similar example happened much later - in 1990 the Germans wanted a united Germany, but the French were keen to move forward with a Single European Currency - the Germans were happy enough with their Deutschmark but agreed to the single currency to unite Germany.
The book deals with the "two pillars" of the EU - federalism and inter-governmental agreements. Essentially countries in Europe have common problems that it often makes sense to try to deal with all together. They also don't want to allow other European countries to "race to the bottom" by for example cutting costs with worse health and safety or environmental regulations, so they keep a level playing field in many areas. In other cases countries want to do things differently - sometimes this can be individual countries all doing something different, in other cases some countries can group together without everyone having to do it - as in the case of the Single Currency.
There has long been a hope that European countries might be able to rationalise their defence spending by having a common defence force, rather than individual countries each having to fund a separate military, but so far such an agreement has proved elusive.
There are a number of interesting topics - there are still a number of countries who want to join the EU - Turkey in the 1960s wanted to join and was told to wait for 22 years (!!) - in the 1980s - after 22 years - they still wanted to join - and talks are still ongoing. There is some concern about the impact having Turkish membership would have, as in the not too distant future it would be the largest country in the EU, however it would of course enlarge the EU and make the economic and political clout of the EU even stronger - at a time when Europe needs to be strong against the USA and China.
There are plenty of charts and facts and figures - it shows who benefits and who pays out economically between the different countries, shows the different political parties in the EU, shows the different trading and political "zones" in and around Europe, of which the EU is of course just one, and a map of members and those who are applying for membership.
It was thought when the last batch of countries joined things might get economically chaotic, but in fact the new member counties have been fairly quiet, it is the older member countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain that have caused some problems, but it is hoped that now plans are in place to deal with the economic challenges.
It is extraordinary to thing what the EU might be in 10-20 years time if it keeps growing. Will it still be a "European" Union?
The book also reveals how strange it seems for UKIP and some elements in the press to want to leave the EU when so many other countries want to join it. It would be like a region of the UK not wanting to send an MP to Parliament to "save money" - when of course Parliament would still exist and you would have to deal with it, but in not sending an MP you would no longer have any influence there. The UK will still have to trade with Europe and would have to abide by European standards and rules in order to trade, but in not being members would be unable to influence EU policy.
This is quite a long "Very Short Introduction" - I usually think of VSIs as about 100 pages, this is about 177 pages, so is longer than most, however it is full of fascinating information and if you are interested in politics, history or economics you will love it.