By Caterina Dacey Ariani, NYU ’17
The incredible economic destruction and emotional devastation engraved on Europe after World War Two was enough for the Inner Six countries (Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) to come together to form what we today call the European Union. This Union, however, remains unprecedented as a system, as it cannot be defined as a federation nor a confederation because of it’s unique mix of supranational and intergovernmental elements.
It is precisely the European Union’s unusual nature that makes it so difficult, even for EU citizens, to understand. During the first half of Spring break, I joined a group of NYU Florence students in a trip to Brussels visiting EU institutions, to better understand the exact workings of the EU and why the upcoming European parliamentary elections will be determining the future of the EU.
Prior to our trip, students attended four La Pietra Dialogues on the EU (History of the EU, Institutional Framework and Decision Making, Economy of the EU, and Why Should the EU Be of Interest to Americans?) that carefully outlined key concepts and information on the EU, that then stimulated different discussions among students on the Union and EU member states.
One of the common sources of confusion about the EU is how power is distributed between the European Institutions and the member states themselves, which is why we visited the European Parliament, European Council, and the European Commission, speaking to experts of each respective institution.
It is also evident through our discussion with these experts, that the economic and financial pressures on the EU member states and organizations remain substantial. It is necessary that, in 2014, these countries make strides toward reaching a consensus on their agendas to determine a unified banking policy to stabilize the banking system and rebuild the confidence of EU citizens and external investors. Countries have been struggling for a solution as indicated by the changes in government in almost every EU country between 2009 and now (with the exception of Germany). And while the dramatic pressure faced by peripheral countries has decreased over the last 18 months, the absence of growth in most EU economies continues to be a big concern. This is precisely why the upcoming parliamentary elections are crucial. Additionally, for the first time, the election results will have to be taken into account in the nomination of the next president of the European Comission this upcoming fall, which means the EU is moving closer towards a direct democracy, with voters having control over who leads the EU government.
I would recommend to every NYU student studying in Europe to take advantage of their time there to learn about how the EU really works. As the largest exporter and economy in the world (when treated as one), the power and influence of the EU should not be overlooked or marginalized; by gaining awareness and insight of the Union, you’re increasing your comprehension of both individual European countries and of the world.