As a student studying French, the EU is a hot topic of conversation both in seminars and lectures, and in the pub. I enjoy discussing it, broaching my opinion, and often being controversial for the sake of it, but when it comes to talking about the economics of it all, I take a step back. And more often than not these days, it is about the economics of it all.
For example, last week in my French oral class, we were split into two groups, one pro-eurozone and the other anti-eurozone. Now, I understand that the eurozone is encompassed within the EU but that it is constitutionally different from it, and that things are generally pretty dire in eurozone countries… that, however, is the extent of my economic knowledge. Consequently, I opted to argue in support of the eurozone last week.
Our arguments consisted of theoretical idealisations on what the future would bring under a single currency. We insisted that bureaucracy would decrease, allowing freer movement across borders; that foreign aid and investment would better benefit those in need; and that, most importantly, there would be an increase in cultural exchange and promotion of universal human rights. But the problem is, I don’t know if any of these things would happen or do happen when a country joins the eurozone.
The other side of the house bombarded us with statistics and case studies, persuading us with example after example that a unique currency would and currently does inherently fail in this diverse part of the world. I saw the sense in all their arguments, and more often than not couldn’t supply a rebuttal. It’s hard to argue with the figures really: in December last year France’s unemployment rate rose to 11.1%, whereas the U.K’s unemployment rate has fallen to 7.1%, a trend which is generally repeated when comparing the U.K to other eurozone countries.
But I just couldn’t help feeling that, for some reason, their arguments were coming across as, well, quite selfish and narrow-minded. Yes, we live in a diverse part of the world whose countries have extremely differing economies. Yes, we are in the middle of a European sovereign debt crisis, which has seen wealthier countries take the brunt of the responsibility.
But, surely where we have the opportunity to aid a neighbouring country on the brink of economic collapse we should? Surely, where we see deprivation, poverty and exploitation we should reach out and try to put a country back on its feet again? Even if it means prolonging our own economic crisis…? Well, yes. The problem doesn’t stop at our doorstep, unfortunately it reaches far beyond it. We’re all in the same crisis whether we like it or not, so it seems to me that protectionism in Europe isn’t really an option anymore.
Maybe I’m naïve. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. But when makeshift rafts full of starving people wash up on our shores, when Ukrainians are beaten on the street for protesting their dire situation, we should maybe stop worrying about our own problems, just for one second