Europe

Welcome to our European pages

This page links you to information about a variety of countries which we study during our European days in the Autumn Term and tell you a little about the European Community and the countries which belong to it.

What Has The EU Ever Done For Us?

The EU began life as a peace initiative between six countries after the 2nd World War. There are now 25 countries and the EU has changed a lot. It manages issues throughout Europe such as the environment, transport and employment: but what has it ever done for us?

Peace In Our Time.

The EU began as a way to ensure peace after the 2nd World War – a third war between European countries is unbelievable now.

All countries which join the EU have to show that their citizens have democratic and human rights. This has reinforced the freedoms enjoyed by countries which were formally ruled by dictators, such as Greece, Spain and Portugal; or those who were originally part of communist Eastern Europe.

This stable political peace means that there are greater economic prospects for all countries.

Trade

The main reason Britain joined the EU in 1973 was so that it could access a prosperous trade market with other EU countries. With around 450 million people, the EU is now larger than the United States and Japan combined. The UK exports more than three times as much to the rest of Europe as to the United States.

However, for decades, people in Europe paid more for clothing because the EU restricted the importing of cheap textiles from developing countries.

Workers’ Rights

Less than five years ago, the UK had among the worst maternity rights for mothers in the EU. Now, thanks to EU agreements, parents have a minimum of four weeks leave.

Flexible working hours for parents, equal rights for part-time workers and maternity leave are all now standard.

Despite all this, the UK opted out of certain rules about working time which limited people to working a maximum of 48 hours per week. This means that people in the UK still work the longest hours in Europe – with the fewest number of bank holidays.

Freedom To Work And Travel

Before Britain joined the EU, people needed to apply for a special permit, called a visa, to travel to “the Continent”. Now we are all able to work, study and live visa-free throughout Europe.

The European Parliament can make many things the same throughout Europe, but they cannot change the climate. Thousands of British people have emigrated to other, sunnier, countries. More British people live in other EU countries than all the people from other countries who live in Britain.

Approximately 10,000 British people study in schools and universities in the EU and over 100,000 have jobs in other EU countries.

Environment

The EU’s blue flag water quality scheme has resulted in many rivers and beaches being cleaned and made fit for swimming in.

The EU also sets standards for the quality of drinking water.

Britain’s sulphur dioxide emissions (a gas which causes acid rain) have fallen from 6.1 million tons to 1.2 million tons since 1973 thanks to pressure from the EU.

Noise levels on lorries and cars have been reduced by 85-90% in the same amount of time.

The EU negotiated with one voice at the 1997 Kyoto agreement on climate change and global warming meaning that all member countries agreed to help tackle the problem.

Foreign Policy

Britain is still politically powerful around the world thanks in part to its place within a common European foreign policy. This common bargaining power can sometimes have negative effects, for example, when there were arguments as to whether or not to go to war with Iraq.

Consumer Protection

You have guaranteed rights when you shop throughout the European Union – as long as you keep the receipt!

Other EU rules include: compulsory sell-by dates on food and strict labelling of colourings, additives and ingredients. Even home-made cakes should include information on ingredients which people might be allergic to such as nuts.

There are also rules on toy safety which apply throughout the EU and to toys which have been imported from other countries.

Travel

There is now a standard, burgundy-coloured, pocket-sized passport. National driving licenses are gradually being replaced with European credit-card-sized versions.

You are now entitled to compensation from package-tour operators if your holiday goes wrong thanks to EU laws. Airline operators must also provide compensation if they cancel flights. Rules which the EU introduced about the way companies can compete with each other has resulted in the price of air travel halving over the last 10 years.

Food

Since 1973, the choice of vegetables available to be eaten with your dinner has increased. Before then, many people from Britain had never seen aubergines, broccoli or peppers. However, there are some bad points, such as the fact that large-scale farming has resulted in the loss of dozens of varieties of English apples.

Thanks to the huge cost of the European Common Agricultural Policy, the average UK family pays £28 extra a week for their food. This also keeps poor countries poor because they cannot compete and get a fair price for their food.

Law And Order

Some people might argue that people being able to move around European countries freely means that criminals could move around undetected. However, the new European arrest warrant means that fugitives can be sent swiftly back.

Football hooligans and neo-Nazi groups are monitored across Europe and any data on suspected terrorists is swiftly exchanged between countries.

Want to know more about the European Community?