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The European Union, through an American’s Eyes July 14, 2010

Posted by kvrensburg in Travel Log.
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View from our hostelMay 14: Today we had a class at the university with Paulo Barcelus. He started explaining the government of Portugal to us, but then remarked that we cannot understand Portugal fully without understanding the European Union. This was strange to me, because albeit that I have heard of the European Union, and I have a rough idea of what it is, I didn’t fully understand why it was necessary to understand the European Union in order to understand Portugal.  Is Portugal not its own country? Are the people not citizens of Portugal? Well, as I found out during this lecture, the answer to these questions is both yes and no.

Portugal is its own country with its own culture and customs, but as part of the European Union, it has to follow the orders it is given. For example, Professor Barcelus pointed out that Portugal wanted to create all sorts of projects around the country to keep the economy going, including a new airport, a 3rd  bridge over the river, a new highway, and a high velocity train. However, the European Union did not agree and would not allow it. But, Portugal does get to decide on matters of war, signing treaties, justice, and home affairs.  So she does retain certain aspects of an individual country.

Also, the citizens of Portugal are not only citizens of Portugal, but also of the European Union. I can’t decide if this is like being a resident of Georgia, as well as being a citizen of the United States. Professor Barcelus described the situation of Portugal as not being a strict confederation, but also it’s not a full federation either. However, the longer I think about, the more I realize that I can’t compare Portugal’s position in the European Union to Georgia’s position in the United States. First of all, the resident’s of Georgia speak the same language as everyone else in the States (yes, I know we have a bit of an accent…), but the European Union has 23 official languages! Second, we have the same unifying history of the American Revolution and breaking free from British control.  Portugal’s history is much different than that of Germany, Italy, or many of the other member states.

After realizing that Portugal and Georgia cannot be compared, I think the best comparison to be drawn is The main squarethat of a super power over America versus the super power (the European Union) over Portugal. The closest example for this idea is the comparison of NAFTA and the EU. NAFTA, for example, regulates certain barriers of trade between Mexico, the United States, and Canada.  Similarly, the EU regulates trade, money, and many more things for its member states.  Both the U.S and Canada have issues with NAFTA; therefore, it is funny to imagine the idea of these 3 countries ever being in a system such as the European Union.  However, in one sense, it would be better to have an international “super court” similar to that of the EU. Then trade infractions or issues with NAFTA could be taken to such a court.

The advantages to having a super power such as the European Union seem very appealing.  For example, the member states of the EU have ceased to control their borders. Imagine how nice it would be if we (the US) did not have border issues with Canada or Mexico. But, then again, opening the borders could cause many problems as well. Another advantage would be that since 70% of the laws for each member state comes from the EU all the member states would be on the same page in regards to many issues.

However, despite the advantages that a supernatural democracy such as the European Union would provide, I don’t think it would work for us. We (as Americans) pride ourselves for our independence and are not easily persuaded to allow a panel that includes representatives from foreign countries to decide for us what we can and cannot do. Going along with this idea, I find it amusing that in 1946 Winston Churchill said that he wanted to replicate what the US had, but in Europe. This is impressive that the European Union is based on the government of the United States, but it is able to include countries, not just states, into a “union”.

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