What is the European Union?
In 2016, the U.K. narrowly voted to leave the European Union. There’s a slim chance this break up won’t happen, and U.K. residents are protesting their desire to remain en masse. For non-Europeans who might not know, Brexit means British Exit, as in exit from the European Union. But what is the E.U. and who cares if the U.K. leaves?
Who’s part of the European Union?
Out of Europe’s 50 countries, 28 are part of the European Union, as of October 2018.
After Word War II, which killed an estimated 40 million to 70 million soldiers and civilians, a few European countries decided that a good way to stop killing each other would be to form an economic alliance. So, in 1958 Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands created the European Economic Community, the E.E.C., which in 1993 rebranded itself as the European Union.
As I mentioned, today 28 countries in Europe are part of this alliance, and E.U. member countries practice free trade as part of a single market, meaning they can do business across the EU as easily as if it were a single country. The single market also means free movement for all EU citizens. They can live, work, study, and travel in any other E.U. country. No visa. Total freedom.
I have dual citizenship with Italy, and that’s what allows me to live and work in London, at least until Brexit ruins everything. The E.U., in addition to being an economic alliance, is also a political alliance dealing with climate change, migration, and other critical world issues.
In 2012, the E.U. won a Nobel prize “for advancing the causes of peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” The values that the E.U. declares “an integral part of our European way of life” are: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law, and human rights. In a world seemingly run by cartoon villains who are destroying democracy and the Earth, a strong Europe that fights for these values is essential.
Of course, the E.U. isn’t perfect. In recent years, migration policy has become hugely contentious and has influenced political elections across Europe. It even threatens to destabilize the E.U. itself. The U.K. actually voted to leave the E.U. largely over immigration issues.
So what happens if the U.K. actually does leave the E.U.? Great question! So far, there’s no signs of agreement on a Brexit deal and the people, especially immigrants such as myself, are left spinning their wheels, unsure if they should change jobs or buy a house or invest in a business because the future is so uncertain.
Some things to consider before your trip to Europe
Only 19 countries in the E.U. use the euro, the common European currency. And not all of them are part of the Schengen zone, which has opened up the borders of member countries so they can travel freely without dealing with passport control.
Are you a non-European thinking of traveling long-term through Europe? You need to understand how to navigate the Schengen zone so you don’t get fined and/or deported.
If you found this article useful, please share it, and subscribe to the Postcard Academy podcast. Each week, expats and adventurers share their insider travel tips on the best food, nightlife, and cultural experiences in the most interesting places around the globe. I’m your host, Sarah Mikutel, an American who's spent the last 7 years living in, and traveling around, Europe.