The EU’s Achievements for Travelers
After discussing the EU for ten days, it is easy to become a eurosceptic. The common foreign and defense policy remains fragmented, energy policy remains weak, and the Eurozone financial crisis are just a few of the areas where the EU receives criticism. However, this does not mean that EU has not made some important reforms that quickly become apparent when one travels across Europe.
Despite the current weak state of the euro, the common currency has done a lot for the economies of the Eurozone. Before its introduction in 1999, the EU conducted an experiment where it converted say deutschmarks into French francs, which were then converted into Italian lira, etc. By the time that this money had been converted into the 15 currencies of the then EU and been finally reconverted back into deutschmarks, the money was half its original value, simply because of transaction costs. These transaction costs are no more in 16 (soon to be 17) countries.
In addition, the euro has removed the risk of currency fluctuations, meaning that prices will no longer shift between currencies in the region unexpected. Inflation rates may vary, but that is much more predictable. As a result, it is now much easier for firms to establish long term contracts across the EU and EU citizens can easily operate in other euro members. It has been calculated that the euro produces about a 0.5% increase in GDP per year among its member states simply because it has made transactions so much simpler.
As a tourist, the other great benefit of the EU is the Schengen zone. While borders between countries in the Schengen zone have not disappeared, moving between countries is now a lot easier. Instead of having to sit in line for hours at border crossings, often in the middle of the night, trains and buses now no longer have to stop. While this means that a tourist receives a lot fewer stamps in their passports then they used to, this lack of border controls save time and make travel much less burdensome. The same is for freight, since trains and trucks no longer have to stop at customs either, reducing the cost and time of freight, promoting trade and linkages across the EU.
The result is that while the EU is hardly a “United States of Europe”, in many manners that affect the daily lives of EU citizens, the EU has done much to contribute to economic growth and mobility, which in itself is a major achievement.