It is really difficult to explain the advantages of being within the European Union (EU) and the monetary union to those who have seen their wages remain the same in the last twenty years, when services and the cost of living have generally increased. Nevertheless, I believe it is important to try to do it because the European Union is our only hope, and we should keep this in mind. Below you will find a list, inevitably incomplete, of the advantages that Italy gets from being in Europe. Some of the benefits of being inside the European Union (like the 70 years of peace, or Erasmus) are very well known, so this article tries to focus only on those known the least.
The EU in fact, does not mean just Euro, banks and external borders to manage, but it is an institution that enables its member states to cooperate and coordinate efforts to improve European citizens’ life and compete with other global powers such as USA and China.
Here below. we will talk more deeply about some examples of how the EU is deploying efforts providing tools that have an impact in our daily life (and often we do not know).
- The European Medicines Agency (EMA)
- The European Space Agency (ESA)
- The investment plan for Europe
- The general data protection regulation (GDPR)
- The programs for environmental protection
- The European food safety agency (EFSA)
Let’s try and explain what are they about:
1) The European Medicines Agency (EMA) guarantees the scientific assessment, supervision and safety control of medicines for human and veterinary use in the European Union. As a European agency (therefore not representative of any government, sector or company), the EMA has acted as guarantor for the marketing of specific drugs in those countries different from the one manufacturing. This ensured harmonization at the European level, limiting the cases where local legislation prevented the sale of drugs from other EU countries, with often arbitrary justifications of non-compliance. The creation of the EMA in 1995 has therefore helped a significant increase in the Italian production of drugs aimed at foreign markets. In 2017, Italy surpassed Germany in terms of drug production, making it the leading European producer, with a total turnover of 31.2 billion euros (79% of which was exported, up 15 times) from 1991 to 2017, rising from 1.3 to 24.8 billion euros). The pharmaceutical sector in Italy employs 65,400 workers (90% graduates).
2) The European Space Agency (ESA) is created in 1975 and counts 20 European countries, including Italy. Our country also hosts one of the 8 offices of the space agency: ESRIN, the center for earth observation, in Frascati, Rome. It is fair to mention that ESA is not an EU organization (for example, Norway is only part of ESA). However, the two entities develop a joint space strategy and have a very close connection, defined by the ESA / EU framework agreement. The idea of an effort for space research at European level stems from the desire to combine resources and capabilities to carry forward projects drastically above the possibilities of individual countries. ESA is known throughout the world and is second only to the NASA (given also the difference in terms of budget: the annual contribution of the European citizen for ESA is about one quarter of that of the US citizen for NASA). Today, ESA fulfills an exploratory function and makes an enormous contribution to the knowledge of humanity as a whole (for example, it played a key role in the acquisition of the first photo of a black hole ever obtained). Furthermore, programs such as Copernicus (this one indeed proper of the EU, financed by HORIZON 2020), have enabled the launch of dozens of satellites with earth, sea and air monitoring functions; providing very precise data used for territorial administration, environmental emergency management, climate change and national security. Like Copernicus, Galileo space program (also funded by the EU) has allowed the launch of dozens of satellites. Galileo’s goal is to develop a global localization system, independent of the American GPS. The service is already in the early stages of use, is completely free and open to all European citizens and it is estimated that it will contribute to the EU economy for 90 billion euros in the first 20 years of activity.
3) The investment plan for Europe, the so-called Juncker plan, was proposed to the European Parliament in November 2014. The project is to relaunch investments in Europe (and consequently employment) for a total value of 500 billion by 2020. Basically, the idea is to put the European Investment Bank (EIB) as the guarantor of all the financing made in parallel with the European fund for strategic investments (the financial arm of the EIB). The total amount of funding already approved by the EIB for Italy is €9.8 billion (the second highest figure in the entire EU), which should mobilize another €63.6 in additional investments. Some examples of approved and ongoing funding are: the Treviso hospital (with €70 million funded directly by the EIB and total investments for €267 million), the Apulian aqueduct water services (with €200 million in direct financing and total investments for 542 million), Dolomiti Energia (with 100 million of approved funds, for a total of 180 million of investments). The complete list can be found at this link. Part of the 9.8 billion (to be exact 2.8) is dedicated to the financing of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through agreements with large European banks. For example, it is news of January 2019 the signing between Bnl (Bnp Paribas group) and the EIB (together with the European fund for investments) of two credit agreements for Italian SMEs up to one billion two-hundred million in the next two years
4) During the last legislature, the European Parliament approved the most advanced state-of-the-art general data protection regulation (Gdpr). From May 25, 2018, Italian citizens are protected by a European-wide privacy regulation (this has in fact been harmonized in all member countries). The regulation aims to empower all companies that process personal data of European citizens (whether they are located in the EU or abroad). Since last year, companies have been forced to expressly state how they intend to use users’ personal data and to request explicit consent from users (pre-barred boxes are prohibited). In addition, the Gdpr establishes the right for consumers to rectify their data at any time, the right to delete personal data in certain circumstances, and the right to require old data (you can ask what data you had previously provided). The fines in cases of violation of the Gdpr can be very expensive, as proven by the 50-million fine the French authorities are planning to charge Google.
5) With regard to environmental protection, it is little known that around 80% of the recent Italian norms come from the need of adapting to European directives. The areas covered are the most diverse, from greenhouse gas emissions to fine dust pollution. For example, tax deductions for residential energy efficiency (up to 75% in condominiums) are a direct consequence of the implementation of Directive 2012/27/EU. On the issue of emissions, the EU has implemented the first and largest global market for CO2. Since 2005, a ceiling has been placed on the total amount of greenhouse gases (CO2, N2O, PFC) that can be produced by about 11,000 energy-intensive plants (power plants and industrial plants) and by airlines. Every year this roof is lowered, so as to reduce the carbon footprint of the most polluting sectors (thanks to this system it is estimated that in 2030 emissions will be 43% lower than in 2005). For all excluded sectors, the EU plans a 30% CO2 reduction for 2030. EU targets will have to be transformed into binding national targets for sectors that do not fall under the current EU emissions trading scheme, namely agriculture, transport, construction and waste, which together account for around 60% of the Union’s greenhouse gas emissions. The annual Life program is also worth mentioning, whereby the EU makes grants for pilot projects aimed at addressing environmental challenges of public interest (Life’s budget for 2014-2020 is € 3.4 billion).
6) The European food safety agency (EFSA) is based in Parma and it has more than 400 employees. EFSA assesses food-safety alerts launched by one of the 28 EU countries (plus Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Switzerland) and if it deems it appropriate, it takes care of having dangerous products withdrawn from the European market. In addition to food security, the EU has played a fundamental role in defending products with a protected designation of origin (Pdo) and organic products. In fact, Pdo products, as well as those with a protected geographical indication (Pgi), are protected within the single European market (a farm in Berlin cannot name its ham “prosciutto di Parma”). The Italian confederation of farmers (CIA) has recently reiterated how: “it is beyond dispute that the Schengen agreement, with the suppression of customs, has given an important impetus to the Italian agri-food export that sends products to the euro area for over €210 billion (+ 40% from 2010). To drive quality certifications (+ 38%), currently for 85 products between Pdo and Pgi.” Similarly, in all new free trade agreements, the EU is leading a battle in defence of Pgi and Dop products. Only in the latest free trade agreements, the EU guaranteed the defense of: 165 geographical indications in South Korea (of which 38 are Italian), 143 in Canada (41 Italian), 200 in Japan (44 Italian), 340 in Mexico (where to find the “parmesan” in the supermarket was the norm). In the last ten years, according to the CIA, workers in agriculture have increased by about 85 thousand units (+ 21%). Under the European push, the agri-food Made in Italy has found new strength in the development of organic products with around 25,000 new operators, a growth of 60%, in the wake of ever greater awareness and environmental sensitivity.