The Case for Canada joining the European Union

We live in dangerous, disruptive times. At some point, if we are going to move forward, Canada is going to have to chart a new course. We will need a new “New Deal” for individuals, and we will need a foreign policy course that reduces our dependence on the United States, without leaving us vulnerable to the growing power of China.

Joining the European Union would alter Canada’s level of sovereignty, but it would also provide tremendous benefits to Canada, to our European Allies and to the traditional, Western, small l liberal, rules-based order. It would benefit Canadian business, as well as individual Canadians including the working class, middle class, First Nations and minority groups within Canada.

Currently, we are looking at a rising China that is increasingly willing to assert its economic and military power. On the other side, we are looking at a populist backlash in the United States and several other Western countries. That backlash is primarily a response to several decades of increasing globalization, which many people feel has left them behind. However, realistically the only way to improve our situation is with more globalization, not less.

While globalization may have had negative consequences for some people and communities in the West, it has undeniably been a positive for the developing world. It will also take a substantial increase in international cooperation to solve many of our current problems including inequality, fair taxation, climate change, ocean pollution, fisheries depletion, terrorism, cybersecurity, and the regulation of biotechnology and artificial intelligence.

Whether people like it or not, globalization is inevitable. Globalization isn’t an idea that’s being debated, it’s something that already happened. The first time you, or your parents, heard a computer say “you’ve got mail”, globalization was a done deal. If people are going to interact, even in limited ways in an online environment, then they are going to interact in all of the ways people interact and the global “community” suddenly exists, regardless of what we decide to do about it.

Since we are going to be a part of a global community, Canada’s best future lies in a strong, integrated, multi-faceted relationship with like-minded countries who share our ideals, goals, and values. With the US in a state of chaotic decline and the UK negotiating the terms of its withdrawal from the world order, Canada’s traditional heavy reliance on those two countries is neither wise nor desirable.

So, how realistic is it to think that Canada could join the European Union? It’s hard to say since we haven’t asked and it would be an unprecedented request. Morocco applied to join the European Communities, the predecessor to the EU, in 1987 and was rejected because it was not considered to be a “European Country”. However, this is not 1987 and Canada is not Morocco. While Canada is not geographically European, it is certainly culturally European. The UK, Ireland, France, Germany, the Netherlands (Dutch), Poland, and other European countries have contributed to the Canadian cultural landscape – depending on where in Canada you live. Additionally, Canadians have fought and died in defence of Europe twice in the last century.

The Copenhagen Criteria, the rules which establish the criteria for joining the EU,  state that:

“Membership requires that candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union. Membership presupposes the candidate’s ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.”

Under the above rules, Canada would certainly qualify for membership.

Ultimately the decision on whether or not to admit Canada, or even consider the application would be a political and economic one. So, what would the European Union gain by admitting Canada?

Currently, the UE is Canada’s second largest trading partner and CETA hasn’t come into effect yet. Full EU membership would strengthen that relationship further.

  • The EU would get easier access to Canada’s vast wealth of natural resources.
  • Canada’s abundant farmland would improve European food security and Canada’s oil and gas would improve European energy security.
  • Europe would gain geographically by having easier access to the United States, easier access to the Pacific, access to most of the Arctic.
  • Canada’s (small l) liberal immigration policies, typically admitting 300-400 thousand immigrants per year would allow European countries and governments straining under the pressure of high immigration levels to vent some of that immigration into Canada.
  • Finally, it would be an important vote of confidence for the future of the EU, which is currently dealing with Brexit and which has faced increased scepticism from many quarters since the financial crisis of 2008.

There is also no real downside for the European Union, other than increased competition for certain sectors of its economy and maybe some anger from the United States.

For Canada, the same is not true. There are weighty disadvantages as well as considerable advantages to joining the EU. Canada would sacrifice some amount of sovereignty, to the European Parliament and the European courts. Our trade picture would also be dramatically altered. Many, if not all, of our current trading relationships, would be dramatically altered. It would probably mean the end of NAFTA or USMCA, it would probably mean the end of Canada’s participation in the TPP and other trade agreements we’ve entered into. This was one of the primary grievances of conservative Brexit supporters in the UK.

However, on the plus side, Canada would have full market access to the 27 countries of the EU as well as other countries with whom the EU has close trade relations and potentially other countries that may yet be admitted to the EU. This would mean greater economic and political stability going forward, far less dependence on the US economy and it would mean that future trade deals would be negotiated as part of a bloc that represents 600 million people, rather than as an individual country of 35 million. Geographically Canada would still be the home of the Arctic passage and the gateway between the Americas, the Pacific and Europe. The combination of European companies that want better access to the United States and US companies that want better access to the EU could actually increase economic activity in Canada’s South with or without USMCA.

Additionally, Canada would be able to participate in EU programs for science and technology, arts and culture, rural development and there would be tremendous benefits for individual Canadians. Most trade deals, such as NAFTA or TPP are made with business in mind. EU membership would have its greatest benefits for individual Canadians, regardless of who they are.

  • Canadians would be free to live, work, go to school or play in any EU country without worrying about visas or permits.
  • Canada’s First Nations and visible minority groups would have access to the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights rather than simply relying on the justice delivered by Canadian courts. These courts, among other things, enforce the European Convention on Human Rights and there is no “Notwithstanding Clause” in European law.
  • Canada’s Francophones, inside and outside of Quebec, would be part of a union that was more French than English (especially post Brexit).
  • EU membership would especially boost the economies of Canada’s maritime provinces, which would also shift some of Canada’s population Eastward and take some of the population pressure off of large cities in Ontario and Quebec.

Obviously, all of this will be scary for some people. It would mean big changes on several fronts, but the evolution of Canada has been shaped by big, challenging events. Confederation was not easy, trans-continental railroads were not easy, the great depression, two World Wars and our roles in creating the United Nations and the rules-based international order were not easy. Becoming part of the EU would not be easy, but it is the next logical step in Canada’s progress.

In its current position, Canada is frequently at the mercy of larger countries and larger economies. As part of the European Union, we’d be part of a coalition of like-minded countries, with similar histories and cultures. We’d also be part of a union that was strong on human rights and could serve as an independent referee as Canada pursues truth and reconciliation with our First Nations.

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