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Do the laws of the European Union influence our daily lives?

May 9, 2024

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The Conversation

Joseba Fernández de Gaztea |

Associate Professor of Administrative Law of the University of Navarra

Faced with the bureaucratic immensity of project, it is perfectly legitimate to question the real usefulness of the European Union. Moreover, it is logical to ask about the concrete impact it has on the lives of citizens. Otherwise, the discussion could be settled with a general answer such as "the Union is a unique institutional experiment that has made possible the longest period of peace ever known on the continent".

The skeptical formula used by an Argentine colleague is very relevant: "Answer me, how is your dear Union helping you and me?

The full answer would require a long explanation because the Union's field of influence is very broad. It is also because the procedural and organizational framework that underlies the political decision and its subsequent implementation is complex. Several institutions of the Union are involved in the decisions, and the implementation of such decisions requires the mediation of the Member States.

However, it is true that it is possible to identify areas in which the decisions taken by the Union have a direct impact on the lives of citizens. So, indeed, the question does admit of a clear answer.

The price of electricity

The price per kilowatt hour of the light that illuminates our homes, for example, depends significantly on how successful the European Union is. We saw this with a certain amount of drama in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

The Union reacted with a battery of structural and fiscal measures aimed at securing gas supplies, diversifying our energy sources and also intervening in the price of gas through correction mechanisms, thus dampening the price of electricity.

In the global framework of this strategy, among many others, a concrete measure was adopted whose effect on the lives of citizens no one would question: the discount of 20 cents per liter of fuel introduced by Royal Decree-Law 6/2022. 

Agricultural regulation

Few of us remained oblivious to this winter's tractor strikes. The first affected in the matter are the farmers and their families. They do not need to be reminded of the importance for their work of decisions taken in the EU such as the European Green Pact or the Commission's proposal (withdrawal) of regulation on the use of plant protection products.

Both they and the rest of us must bear in mind, however, that the complexity introduced in the system of direct payments to farmers, which are so vital, and which run to position at budget of the Union, has its origin in three European regulations or laws: 2021/2115, 2021/2116 and 2021/2117.

Artificial intelligence

When the regulation on artificial intelligence that Parliament and the States agreed in February comes into force, companies operating in the internal market will have to qualify the level of risk of the artificial intelligence systems they employ.

They must also adopt security measures to safeguard the fundamental rights of persons affected by their activity. For example, the right not to be unjustifiably discriminated against by a decision resulting from an algorithmic operation.

The regulation is already being criticized for the negative effect it may have on the industry, as it entails additional costs, penalizes innovation and reduces competitiveness. However, rule is a pioneer in protecting citizens from this technology, for example, from the routine use of facial recognition by security forces.

Social measures

Some of the social measures adopted by the European Union are more limited in scope.

For example those of the directive on the reconciliation of parents and caregivers, those of the very recently agreed directive on the work on digital platforms, or those of the directive on the card European disability directive and card European parking for people with disabilities.

The first has introduced a leave of five working days a year to be able to take care of people who need our help attendance. The second shifts to digital platforms the burden of proving that the people working for them are not their employees, thus putting them in a much more favorable status when it comes to claiming their labor rights.

And thanks to the third directive, the beneficiaries of the cards will receive the same attention that is granted to disabled persons residing in those countries of the Union to which they travel for short stays. They will be able, for example, to park their car in the spaces reserved for this purpose.

And also...

What university student does not constantly refer to his or her credits ECTS credit? These are units of measurement of the European credit transfer and accumulation system introduced at the end of the 1980s by the Commission. Today they make it much easier to mobility students by universities in Europe.

And who doesn't drive across the internal borders of the Union without worrying because he knows that his ID card driving license is automatically recognized? This is thanks to article 2 of the directive on driving licenses.

Are you concerned about your medical care in another Member State? You will be treated in the same way as residents of that State, as set out in the directive on attendance cross-border healthcare.

Have you suffered a long delay on your flight? You are probably entitled to compensation under the terms of the air passenger compensation regulation and attendance . Have you paid VAT today? The subject of this tax is determined by the national rules and regulations , but the European one is the one that sets the subject minimum.

The list of examples could be extended, but it is not necessary. Skepticism about the effectiveness of the European Union's activity in our lives is therefore not justified. In fact, the burden of test is, rather, on anyone who argues that it does not influence our lives. It is worth bearing this in mind.