Purpose of the European Union.

Ingo Butsch
7 min readJun 27, 2020

Why does the EU actually do what it does? How a clear purpose and the resulting self-image of the EU can help to increase its capacity to act, make its actions more comprehensible to all and delivers the foundation to create the Vision of the EU.

Flag of the European Union waved by protesters. Photo by Nico Roicke on Unsplash
Photo: Nico Roicke on Unsplash

The EU is the largest peace project on earth. There has never been anything like it with so many countries, languages and cultures, united in peace. At the same time, it remains in a process of self-invention, and in an alliance of states, which is characterised by cultural heterogeneity and a diversity of individual interests, the necessary decision-making processes are very complex and often very lengthy. Concurrently, the EU is part of an ever more rapidly changing, interdependent, multipolar world that demands ongoing agility.

The EU’s ability to act and be agile, however, depends to a large extent on its unity. Unity, in turn, can only come from a clear understanding — shared by all concerned — of the intention of all its actions and a common vision. This is important not only for policymakers and the 50,000 EU employees, but also for the citizens of its 27 member states.

The EU has little touch points with its citizens.

The clearer this intention is to its citizens, the more comprehensible their actions will be. Only if we know the intention which motivates what the EU thinks, says and does, will the individual measures and instruments no longer stand on their own, but can be recognised as part of a larger (and more long-term) project. Especially in the context of subsidiarity, this poses a particular challenge, particularly in terms of communication because in most cases the chain of action linking the EU to its citizens goes through the member states. Therefore, the EU as an institution has little or no direct contact with its citizens.

The EU is perceived primarily through the news and social media. It is in this way that citizens have been able to observe the EU in recent years, particularly the way it has met, or tried to meet, challenges (financial crisis and Grexit, migration, Brexit, and populism, for example). As a result, the perception of the EU has been determined above all by how it reacted to problems and often had to find unique ways to solve them. However, this has not enabled the EU to create a comprehensible picture of itself and its overall aims and intentions.

What’s the Purpose of the EU?

But why is the EU doing what it is doing right now? What is the purpose of all its actions? Or, what is the purpose of the EU? Article 3 of the Treaty of Lisbon provides a crucial clue: “The Union’s aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples”.

“Peace […] and the well-being of its peoples” is a clear definition of why the EU does what it does. But the reference to “values” is not clear. Values do not stand for the intention — the intended impact on people’s lives, the why — but for the guiding principles of action, the how. In the Treaty of Lisbon we find, albeit somewhat buried, further references to HOW the EU wants to bring its WHY to life. More on this later.

A look at its founding history provides further clues. After two devastating world wars, the EU’s predecessor organisation, the European Economic Community, was created in 1958. The idea behind it was that states that are more closely intertwined economically are less likely to enter into conflict with each other. In other words, the intention was to unite the peoples of Europe in order to promote peace in Europe. The European nations united in peace — that is the European idea.

The Peace Problem.

But if one undertakes a small experiment and asks Europeans about their definition of the European idea, one can see two things. First, there is no clear common understanding of the European idea. And secondly, the younger people are, the less relevant peace seems to be a part of this understanding.

Peace is no longer perceived by recent generations as the reason for the existence of the EU. Simply because they have never known anything other than peace. It is comparable, for example, with the air we breathe every day. Its fundamental importance is most evident only when it is no longer there. As a result, the EU’s greatest success — 70 years of peace — becomes a threat to its very existence, precisely because it was successful as a project.

Everyday Peace.

But there are lessons to be learned from this. If the founding idea of the EU — the European Idea — is to continue to be relevant, we must think about how we want to convey peace in the future. Defining peace solely through the absence of war will no longer suffice. We must also look ahead and see the opportunities that our cohesion and the peace that results from it opens up for every individual, every day, if we want to continue to win people over to the European idea.

Everyone will have his or her own idea of how peace affects them on a daily basis and what it makes possible. For one person, it is the cross-border research project or the Schengen Agreement, for another, this peace is spending each afternoon in a café, a walk through the park or the opportunity for their children to go to school. And therein lies an opportunity, because this Everyday Peace describes not only the intention of the EU, but above all its impact, in and on the everyday life of Europeans.

Its raison d’être derives from this effect. For it is only through the effect of its actions that its relevance is nourished. Take the internal market, for example. It was not installed as an end in itself, but, as we have already learned from the founding history, it was intended to help consolidate European peace.

According to the Lisbon Treaty, it should also help to promote “the sustainable development of Europe […], a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and […] protection and improvement of the quality of the environment”. The internal market is also intended to promote “scientific and technological advance”.

If one analyses the entire founding document of the EU according to this principle, six fields of action can be identified. These are, if you like, the promises of the EU or its mission. They describe HOW the EU wants to achieve its WHY (its purpose). With this mission, the EU brings to life its objective as defined in Article 3 of the Lisbon Treaty.

If we now bring together all these findings, we can formulate a clear overall picture from which a clear self-image can be formulated in the form of a so-called purpose statement for the EU:

We are united to promote Everyday Peace for the well-being of our citizens.

The six areas of action identified describe HOW the EU pursues this goal. The mission in brief.

1. Strength and togetherness

We strengthen togetherness and solidarity between the nations of the Union to become stronger than one and to promote the European Peace and all its opportunities.

2. Security and human rights

We create a space of freedom, security, equality and justice in which every citizen of the EU can live free from fear and is able to participate in shaping the future of the EU.

3. Prosperity & well-being

We promote and harmonise the social and economic well-being of our people, in accordance with the principle of sustainable development, so that everyone is able to fully develop.

4. Diversity and cultural heritage

We preserve our rich cultural and linguistic diversity and ensure the protection and development of Europe’s cultural heritage.

5. Environment and health

We protect human health. We preserve, protect and improve our environment, combating climate change and securing our planet and its resources for future generations.

6. Progress and development

We foster scientific, economic, technological and social progress in order to expand our possibilities for shaping the future of Europe and the world.

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It is from this self-image that everything the EU does can be explained. No matter whether it’s the Euro, Erasmus, cultural capitals or the European Green Deal. All these are expressions of its purpose — Everyday Peace — and the resulting mission. Everything the EU does can be traced back to one or more of its 6 mission points and these in turn originate from its purpose.

Such a clear understanding not only serves as a strategic guideline, it also lays the foundation for meeting the communication challenge mentioned at the beginning.

Finding a common language.

Because, especially in the political context and the numerous contemporary communication channels, practically everyone is directly involved in communication. Centrally controlled communication is no longer realistic. A common understanding of what is being done, which does not arise from WHAT, i.e. the instruments, measures or initiatives, but from the intention behind them, makes all those involved in communication capable of speaking and thus provides the starting point for convincing and consistent communication across all channels. In this way, a consistent image can be created in the perception of all citizens.

The European Dream.

But above all, the attitude that emerges from this self-image gives you something much more important. The opportunity to develop a common vision. The long-term goal of the EU — The European Dream. From this self-image we can ask ourselves the decisive questions. What does the Europe we are working towards look like? The Europe we want to live in? What does the world look like that we want to help shape as the greatest peace project on earth?

Thus, the common vision that emerges from this sets the direction and creates unity. It inspires and gives people the opportunity to become part of something bigger — The European Project.

Download the “Purpose of the EU” Poster here.

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Ingo Butsch

Strategic Creative. I believe that human-centered and purpose-driven communication in all its forms has the power to shape our common future. menschentum.com