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The EU in the context of a changing world

The EU in the context of a changing world (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A study of Europe’s past reveals that different methods of managing conflict have been tried over time. In 1945 the continent emerged from a period of terrible violence and the search for methods to manage conflict without violence was resumed. The European Union of today is part of that story of managing conflict without violence. Of course time and events have not stood still since 1945. There have been key decisions made that have shaped Europe. There have been dilemmas for Europe’s people and policy makers. Studying how and why decisions are made and exploring the dilemmas that Europe has faced, and continues to face, is very revealing about what has been called, ‘The European Project’. Who makes decisions, when, why and how? What influences decision-making? How successful is decision making? What are the dilemmas in Europe today and how much have they changed? Through a range of content resources and learning activities, this section explores topics and issues that resonate with importance for the continent today. By engaging with these, students will be able to use the past to contextualise the world around them, deepen their understanding of the European Union and develop a reasoned approach to assessing the extent to which it is successful in managing conflict, and reasons for successes and failures. In this section you will find a decision making activity and evidence files for mini-research projects. Each one addresses a subject which has had an impact on the evolution of modern Europe. These activities may follow on from work with the other materials in this module. They can also be used as a series of options to be chosen as can best fit curricula, interests, and the level of the class. \\\\\\\\---

 Changing Europe
  1. Post-War Europe (1944-1951)
  2. The EU in the context of the long search for stability
  3. The EU in the context of a changing world

This unit has been made by the team working on the projects "Decisions and Dilemmas - Learning about the EU from a historical perspective” and “Decisions and Dilemmas: exploring EU history through the lens of contemporary issues”. These projects are funded by the European Union Erasmus+ Programme as a Jean Monnet Activity. The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.


This module is published under the CC BY 4.0 licence.

Rising from the Ruins (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Rising from the ruins: rebuilding Europe after World War Two

There is an inspirational story to be told about the founding of what is now the European Union. Europe has a long history of internecine conflict, in which no European country has been blameless. As the Continent emerged from the second terrible conflict in a lifetime, some people had concrete plans to match their dreams of a better future. The people who planned European cooperation came from differing political and religious backgrounds. They were also operating in a world of new political realities. The emerging Cold War made the impulse to European Union more urgent. The USA used its influence as a superpower to push western European countries towards cooperation. These were complex and exciting times. Here we present a scripted drama that will involve the whole of your class in acting out these ideas and events in a way that does not require great acting skill. Through taking part they will get a sense of the times, the people and the events that shaped our present.

Learning Activities

Old fears and new threats (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Old fears and new threats: Western European defence negotiations

This is a decision making activity that focuses upon the attempts to form a European Defense Community between 1948 and 1954. Although unsuccessful, these negotiations have much to reveal about the early Cold War years, the desire to try to find a solution that existed between Western European countries in those years, and the complexity of international negotiation processes. There is contemporary resonance with attempts to provide solutions to large problems today and the need to consider a range of factors, from public opinion within Europe, to the world-wide context. By taking on the roles of key characters, students will engage with the dilemmas of the time and understand how decisions were reached.

Learning Activities

Why has it proved so difficult to agree a common European foreign policy? (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Why has it proved so difficult to agree a common European foreign policy?

This section addresses the question: ‘why has it proved so difficult to agree a common European Union foreign policy?’ This is a very big enquiry question. Students are encouraged to think about what a foreign policy actually is, to identify what a common European Union foreign policy would look like, and to use criteria to decide when the European Union has been closest to achieving such a policy. The activity is designed to enable students to investigate the enquiry question by learning about past and contemporary debates about it, working with evidence in specific time periods, and to discuss and arrive at their own, evidence-based viewpoint.

Learning Activities

What has the European Project tried to do to make Europe more stable? (CC BY-SA 3.0)

What has the European Project tried to do to make Europe more stable?

The evidence file and activity plans in this section enable students to engage with the concept of stability. Students learn how European people convinced of the need to work across nation states have tried to manage stability since 1945\. They also learn when Europe has been more or less stable across the post-World War Two years and have the chance to discuss how effective attempts to achieve stability have been. This material can be used to follow on from learning about European stability 1648-1945 elsewhere in this unit, or as a standalone topic. The evidence file can be used with students or for teacher learning to help teach the activities that are detailed in this section.

Learning Activities

Does the European community still need a Common Agricultural Policy? (European Union, fair use)

Does the European community still need a Common Agricultural Policy?

European agriculture and the CAP tells us a lot about the challenges and dilemmas that have faced, and continue to face, the European Community since it was first established. It reminds us just how economically diverse the EU member states are, and, when looked at historically from 1962 until today, it helps to demonstrate that the European Community is a dynamic international political system, which is complex and subject to various influences. Our parents and grandparents did not always have the choice, quantity and quality of food that we can now take for granted and yet the CAP now has new problems facing it, such as those relating to the environment. Students will investigate the need for a CAP and its priorities.

Learning Activities

Economic imbalances (Nubson Jorge Lyrio, public domain)

Economic imbalances in Europe: what kind of dilemmas may result from our economic choices?

Using examples from different member states of the EU to learn about what kind of imbalances exist within the Union, their causes and consequences and possible solutions. At the end of the activity, students will be able to identify cases of economic imbalances across the European Union and within European countries. With the help of case studies they will learn to define possible causes and consequences of imbalances in specific historic contexts. Students will then learn to categorise these imbalances and discuss possible solutions for them. They will also understand which kind of dilemmas decision makers may face by tackling these problems. For instance would it be a good decision to cut wages in order to create jobs, if workers in jobs could then not afford to live decently. Finally, students will learn to study thematic maps on the distribution of GDP across Europe and its evolution for the period between 2008 and 2013 and write down their observations.

Learning Activities

Energy Dependency (Kate Smee)

Dependent or reliant on others for energy: Should we feel anxious about Europe’s energy dependency?

The European Union consumes about 1/5 of the world’s energy, but has very low reserves of her own. As a result, the EU spends E350 billion pa importing energy, the biggest suppliers being Norway, Algeria and Russia. Although targets have been set to reduce consumption, this is hampered by national regulations that prevent the energy market from operating efficiently. Europe’s sources of energy are relatively diverse, with heavy use of nuclear power in France, and hydroelectric power in Austria. However, few are immune from the issue of dependency. For example, 100% of the uranium used in nuclear plants must be imported. he 2009 gas supply crisis between Russia and Ukraine combined with instability in North Africa and the declining Norwegian gas fields have combined to increase many people’s anxiety about our energy dependency. However, in this lesson we will also look at times when energy usage has been a catalyst for co-operation, in order to make a judgement about how anxious EU citizens should be about this issue. In addition students will be encouraged to see how this issue links to political, economic and geographic considerations through the “Questions for extended thinking”. Students will be able to think about how the EU has responded to the challenge of energy dependency, and the many competing factors that need to be considered by EU policy makers in trying to address energy dependency.

Learning Activities

Opening Europe's Borders (SzomSzed, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Opening Europe’s borders: border controls in a (post-)Schengen world

In this activity students will think about the free movement of people in Europe. They will consider: to what extent does the Schengen agreement function? How much real freedom of movement is there within the EU? How is the EU dealing with the migrant crisis and how has the crisis influenced the ‘shaking’ of the EU foundations? Is the migrant crisis a problem for the whole EU or only for countries on the route? Students will also learn what is necessary for someone outside the Schengen circle to get a Schengen Visa. The activity is designed to enable students to investigate the enquiry question by learning about contemporary debates about these sub-questions. Students discuss and arrive at their own, evidence-based viewpoint.

Learning Activities

Unity in diversity (public domain)

‘Unity in Diversity’: What makes it possible for Europe to operate as a global power?

This is a very large and wide-ranging topic. This activity has been designed to make it accessible to students aged 14-16 in one school lesson. Students research, compare and discuss two contrasting case studies. All students use the case study called: ‘The European Union and Iraq War 2003 - a study of failure’. They then study an example of where European countries have been successful in wielding global power. Teachers can choose between two prepared case studies based on what they reveal, but also on the interests of their students, and also depending on if they wish to focus more specifically upon the European Union. The two case studies are: ‘The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN)’and ‘The 2004 Enlargement of the European Union’. It is also possible for more able and interested students to research other suggested topics in order to debate the key question.

Learning Activities

Trade in a global context (public domain)

The EU and trade in a global context: how does European trade policy affect African chicken farmers?

In this activity students learn about how some European trade policy has had a negative effect some on African farmers. The EU, as a member of the WTO and a signatory to GATT, is bound to adhere to international trade agreements such as anti-dumping regulations. However, at the same time, European chicken farmers export large amounts of frozen chicken meat to developing countries at prices that are lower than those of local chicken farmers. This activity analyses the wider impact of European consumers’ eating preferences, EU chicken producers and EU trade policies on the economy of developing countries and on the lives of the farmers affected. Students research the evidence, debate the pros and cons and consider possible solutions to the problems.

Learning Activities