This is a guest article written by one of our passionate readers, Mrs Rachael Everly.
European nations may be well known for their stunning landscapes, high fashion, romantic languages, nude beaches, and delicious cuisine, but there is more to European life and living than meets the eye. Here are 10 things that Europe is doing better than the rest of the world.
1. Language learning
According to a 2012 report from Eurostat, most European students start studying their first foreign language between the ages of six and nine. The Pew Research Center also notes that “Studying a second foreign language for at least one year is compulsory in more than 20 European countries.”
The language requirements can vary from country to country, and even sometimes within the country as well. Within the German-speaking Community of Belgium, for example, children as young as three begin learning a foreign language. In contrast, in parts of the United Kingdom students are not exposed to a foreign language until age 11.
2. School lunches
European schools exceed in other ways as well. Europe is one place where we see a huge difference in what children are being fed as part of their school lunch programs.
Typically, European school lunches are made up of very little processed food. Instead, schools source local organic whole foods when preparing their school meals. Menus contain foods like whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, mixed salads, gourmet soups, and sauces. It’s common to see things like steak (France), local fish on a bed of arugula (Italy), pea soup (Finland),gazpacho (Spain), and baked chicken over orzo (Greece) alongside various pastas, salads, and brown rice in many of these countries.
3. Student debt
While undergrads around the world do face student debt when it comes to higher education, European universities lead the pack when it comes to making higher education as accessible as possible. According to US News, public universities offer free tuition in countries such as Norway, Iceland, and Sweden. Free tuition, however, does not mean that students avoid all student debt, but it’s certainly much lower than the $37,000 average student debt of a typical U.S. college graduatethat was recently reported in the Huffington Post.
Finnish speaking students who manage to get into the University of Helsinki, can easily bear the $40,000 for a four year degree. In comparison, the in-state sticker price for a four year diploma from University of California San Diego can run $120,000! Borrowing tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars can make it hard for U.S. graduates to repay their loans on time, often resulting in loan defaults which negatively affect graduates’ credit scores.
4. Fatal police shootings
Most European countries have an un-alarming amount of violence and police brutality. This is due mainly to the fact that they employ community policing practices and rigorously train their police forces as a service to the community. Also, few officers carry and use their lethal weapons at the first sign of a conflict – they’re equipped with other methods of dispute resolution.
For example, according to a 2015 article in The Guardian, there were 54 fatal police shootings in England and Wales in the last 24 years. In the U.S., however, there were 59 fatal police shootings in the first 24 days of 2015. Also, according to The Guardian, “Iceland’s official intentional homicide rate is so low that it does not [even] register in World Bank data on intentional homicides per 100,000 people.” Clocking in at only one fatal shooting in it’s over 71 years in existence – the singular fatal police shooting that occurred there in Iceland in 2013 was nationally and internationally mourned.
According to Expedia’s Annual Vacation Deprivation Study, Europeans are excellent at taking vacations. They spend an average of 30 days a year actually using their accrued vacation days to relax and recharge. “Europeans are the world’s least-deprived vacationers,” Expedia wrote in a recent article, “workers in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Finland are all offered 30 days off. The Germans, French, Spanish and Finnish use nearly all of those days, while the Danish take 28, Italians take 25 and Swedes take 25.”
According to the Expedia study, Americans and Asians are the worst at taking vacations, offered half as many days as Europeans. South Korea maintained the number one spot again in 2015 as far as vacation deprivation is concerned.
One reason that many employees decline to take their paid vacation days includes believing that that no one will be able to do their job duties if they leave. They also believe that they’re easily replaced and their job may be at risk if they take time off. However, Europeans are not driven to stay in their jobs long past their productivity due to these fears, they trust their employers to let them take vacations without serious repercussions to their careers. Taking regular vacations actually makes them happier and more productive – a win-win for both employers and employees.
6. Food labeling and GMOs
The European Union was quick and strict in its food labeling requirements. Because Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) have been linked to environmentaldegradation, sterility, cancers, and other diseases 14 European union countries and three regions,covering an area that represents sixty-fiveto sixty-six percent of its population and arable land,effectively banned GMOs in 2015.
Food labels in the EU are also some of the most comprehensive in the world, forcing companies to list a variety of ingredients in detail. The labels include listing food additives by E-number, so that consumers can make fully informed decisions about the products they’re buying.
7. Chemical regulations
The European Union leads the way when it comes to banning dangerous chemicals like fertilizers, sprays and other cosmetic ingredients. There are over 1,100 cosmetics chemicals alone that are banned in the EU, of them only 10 are similarly banned by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Unfortunately, this legally ensures these same harmful chemicals are consumed in theU.S. and other markets.
However, many living in the EU think that the regulations have not yet gone far enough, noting that there are still legal chemicals that should be banned, like certain pesticides, that are known to cause serious health issues and other diseases.
8. Alternative power
Countries like Sweden, Latvia, Finland, Austria, and Denmark have long led the way when it comes to alternative energy. These countries have created giant wind turbine fields in areas with high wind speeds andare generating much of their power from biomass. Denmark plans to be 100% fossil fuel free by 2035 – an enviable goal – and a plan that’s well within their reach due to support for the plan across the full political spectrum in their country.
Germany is another country where the alternative power resources are quickly becoming a big industry. In June of 2014, Germany reportedly met a staggering 50 percent of its energy needs from solar power – making it the veritable solar powerhouse of the EU.
9. Universal healthcare
European nations are consistently ranked as having some of the best health care systems in the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has included 20 of the 28 European Union member nations in the top 25 ranks of the World’s Best Health Systems.
This is due in part to these countries’ dedication to Universal Healthcare – a concept that guarantees the overall expense of healthcare for all is spread around and communally shared. This ensures that an unlucky few will not go bankrupt due totheir medical costs. It also means that those living in poverty have full access to the care that they would not otherwise be able to afford.
10. Voter turnout
According to a recent PEW Research Study, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and other European countries have consistently ranked high in both voter registration and voter turnout. In Belgium, the top rated country for voter turnout, as many as 87.2 percent of the voting age population is registered and 89.4 percent of registered voters do participate in elections. This is due in part, however, to national laws that make voting compulsory. The majority of these nations find that participating in their civic duty is a right and privilege that they enjoy taking full advantage of.
While the 28 current members of the European Union may be leading the world in education, public health, alternative energy, and other areas, there is still much work to be done. There’s a need for swift immigration reform and changes to amnesty programs to ensure that immigrants fleeing war zones are able to find safety and security in nearby countries.
Public welfare benefits in countries like the UK, while meeting basic needs, can be made more generous. Other systems, like Child Protective Services, are in need of major retraining and overhaul in many of these European nations as well. However, even with these detractors, the collective nations of the European Union still make it one of the healthiest and safest places to live in the world.