Against Breaches between the UK and the EU? Part I
Britain’s relationship with the EU has always been stormy and full of contradictions. In the process of European integration , the country has been both a driving force and a brake: a champion of free trade and a wider EU, but also notoriously skeptical of supranational institutions . In recent times, the very basis for British EU membership has come up for debate. Strong political forces and a majority of the population want Britain to leave the EU. This could have major consequences for both the EU and the UK.
- What is the background to the new British EU debate?
- What alternatives are there if the UK is to change its EU affiliation?
- What are the main positions in the British EU debate?
- What does the road ahead look like?
2: At a crossroads
In January 2013, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron took the podium in London to deliver one of his most important speeches to date. The speech was to set the course for Britain’s future relations with the EU. At the same time, it was an attempt to gather the troops in its own party after a debate about EU membership that had simmered for a long time.
The Prime Minister’s message was twofold: on the one hand, he emphasized that EU co-operation has been a success by most standards, for Europe and for the United Kingdom. Through the EU, European countries have achieved more together than they would have achieved alone, and cooperation has helped to create and maintain peace in Europe .
On the other hand, according to POLITICSEZINE, Cameron stated that Europe and the EU are now at a crossroads that could lead to stronger or weaker integration. The debate needs to take place, and it must include the whole of the EU, Cameron said.
The financial crisis has hit the economy hard in many member states and in very many households. The EU’s overall competitiveness has thus weakened, and at the same time the crisis has revealed a lack of effective countermeasures in common policy areas. This has opened up for extensive changes in the form of EU co-operation. Euro co-operation is under particular pressure, and a possible response to the crisis seems to be to further strengthen monetary co-operation, possibly also fiscal policy. In the EU, closer cooperation and more integration have often been the answer when major crises threaten the community.
But Britain does not want an increased centralization of power in the EU, Cameron stated. He warned that it was not at all certain that the UK would join the further integration journey. At the same time, he announced that there will be a referendum after the parliamentary elections in 2015 – and at the latest by the end of 2017 . The basis for such a vote will be a renegotiation with the EU on British membership.
3: Well-known debate
This is not the first time that relations with Europe have created debate in the UK. “We have our own dream and our own tasks. We are with Europe, but not part of it. We are connected but not incorporated. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed “, stated Winston Churchill in 1930. With that, he summed up the idea that Britain is a” different country “in the European context, which is happy to cooperate with, but which is fundamentally different from the countries on the European continent.
When the European integration process began in the 1950s, Britain chose to stay out. Opposition to relinquishing sovereignty and the desire to prioritize relations with the United States were among the main reasons for remaining on the sidelines . Instead, the country joined forces with, among others, Norway and established the less ambitious EFTA – a free trade organization with seven “foreign countries”.
In the 1960s, however, Great Britain turned around and still applied for membership in the then EC together with Norway and Denmark. Two applications (in 1962 and 1967) were blocked by French President Charles de Gaulle. He believed that the United Kingdom would slow down the integration process and in practice act as a mouthpiece and driver for the United States and American interests. It was not until 1973, after de Gaulle’s departure, that Britain joined the EC. The then Prime Minister Edward Heath is still considered the most Europe-friendly British Prime Minister of modern times.
In 1975, two years after Britain’s accession, a referendum was held in Britain on whether the country should remain a member of the then EC. A strongly divided Labor government continued to recommend membership after negotiating small but symbolically important changes to the membership agreement. The people voted in line with the Prime Minister’s recommendation: as many as 67 per cent wanted to stay in the EC.
Throughout the 1980s, EC membership became an increasingly hot topic in Britain. The Prime Minister of 1979, Margaret Thatcher, was a champion of the internal market, but an intense opponent of the growing power of supranational institutions in Brussels. Under Thatcher’s party leadership and prime minister, the European question had a very divisive effect on the Conservative Party. The steep fronts were a strong contributor to Thatcher’s departure.