Presentation on theme: "The UK and Europe Part Two: from 1957 till today."— Presentation transcript:
The UK and Europe Part Two: from 1957 till today
The European Economic Community (1957-1993) The revolutionary aspect of the Common Market was not just about suppressing tariffs but also about ensuring the free circulation of goods, services and people barely twelve years after the end of the Second World War and in the midst of the Cold War. From 1958 onwards, French President Charles de Gaulle worked to put the Franco-German axis at the centre of the EEC, taking advantage of his good relationships with West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, a Christian-Democrat from Cologne. Franco- German reconciliation became official with the signing of the Elysée Treaty in 1963.
More than just an economic union The European Economic Community – which became the European Union (EU) in 1993 – was not simply an economic and commercial organisation since its architecture was based on a reinforced version of three institutions which had been created at the time of the ECSC in 1952: an executive body (The European Commission) a parliamentary body (The European Parliament, which had got only a consultative role) and a judicial body (The Court of Justice of the European Communities).
The basic tension The creation of European institutions shows that the ‘founding fathers’ of the ECSC already had a political Europe in mind. From the start, the EEC represented a compromise between those who favoured supranationalism (that is to say a federal Europe) and those who preferred intergovernmentalism: some domains allowed the use of qualified majority voting while matters involving national sovereignty demanded unanimity. This constituted in itself the promise of future clashes between pro-Europeans and Eurosceptics. Europhiles supported political integration (transfers of sovereignty to superior institutions) while Eurosceptics were only in favour of cooperation between sovereign countries.
That opposition seems less valid today Even though the opposition between supranationalism and intergovernmentalism may have been perfectly valid in the fifties and sixties, it has become largely debatable considering the hybrid character of the European Union. Today the distinction between ‘soft power’ and ‘hard power’ seems more acceptable. Policies are coordinated at the EU level and at the state level to obtain maximum efficiency and the best possible fundings.
The British position At the end of the fifties and at the beginning of the sixties, the Conservatives – who were in power – were more enthusiastic than Labour politicians about joining the Common Market. While Conservative politicians under Prime Minister Harold Macmillan (1957-1963) were enticed by what they perceived as being a way of promoting free trade and capitalism in Europe, Labour politicians were put off by the fact that joining the EEC would have meant giving up favourable commercial ties with Commonwealth countries. Indeed, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) meant that British consumers would have to pay more for European – especially French – products because their prices were guaranteed.
A change in some Labourites’ attitude However, when Harold Wilson came to power in October 1964, he chose not to oppose Britain’s possible future membership of the EEC. However, Charles de Gaulle refused to let the United Kingdom enter the EEC twice, in 1963 and in 1967, because he feared it would act as a ‘Trojan horse’ of the United States. Fortunately for the British, his successor – Georges Pompidou – was better disposed towards them and he was greatly helped by the personality of Wilson’s Conservative successor, Edward Heath (1970-1974), who was a staunch pro-European.
Britain’s entry into the EEC (1973) In 1972 Pompidou organised a referendum and the French approved the United Kingdom’s admission into the EEC (alongside The Republic of Ireland and Denmark), which became effective on January 1st, 1973. At that time, it was considered that British public opinion was rather pro-European, but that changed with Margaret Thatcher’s ascension to the post of Leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, then to that of Prime Minister in 1979.
The Thatcher Years (1979-1990) At first, Margaret Thatcher was very hostile towards the EEC because she believed more in the transatlantic relationship and believed European integration was dangerous for British national sovereignty. This was a problem in matters which required unanimity. However, she came to realise that being part of the EEC was beneficial for the UK and represented a good way to fight against Communism and, in 1986, she signed the Single European Act (SEA), which transformed the Common Market into a Single Market and made the unity of Western Europe even stronger.
What Margaret Thatcher refused Yet she did not approve of other, more political elements favoured by most European leaders at the time: In particular the Schengen Agreement, signed in 1985 and completed by a very important protocol in 1990, which created a free-circulation area within the EEC and then the EU. She thought that it was necessary for the UK to be able to control its own borders. She was also hostile towards the transformation of the virtual European Currency Unit (ECU) into a single currency.
The beginning of the 1990s: a time of great progress for the EEC, then the EU Margaret Thatcher was ousted from power in November 1990, too early to reject the Treaty of Maastricht, which was negociated in December 1991 and signed in February 1992 and which introduced the principle of that single currency. In December 1995 it was decided that the single currency would be called the euro. Her successor, John Major, who was Prime Minister from November 1990 until May 1997, managed to get the Treaty of Maastricht ratified in Parliament in July 1993 after having made sure the UK would not have to adopt the single currency. After him, Tony Blair (Labour, PM 1997-2007) led quite similar policies with a lot of caution.
The EU today After the fall of communism in 1989, the USA realised that the EEC had become an economic rival instead of a mere protégé. Now, with the creation of a strong euro and the phenomenon of industrial concentration within the EU, America’s predominance in the Western world appears to be somewhat challenged, and this proves to be a strong dilemma for the United Kingdom which has always tried to be a bridge between Europe and America. However, the fall of the Iron Curtain has not had consequences in the economic field only, but also in the diplomatic and military fields since it has encouraged governments and institutions to take charge in Europe.