Britain And The European Union Essay, Research Paper
?We have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but
not of it. We are linked, but not combined. We are interested and
associated, but not absorbed.?1 Winston Churchill?s famous quote aptly
describes Britain?s intentions towards European integration. In this
essay I shall attempt to show that Britain?s relationship towards
European integration has been one of a reluctant union, supporting free
trade and mutually beneficial cooperation, while attempting to distance
itself from economic and cultural ?unity? with Europe, and I will finish
by describing the effects on Britain?s sovereignty since joining the
European Union .
The term integration can be understood, in context of the European
Union, as a situation of unification between individually sovereign
nations into a collective body, sufficient to make that body a workable
A fully integrated European Union could be seen to have two possible
outcomes. Either a)A Federalist or ?stewed? union, where all member
states give up their individual sovereignty and form a superstate that
would be an economic world power, or b)A Confederalist or ?salad bar?
union, where each member state has its own place in a continental
alliance, maintaining national sovereignty and individually contributing,
through trade and cooperation, to form a greater whole.2
Throughout the 1970?s and 80?s Britain?s aspiration for a Europe
unified through trade and cooperation arose from a desire to maintain
complete control and sovereignty over its own affairs. The history of
the British Empire and its position as leader of the Commonwealth in
addition to its history of beneficial association with the United States3,
left many in Britain to believe that it could still maintain its prominent
global role and historical status of world leader in political and
However, the fact that Britain had to accept that there was a need for
trade barriers to fall and new markets to open, coupled with the
realisation that it could not exist successfully as a separate economically
independent entity. There was the recognition by some that the only
hope to attain these goals was to join the EC as ?there was little scope
for a United Kingdom outside the community, especially when the six
(Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands)
had done so visibly better than the UK4?
Since ?biting the bullet? and gaining its membership to the then called
European Community in 1973, Britain has vocally announced that it
would prefer the ?salad bar? version of integration to the ?stewed?
version. For example, Margaret Thatcher spoke in Bruges in September
1988 and she said she ?sought to lay down a vision of a Europe of
sovereign states, economically considerably more liberal, deregulated
and interdependent, but a Europe based essentially on cooperation
rather than integration5?.
Within the EU, Britain could work with the other member nations to
guarantee its economic interests and attempt to maintain its influence
and continue to hold sway in world affairs. Inside the EU Britain would
?be able to mould the trading systems of Europe to its advantage. As an
outsider, it feared being on the uninfluential receiving end of decisions
made by the combined power of the original ?six?6?.
The EU has stated explicitly that its objectives are ?to lay the
foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe … the
constant improvement of the living and working conditions of the
people, and the reduction of differences in wealth between regions7?.
And so, Britain has had to temper its view that Europe could survive as
a system of completely independent yet cooperative states in order to
benefit from the advantages, such as open markets and free trade with
other members, which is offered by membership in the EU.
Britains decision to join the EU was a considered one, to gain
economic benefits and submit to some loss of individual control over
social matters that concern all members of the Union. However It
appears that they want to ?have their cake and eat it too?, by gaining the
economic benefits of union and not submitting to any social initiatives
proposed by the EU. For Example in 1989 the all the member states
adopted a Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of
Workers, all that is except Britain, this charter was supposed to be a
fundamental building block in the construction of Europe, yet Britain
rejected it saying that it would disrupt its vision of free and open trade
among the member states of the European Economic Community. This
action is a demonstration of Britains attempts at avoiding the creation of
the Federalist European Superstate.
Sovereignty can be defined quite simply as the supreme authority to
not only declare law but create it, deriving this power from a populace
who have given up their personal sovereignty and power and vested it in
the sovereign8, in the case of Britain the sovereign is the Government,
since the King passed sovereignty to the parliament over time.
Britain?s ability to defend its sovereignty has been effectively
compromised in the first instance by the very act of joining the EU. The
declared intent of the EU, to create an ?ever closer union?, defines a
certain path that the member states must follow. The path may be wide
to allow a number of different routes to the intended goal, but in the end
it restricts the sovereign nations ability to choose its own course of
action both economically and socially.
Three specific instances of the erosion of Britains sovereignty are
a)The European Communities Act 1972, which established a principle
that European Law would always prevail over British law in the event
of a conflict, effectively decreasing the supremacy of Parliament. b)The
Single European Act 1988 (SEA) withered sovereignty more by
replacing unanimity rule, that is, any nations power to veto, with
majority voting in certain areas. therefore the power of the European
Parliament over Britain was further enhanced. And finally c)The treaty
of Maastricht 1993 further empowered the European Parliament, it can
now block new legislation but cannot itself initiate new legislation. The
European court was also given the power to fine member states9.
These examples show that Britains ability to defend its sovereignty
really relates to its ability to negotiate within the framework of the
treaties that it signs, and also the extent to which it can slow the process
of the erosion of its sovereignty down. Britains actions concerning the
Single European Currency are a good example of this. Because under a
Single European Currency Parliament would lose sovereignty over its
currency reserves, the Central Bank interest rate, and the amount of
currency minted, since no Act of Parliament could be used to set these
things. This sovereignty would pass to the European Central Bank10.
Britain decided to hold itself out of the introduction of the Euro and see
what reaction the new currency would create on the world market. It
currently plans to join the monetary union in 2003.
In conclusion, Britains relationship to European integration since 1973
has been one that sees this as a pragmatic necessity. Britain would
prefer a ?salad bar? Europe, with sovereign and individual states adding
their own flavour to an economic Confederate of European states,
though it will concede social integration when it can not avoid it. The
extent to which Britain can defend its sovereignty, has been shown to be
limited, it can negotiate to arrange beneficial agreements with other
members and really delay the effects of union.
1)Almdal, Preben. Aspects of European Integration
Denmark, Odense University Press, 1986.
2)Edwards, Geoffrey. ?Britain and Europe? in Jonathan Story (ed) The New
Europe:Politics, Government and Economy since 1945.
Oxford, Blackwell Publishers, 1993.
3)Stuart,N. New Britain Handbook on Europe, New Britain, 1996
4)Wise, Mark. & Gibb, Richard. Single Market to Social Europe:The European
Community in the 1990?s . Essex, Longman Scientific and Technical, Longman
5) The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations is licensed from Columbia University Press.
Copyright ? 1993