Britain And The European Union Essay Research

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

economic affairs.

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

GroupUK Ltd.

5) The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations is licensed from Columbia University Press.

Copyright ? 1993


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