European Union”We have our own dream and our own task.
We are with Europe, but not of it. Weare linked, but not combined. We are interested and associated, but notabsorbed. “1 Winston Churchill’s famous quote aptly describes Britain’sintentions towards European integration.
In this essay I shall attempt to showthat Britain’s relationship towards European integration has been one of areluctant union, supporting free trade and mutually beneficial cooperation,while attempting to distance itself from economic and cultural ?unity’ withEurope, and I will finish by describing the effects on Britain’s sovereigntysince joining the European Union . The term integration can be understood, incontext of the European Union, as a situation of unification betweenindividually sovereign nations into a collective body, sufficient to make thatbody a workable whole. A fully integrated European Union could be seen to havetwo possible outcomes. Either a)A Federalist or ?stewed’ union, where allmember states give up their individual sovereignty and form a superstate thatwould 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, maintainingnational sovereignty and individually contributing, through trade andcooperation, to form a greater whole.
2 Throughout the 1970’s and 80’sBritain’s aspiration for a Europe unified through trade and cooperation arosefrom 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 Commonwealthin addition to its history of beneficial association with the United States3,left many in Britain to believe that it could still maintain its prominentglobal role and historical status of world leader in political and economicaffairs. However, the fact that Britain had to accept that there was a need fortrade barriers to fall and new markets to open, coupled with the realisationthat it could not exist successfully as a separate economically independententity. There was the recognition by some that the only hope to attain thesegoals was to join the EC as “there was little scope for a United Kingdomoutside 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 EuropeanCommunity 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 “soughtto lay down a vision of a Europe of sovereign states, economically considerablymore liberal, deregulated and interdependent, but a Europe based essentially oncooperation rather than integration5”. Within the EU, Britain could work withthe other member nations to guarantee its economic interests and attempt tomaintain its influence and continue to hold sway in world affairs.
Inside the EUBritain would “be able to mould the trading systems of Europe to itsadvantage. As an outsider, it feared being on the uninfluential receiving end ofdecisions made by the combined power of the original ?six’6”. The EU hasstated explicitly that its objectives are “to lay the foundations of an evercloser union among the peoples of Europe . . . the constant improvement of theliving and working conditions of the people, and the reduction of differences inwealth between regions7”.
And so, Britain has had to temper its view thatEurope could survive as a system of completely independent yet cooperativestates in order to benefit from the advantages, such as open markets and freetrade with other members, which is offered by membership in the EU. Britainsdecision to join the EU was a considered one, to gain economic benefits andsubmit to some loss of individual control over social matters that concern allmembers of the Union. However It appears that they want to ?have their cakeand eat it too’, by gaining the economic benefits of union and not submittingto any social initiatives proposed by the EU. For Example in 1989 the all themember states adopted a Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights ofWorkers, all that is except Britain, this charter was supposed to be afundamental building block in the construction of Europe, yet Britain rejectedit saying that it would disrupt its vision of free and open trade among themember states of the European Economic Community.
This action is a demonstrationof Britains attempts at avoiding the creation of the Federalist EuropeanSuperstate. Sovereignty can be defined quite simply as the supreme authority tonot only declare law but create it, deriving this power from a populace who havegiven 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 passedsovereignty to the parliament over time. Britain’s ability to defend itssovereignty has been effectively compromised in the first instance by the veryact of joining the EU. The declared intent of the EU, to create an ?evercloser union’, defines a certain path that the member states must follow.
Thepath may be wide to allow a number of different routes to the intended goal, butin the end it restricts the sovereign nations ability to choose its own courseof action both economically and socially. Three specific instances of theerosion of Britains sovereignty are a)The European Communities Act 1972, whichestablished a principle that European Law would always prevail over British lawin the event of a conflict, effectively decreasing the supremacy of Parliament. b)The Single European Act 1988 (SEA) withered sovereignty more by replacingunanimity rule, that is, any nations power to veto, with majority voting incertain areas. therefore the power of the European Parliament over Britain wasfurther enhanced.
And finally c)The treaty of Maastricht 1993 further empoweredthe European Parliament, it can now block new legislation but cannot itselfinitiate new legislation. The European court was also given the power to finemember states9. These examples show that Britains ability to defend itssovereignty really relates to its ability to negotiate within the framework ofthe treaties that it signs, and also the extent to which it can slow the processof the erosion of its sovereignty down. Britains actions concerning the SingleEuropean Currency are a good example of this. Because under a Single EuropeanCurrency Parliament would lose sovereignty over its currency reserves, theCentral Bank interest rate, and the amount of currency minted, since no Act ofParliament could be used to set these things. This sovereignty would pass to theEuropean Central Bank10.
Britain decided to hold itself out of the introductionof the Euro and see what reaction the new currency would create on the worldmarket. It currently plans to join the monetary union in 2003. In conclusion,Britains relationship to European integration since 1973 has been one that seesthis as a pragmatic necessity. Britain would prefer a ?salad bar’ Europe,with sovereign and individual states adding their own flavour to an economicConfederate of European states, though it will concede social integration whenit can not avoid it. The extent to which Britain can defend its sovereignty, hasbeen shown to be limited, it can negotiate to arrange beneficial agreements withother members and really delay the effects of union. Bibliography1)Almdal, Preben.
Aspects of European Integration Denmark, Odense UniversityPress, 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, NewBritain, 1996 http://web. ukonline. co. uk/stuart. n2/nbrit/nbhandeu1.
html 4)Wise,Mark. & Gibb, Richard. Single Market to Social Europe:The European Communityin the 1990’s . Essex, Longman Scientific and Technical, Longman GroupUK Ltd. 5) The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations is licensed from Columbia UniversityPress. Copyright ? 1993