Thesis (M.A.), 1999

78 Pages, Grade: 1.7



The Awkward Partner (AP) Thesis is a widespread theoretical framework which explains why Britain has been called a semi-detached member of the European Union. This paper aims to take on the AP thesis by calling into question its basic tenets. To do this, the thesis’ claims and initially detectable flaws have to be set out explicitly. But the main challenge shall be launched by examining the Single European Act (SEA) in detail. Resulting contradictions and the implications of the findings require further answers: Should the AP thesis be abandoned? If not, how can it be revised?

The argument advanced here is that the AP thesis presupposes a negative behaviour by UK governments vis-à-vis their European counterparts. This is explained by endogenous constraints that are imposed upon the core executive. These constraints are mainly caused by the divergence of domestic political forces. Slow and different rates of adaptation to the EU decision-making level are to be emphasised. While central government has already adjusted to the EU level, it attempts to retain its ‘gatekeeper’ role between domestic and European political spheres. In contrast to the AP thesis, this paper shall show that in the run-up to the SEA Britain was not more negative than other member states. The UK representatives made proposals and concessions, as did everyone else.

Despite the contradiction between theory and empirical study, it shall here not be concluded to abolish the AP thesis, but to amend it instead. First, the role of central government should be looked at in greater detail. Secondly, a link to Liberal Intergovernmentalism is proposed as a way forward. Some inconsistencies of the current framework could thereby be resolved. However, this would also mean to drop all negative connotations, if not the name, of the thesis.


After five months of reading, thinking, writing and revising, the dissertation is now finally complete. Although I regret that many of the most mind-boggling and challenging ideas have ended up in the footnotes, I am highly indebted and grateful to my tutor, Dr Werner Bonefeld, for reminding me ever so often that clarity and strength of argument are the prime criteria for this and, indeed, any paper. His encouraging guidance throughout the whole year of the MA course was also of great benefit to my personal and academic development. Moreover, I would like to thank Dr Keith Alderman, Prof. Alex Callinicos, Dr Allison Drew and Dr Simon Parker who have enabled me – with or without their knowledge – to look now differently at issues in political science than I did before. This applies, in a different context, also to my fellow student and friend, Steve Kettell. My special thanks go to him for his continuous readiness to discuss contentious issues and comment on draft papers. Lastly, I gratefully acknowledge that a number of friends and house-mates have helped me endure the last months - not least by their mere presence.




1.1 Context: Britain and Europe in the Academic Debate
1.2 Theoretical Claims of the Awkward Partner Thesis
1.2.1 The International Factors: Economic Adjustment, Political Adaptation, Special Relationship to the US
1.2.2 Domestic Political Constraints. Political Forces Institutions Policies
1.2.3 Adaptability of Britain's Awkwardness
1.3 Concrete Developments explained
1.4 Summary and Critical Assessment

Chapter TWO: BRITAIN AND The Single European Act
2.1 Background
2.2 Chronology of events and the White Paper
2.3 The Intergovernmental Conference and its Results
2.4 British contributions to the Single Act
2.5 The British domestic political dimension
2.6 Summary and conclusions

3.1 Awkward Partner Thesis and Single European Act revisited
3.2 Contradictions, Inconsistencies, Implications
3.3 Putting an End to British Awkwardness?
3.4 Central Government, and the Link to European Integration Theories
3.5 Liberal Intergovernmentalism: The Way forward for the Awkward Partner Thesis



illustration not visible in this excerpt


“Britain is an active and committed member of the European Community.”

Official publication by HM Government (COI, 1992:1)

“The iconoclastic, Labour-Left MP, Mr Dennis Skinner, asked: On reflection, does the Prime Minister regret having used a three-line whip and a guillotine to push the Single European Act through the House? Without pause for thought, or any shuffle through her papers she always prepares in readiness for questions, Mrs Thatcher replied: No I do not. We wished to have many of the directives under majority voting because things which we wanted were being stopped by others using a single vote. For example, we have not yet got insurance freely in Germany as we wished.

Financial Times, 19 May 1989

The two statements provide an initial indication of what this dissertation is about. The first one clearly contradicts the popular assumption that Britain is obstructive and a continuous menace to progress and further integration within the European Union (EU). Apparently, this does not conform to the official position by Her Majesty’s Government which paints the picture of Britain’s relationship to the EU in bright and complementary colours. This leads directly to the second quotation in which the Single European Act (SEA) is portrayed as being the prime minister’s desired outcome of some intergovernmental negotiations and which needed to be quickly ratified in parliament. In addition to the exogenous dichotomy between awkwardness and commitment, the SEA thus raises questions about the endogenous dimension of government and domestic politics.

This paper aims to challenge the commonest theoretical framework of Britain’s relationship to the EU – the Awkward Partner (AP) Thesis. In the academic debate Britain has often been called an ‘awkward partner’ or ‘semi-detached member state’. To examine this statement, a definition must be sought in order to understand what is meant by awkwardness, semi-detachment and the underlying causes. The AP thesis is here forwarded as it constitutes a widespread, if not the dominant, understanding of the factors involved. For it contains a variety of analytical and substantial elements, it must also be this paper’s thrust to narrow down the AP thesis in order to arrive at testable claims. These theoretical claims must be explicitly set out without ignoring inherent weaknesses and problematic areas acknowledged by the proponents of the framework. Only then can the thesis usefully be exposed to a wider range of theoretical and empirical criticism. Since neither a complete rejection nor a full endorsement can a priori be expected, this dissertation mainly seeks to uncover weaknesses and contradictions of the AP thesis. Applicability and explanatory value are to be questioned, and proposals for amendments are to be made. To sum up, the central questions in this paper are: What does the AP thesis claim? Does it need revision? If it needs to be revised, how could it be done?

By looking for answers to these questions, the paper wants to add substance to the rather meagre discussion over the nature of the thesis and its potential for modification (cf. Buller, 1995; George, 1995). Such considerations have not yet been sufficiently explored. Few, if any, attempts have been made to date to consolidate and reconcile the central claims of the thesis which are spread throughout various works – each adding ‘bits and pieces’ to the framework. As will be seen, a carefully assembled empirical case can be useful to uncover critical points in the theory. However, problematic elements are not taken to ‘knock down’ the AP thesis. Instead, a new thread to European Integration (EI) theories – particularly Liberal Intergovernmentalism (LI) – is woven. In consequence, this dissertation should appeal not only to commentators on British politics and comparativists but also to scholars of European Integration theories.

The argument advanced in this paper is that the AP thesis begins with the fundamental assumption that Britain is awkward which implies uniqueness and negativeness. Not only this basic assumption but also the mixture of more specific substantial and analytical claims are embedded in the general debate over UK-EU relations. Therefore, it is difficult to identify the thesis as separate school of thought. Yet the AP thesis claims that there are slow and varying rates of adaptation to the European decision-making level among domestic political forces in Britain. These political forces interact in institutions and determine visible policies in a way that central government is heavily constrained (endogenous effects). While the government aims to preserve its ‘gatekeeper’ role and to present itself as unified and consistent, it only covers up the domestic struggle for the national interest. In its exogenous dimension, then, the thesis holds that caution and continuity characterise the British position. The UK is believed to be continuously at the ‘minimalist’ end of the spectrum of European integration and hence recognised by others as awkward.

The case of the SEA paints a different picture. As far as the process was government-driven, shifting coalitions of countries that had similar interests in specific policy areas could be detected. No member state seemed to be more or less skilful or awkward than any other. Although Britain’s diplomatic breakthrough only came about at Fontainebleau, it certainly did not earn itself any negative reputation between 1984 and 1986 when Single European Market (SEM) and SEA were discussed. Britain could be described as normal, skilful and even enthusiastic. Domestically, a similar peaceful state of affairs could be found - without European issues paralysing or dividing political life. In particular, it is interesting that the SEA was celebrated as success in Britain.

As neither a domestic struggle over the SEA nor British stubbornness in intergovernmental affairs can be verified, the AP thesis seems to be in peril. However, an abandonment of the thesis shall here not be advocated. The AP thesis is still considered useful for it structures the arguments on UK-EC relations and highlights particular British domestic political structures. Rather, amendments are suggested in two respects. First, the role and importance of the centralised state and its top executive should be re-emphasised by the proponents of the AP thesis. That is to say that at least sometimes the government does not only pretend to be unified and consistent, as the AP thesis claims, but that it is indeed. Such a dominance of domestic politics with respect to European issues may also have far-reaching consequences for other policy areas. Secondly, an innovative linkage to Liberal Intergovernmentalism (LI) is recommended. This serves to reconcile national preference formation and interstate relations. The paper claims that a neo-realist view suits the AP thesis if the domestic dimension is not forgotten. In this sense, LI is possibly the best way forward for the thesis at the moment. In fact, intergovernmentalism can supplement the AP thesis by arguing that no national interest must be considered ‘awkward’. National preference convergence is necessary for further integration, and the lowest common denominator is the expected outcome of negotiations. Also, credible threats of exclusion make ‘minimalist’ members like Britain even vulnerable! In sum, the negative notion of Britain’s behaviour should be dropped.

The structure of the study is as follows. Chapter One outlines the content of the AP thesis. Its context is provided for locating it within the wider academic discussion. The basic assumptions and theoretical claims of the thesis are then presented and explained. However, only one of them – domestic political constraints – is significant enough to be sub-divided and explored in all its aspects. In particular, political forces and institutions are looked at. After the ‘fixed’ basics of the thesis should be clear, it is further considered that it also allows all factors to adapt and change over time. Following these theoretical considerations, two examples are given to illustrate what ‘awkward’ behaviour has meant for Britain and Europe in the last decades. The Second Chapter sheds light on the process that led to the conclusion of the SEA in 1986. After the general background of the prevailing conditions is given, specific events in the run-up to the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) in 1985 are described in chronological order. This, then, leads to a detailed examination of the IGC negotiations and their outcome: the SEA. Although some British involvement is then on the record already, the second part of the chapter is exclusively dedicated to the contributions by HM Government and its representatives in that process. Various steps, proposals and reactions are related to the previously outlined events within the Community. Whereas the description so far ignores domestic political interaction in the UK, another section addresses briefly this domain. Chapter Three is the conclusion which summarises the findings and suggests amendments to the theory. Lastly, Liberal Intergovernmentalism is introduced as the way forward for the AP thesis.

For the sake of terminological clarity, one needs to be careful when emphasising an apparent dichotomy between ‘Britain’ and the ‘EU’. In fact, there is considerable overlapping between the two in terms of personnel, executive decision-making, policy implementation, and so forth. In a similar way, other terms may not always be precise but may still serve the purpose adequately. ‘Britain’ is used short for ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, while European Economic Community (EEC), European Community (EC) and EU are applied according to their historical emergence. However, EU is preferably used if general statements are made. Finally, the European Parliament (EP) was formerly called ‘Assembly’ but for reasons of convenience the old term is neglected in this paper.


Describing Britain as an awkward partner in the EU seems to make intuitively sense. Looking back to European post-war history, the UK refused to participate in the founding of the EEC in the 1950s but later applied for membership (cf. Nicholls, 1992). When this was eventually granted in 1973, within one year Britain pursued her national interests vigorously but lacked the will to agree to compromises and ‘package deals’ (George, 1998:60-70). Then, Harold Wilson’s government conducted re-negotiations of the entry conditions and put the results to a referendum. After 1979, the budgetary dispute and the control of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) dominated the first Thatcher years. Only after the Fontainebleau settlement in 1984 would Britain become a ‘more normal’ Community member (Greenwood, 1992; George, 1992a; 1998). By the late 1980s, however, Thatcher’s rhetoric and behaviour had revived once again the uneasy relationship between the UK and the EC. After Europe caused Thatcher’s downfall, British isolation in the 1990s seemed to stem from the government’s different vision of Europe vis-à-vis the Franco-German axis, and John Major’s personal style (George, 1998:206, 230, 272ff.). This brief chronological overview could indeed be a mainstream description of UK-EC relations. But the scholars of the AP thesis want more than simply give an historical account. A real explanation is sought as to why all these incidents have occurred and added up to awkwardness.

The Awkward Partner Thesis essentially claims that Britain is an awkward partner in the EU. Then, it goes on establishing a causality between this behaviour and its underlying conditions.[1] While this set of arguments is firmly embedded in the divergent and ever-growing literature on UK-EU relations, it still makes specific theoretical claims and constitutes a distinct ‘school of thought’. These claims, then, contemplate international economic, historical and political factors. However, the central argument focuses on the uniqueness of British domestic politics which is here looked at in detail from an institutionalist viewpoint. Moreover, the AP thesis is not altogether static but also allows for some adaptation and adjustment. Illustrating the theoretical arguments with concrete developments will help to clarify what awkwardness and semi-detachment actually mean. Finally, a summary shall show that the AP thesis is two-dimensional and dichotomous in more than one ways. Its underlying causes are domestic and international, its claims are substantial and analytical, and its effects are endogenous and exogenous. Whereas a preliminary critique shall be based on the framework-intrinsic problems, a full-scale assault on the AP thesis must be postponed until the conclusion in Chapter Three.


Although the European Union has time and time again hit the headlines of the British press, academics have found it difficult to assess Britain’s contribution to European integration systematically. It hardly seemed to be possible to go beyond merely descriptive accounts of single events with an arbitrary balance sheet judgement. One of the first successful attempts to look back at Britain’s EC membership in the 1970s was William Wallace’s (1980) edited book Britain in Europe. Since then, new pieces of empirical evidence could be added but would be interpreted in contrasting ways. In consequence, various analytical approaches and substantial arguments have been advanced by political scientists and historians. Authors such as Greenwood (1992), Young (1993) or George (1998) have taken a chronological approach and covered instances since World War II.[2] Alternatively, comparisons of policy agendas (Bulmer et al., 1992), analyses of political structures (George, 1991b; Armstrong and Bulmer, 1996), and perspectives of international relations (Peterson, 1997; Sharpe, 1996) have been employed. Even more diverse than the analytical approaches taken is the range of substantial arguments and factors presented to explain, if not predict, the relationship of Britain with the EU. Broadly speaking, there are all sorts of historical, cultural, economic, political, military, geographical, ideological, strategic, personal, structural, international and domestic factors which are believed to be relevant. Most credible explanations combine two or more of those factors. However, some observers single out one particular element and make it their core argument. Three common sets of arguments are now briefly introduced.

In the historico-geographical debate, historical developments and Britain’s specific location in Europe are highlighted. For instance, some accounts emphasise Britain’s traditional international outlook, the ‘special relationship’ to the US, the unwritten constitution, the island location, or the WW II experience (see Peterson, 1997; Sharpe, 1996). Common to most of those accounts is their embedment in unchangeable natural or human history.

Another series of arguments focuses on the contemporary political sphere. It has been argued that problems arise because Britain’s pursuit of own national interests inside the international framework of the EU is contradictory in itself (Young, 1993). In this context, questions of national and parliamentary sovereignty are raised (Nugent, 1994b). Moreover, political elites have been inward-looking, non-committed to Europe and reluctant to explain the implications of EU membership to the public (Greenwood, 1992; Peterson, 1997). It is also often emphasised that nationalism and ideology have held sway over EU rhetoric in Britain (Garnett, 1996).

Whereas Gowan (1997) makes a case for linking anti-EU nationalism and economic failure in the UK, more cautious economic accounts only point to the particular shape of the British economy in comparison with other EU countries. Although the UK joined the EC for economic reasons, Britain could be described as ‘weak’ compared to other member states (cf. Callinicos, 1997; Bonefeld, 1999). In addition, it might have been the failure of British industry to take full advantage of the enlarged common market which the EU provides (Bulmer et al., 1992).

What all these historico-geographical, political and economic arguments seem to have in common is their almost exclusive focus upon Britain and the resulting bias toward “British uniqueness” within Europe. Whether that originates from an a priori assumption or is the outcome of a previous comparative study can here not be assessed or discussed. However, this bias toward uniqueness naturally highlights many more differences than similarities between Britain and its partners. In fact, there appears to be an eagerness to show not only that Britain is somehow ‘unique’ (as all other countries may also claim for themselves in terms of history, polity, economy, etc.) but also that the UK has features which neither of them has. If everything is unique and different, it only takes a small step to highlight conflicts and incompatibility of Britain vis-à-vis the rest. A negative connotation must follow in most of those accounts – whether liked or not. To be fair, a more positive debate is also going on. It is argued that Britain has slowly adapted and thus become a much more ‘normal’ EU member (Wallace, 1986; 1990; 1995; Young; 1993). But whether ‘normal’ or not, Britain is now often seen as having no conceivable alternative to continued EU membership (see Wallace, 1980; Williams, 1995).

As is argued here and shown in the following section, the AP framework has not emerged ‘out of the blue’ but from this general debate. It shares with other ‘schools of thought’ analytical approaches (chronological, policy, political structures), substantial arguments (political, historical, economic), the ‘uniqueness’ and ‘negativeness’ assumptions (awkwardness, semi-detachment) but also the prospects of a progressive adaptation process.


The brief summary of the ongoing general discussion helps to distinguish the AP thesis. The argument advanced here is that the AP thesis only consists of a range of arguments which are neither new nor amount to a tightly structured hypothesis. It can thus only be considered an innovative amalgamation, combination and structuring of some of the arguments presented above. Therefore, there is no danger in supplementing and illustrating the framework with ideas and thoughts from other scholars. This applies in particular to some analytical elements in the domestic political arena. As can be seen below, the AP thesis contains substantial and analytical claims. An example for the former would be that political parties are highly divisive, while the latter could emphasise the need to detect the role of the institution ‘parliament’. That is to say that analytical elements contribute to the AP framework by disaggregating political processes in Britain and highlighting diversity and divergence. In a way, analysis provides the ‘groundwork’ for the few substantial claims that will be set out in later sections. In short, the AP thesis gives more focus and structure to the general debate on Britain and the EU, and also constitutes a major albeit diverse school of thought (cf. Buller, 1995).

The notion that Britain had been a semi-detached member of the EU did not arise recently. Already Wallace (1980) referred to Britain as recalcitrant and reluctant partner. However, an attempt to consolidate the arguments behind this academic debate was made in the early 1990s by two scholars, Simon Bulmer and Stephen George. Their works have not only heavily influenced but possibly even dominated the discussion until now. “Britain in the European Community: the politics of semi-detachment” (1992), “An awkward partner: Britain in the European Community” (1990) and “The UK and EC membership evaluated” (1992) remain standard works. Unfortunately, the framework was never explicitly developed in any single account. The closest one gets is Bulmer’s (1992) introduction and George’s (1998) conclusions. Other writers like Nugent (1994b) or Young (1993) have related to the AP thesis and adopted similar arguments. As it is difficult enough to determine precisely what the founding fathers’ positions are, their own accounts and those by the contributors to their edited books shall here be taken as main reference points. Moreover, it must be noted that the selection of words should certainly not be overemphasised (George, 1995). Characterising Britain as reluctant, recalcitrant or ‘difficult to deal with’ can only serve to summarise and evaluate claims made. In particular, ‘awkward’ and ‘semi-detached’ are here used interchangeably as Bulmer and George’s overlapping terminology teaches.

The AP thesis, then, claims that historico-empirical evidence shows that Britain has earned herself a reputation of an ‘awkward’ or ‘semi-detached’ partner in Europe, i.e. the EU. This basic claim has two immediate implications. First, awkwardness can only be expressed in relative terms, that is, in comparison with other less awkward partners and as perceived by them. While in the past other EU members were admittedly also awkward on one or more occasions, nowadays at least Denmark qualifies as such (George, 1995; 1998:70). Secondly, awkwardness must be considered a “dominant” or “average” behaviour that applies both to specific occasions and long-term developments. The implied negativeness is equated with Britain’s minimalist position by showing little commitment to change the prevailing status quo (cf. Nicholls, 1992). But this exogenous awkwardness is regarded as an effect of some endogenous factors which cause it. Therefore, the salient question is why British governments cannot, or do not, play the Community game as well as others (Wallace, 1980; Young, 1993).

According to George (1998:275ff.), there are four causes for past and present awkwardness: economic adjustment problems, the political adaptation to Community conditions, Atlanticism, and domestic political constraints. The first three shall here be called international factors, the last one domestic factor. All four factors together are here referred to as endogenous factors since they do not concern the appearance but are internal and causal to the concept of awkwardness. Moreover, the four elements

“stress the influence of external circumstances and domestic political considerations in moulding the attitudes of successive British governments to developments within the Community.” (ibid.:1).

According to George (1995), the three international factors certainly shape the relationship but domestic political factors determine it. The international factors seem to be far too ambiguous and unconvincing to make the AP thesis reliant on them (see below). However, the AP thesis emphasises that domestic politics is not assumed to be uninfluenced by the international context.[3] What now follows is a detailed elaboration of all the claims the AP thesis makes as this paper sees them.


In economic terms, joining the EC in 1973 was meant to benefit British industry and finance alike. But according to Bulmer et al., there are two sides of the same coin: there are opportunities of the enlarged common market to consumers and producers; and Britain has to participate in common economic policies and bear some financial burdens. The former seemed to be rarely questioned. Market opportunities were the main reason for British entry. The consensus on free markets and competitive trade has never been in danger, although a massive shift of trade with far-reaching consequences occurred (Bulmer, 1992:18ff.). The far greater problem concerned economic policies that were disliked in Britain. Not only did the CAP benefit neither farmers nor consumers; it was also connected to the debate over contributions to the Community budget (Wallace, 1980; Sharpe, 1996). If anything, then the budgetary dispute caused Britain’s reputation of semi-detachment (George, 1987:2ff.; 1992a:42ff.). Refusals to participate fully in common monetary policies have given further impetus to that reputation (1992a:54ff.). In sum, the AP thesis contends that real industrial adjustment problems have been exacerbated by costly EU policies. By contrast, however, after two decades of membership an economic ‘balance sheet’ - considering all gains and losses - seems to be “non-negative” (Bulmer et al., 1992).

On foreign policy, proponents of the AP thesis uphold that the difficulties of becoming communautaire have more to do with the style of negotiations than with factors like language or the late accession. First, British governments have been at pains to present the national interest as being in the common interest of the Community. This is because in the UK the national interest is regarded as directly opposed to political integration and pooled sovereignty (Young, 1993:170; Bulmer, 1992:11). Secondly, British negotiators often insisted on hammering out only viable compromises that would definitely be implemented. This is common practice in Britain but not everywhere (George, 1998:278f.). Thirdly, Britain has missed out on forming long-term strategic alliances with other EU members (such as the Franco-German axis), while short-term tactical alliances proved less useful (Wallace, 1995:55; George, 1987:54ff.). Lastly, the visions of British cabinet members and their European counterparts do not match. Personalities certainly play a role (George, 1998:206; 273). According to the AP thesis, these four points underline the divergent attitudes and expectations between Britain and the other member states as regards the acquis communautaire.

The third international factor concerns the Atlanticist orientation of British policy makers. Commenting on De Gaulle’s resistance to approve of British entry to the EC in the 1960s, George (1998:34ff.) would agree with him that the country was to a certain extent a US Trojan Horse. Britain’s policy was to secure the superpower’s hegemony in order to benefit from this ‘special relationship’. The US hegemony was then being undermined by European federalism and protectionism which Britain could only stop from the inside (1989; 1991b:33; 1998:279). After accession, the London-Washington axis has often been reaffirmed (cf. Williams, 1995:7ff.; Peterson, 1997:32ff.). However, tensions over growing US protectionism and policy disagreements between the EU (including the UK) and the US have led to a more EU-centred British foreign policy. In short, the historical Anglo-American alliance is still intact although both the US and the UK have shifted their priorities away from it.

These three substantial sets of arguments highlight the difficulties that common economic policies, political adaptation processes and historical partnership with the US pose to Britain with respect to closer European integration. But the claims are only loosely assembled. Ambiguities remain because the ‘balance sheets’ do not provide a clear guidance to negative influences. Moreover, it is very likely that all three international factors have already changed and continue to do so (see section 1.2.3). Because of the weakness, ambiguity and adaptability of the international factors, this paper argues that the AP thesis must therefore rest on the fourth theoretical claim, if it was to explain continuing awkwardness. Domestic political constraints shall now be explored in detail.

1.2.2 Domestic political constraints

Domestic politics is most important to the concept of British awkwardness (Bulmer, 1992; George, 1995). Yet it is not easy to identify what is meant by it, and many pitfalls are along the way. The framework originates from the landmark article by Bulmer (1983). His ‘domestic politics approach’ (DPA), or ‘domestic process approach’, cast doubt on the strict separation of national and European policy-making which had previously been accepted to exist.[4] Instead, Bulmer proposed that policy styles may vary both within and between member states. That is to say that national polities are not only the basic units for national but also for EU policies. While national governments attempt to remain ‘gatekeepers’ between national and European political spheres, they are no longer completely in control of those policies – to different degrees according to the policy areas concerned. Basically, the DPA is meant to be an analytical tool and hence is applicable to all member states of the EU. But how can this approach account for Britain’s semi-detachment? In fact, the DPA was only later taken up by Bulmer and George when they concerned themselves with Britain’s EU policies. They must have found it fruitful as it is now in a derivative form at the core of the AP thesis. The argument advanced here is that there are two steps between DPA and AP thesis.

First, the analytical DPA is transformed into a substantial claim referring to any member state. After analysing different policies in a European context, George (1992b)[5] argues that there are no typical policy sectors. Each policy area carries its own characteristics. Therefore, one must look behind the policies which are considered the outcome of structures and attitudes (Bulmer, 1983), or political forces and institutions (Armstrong and Bulmer, 1996). The member state under scrutiny must then be disaggregated into its parts in order to show how the national position regarding specific policies comes about (George, 1991a:234). Secondly, the specific case of Britain must be looked at. Here, the AP thesis boldly proposes that domestic politics restrains rather than simply matters as it does everywhere. British peculiarity comes to the fore by applying New Institutionalism which, in Bulmer’s words, ‘regard[s] procedures as being as much of the institutional framework as the formal provisions of constitutional government’ (1992:26). This ‘institutional logic’ (ibid.:29) requires each policy, as absorbed and pursued by HM Government, to be thoroughly analysed, and British state and society to be broken down into their components as shall be done in the following sections (George, 1992a). DPA, New Institutionalism and AP thesis merge here in their claims that Britain’s apparently unified national position is but a domestic struggle over individual EU-related policies.

In sum, this dissertation follows the above shift of emphasis from ‘policy styles’ to political entities in order to uncover the specific features of British politics with regard to EU issues. Thus, political life in Britain is now examined along the lines of Armstrong and Bulmer’s (1996) classification. There are political forces, institutions and policies. As noted above, policies are the outcome of the two former elements interacting with each other. Political Forces

Political forces may be divided into political parties, public opinion and pressure groups. What must strike the reader here, however, is the fact that the AP thesis somehow merges substantial claims and analytical findings. It seems that only all detected cleavages and divisions taken together provide the necessary input to sustain the theoretical claims of the thesis. No single factor alone seems capable of assuming a key position in the overall thesis, although some are more important than others as we shall see in the following paragraphs.

Not only according to Wallace (1986:596f.) have the two main political parties and their leaders failed to engage in a constructive debate on Europe. Neither of them have had a clear-cut policy - let alone consensus over the basic direction. Ashford (1992) identified three causes for this uncomfortable situation: the adversarial nature of British party politics, intra-party cleavages over policies towards the EU, and the threat to the ideological self-images of the two parties posed by integration. The first factor assumes that the opposition always votes against government policy (ibid.:121ff.). This structure made it so difficult to reach consensus on even a fundamental issue, such as EC membership (cf. Daniels, 1998). The second factor, intra-party cleavages, raises questions about party management, as leaders have to hold together a variety of Europhobes and Europhiles in their ranks. This applies now especially to the Conservative Party (Berrington and Hague, 1998; Ashford, 1992; George, 1991b:67ff.). Moreover, EU-related policy differences have repeatedly led to resignations and dismissals at cabinet level, often due to pressures from within the ruling party (Greenwood, 1992:116f.; Garnett, 1996:79ff.). Regarding the third factor - “ideological threats” - nationalism is possibly the most significant ideological dimension which is, in turn, meant to reconcile party fractions (cf. Garnett, 1996:134f.; Berrington and Hague, 1998; Daniels, 1998). According to Nugent (1994b:136ff.), developments in the EU itself and how these are perceived by the political parties are closely connected to the ideological dimensions. In short, the two main political parties in Britain seem to be incapable of achieving consensus or consistency both within and between themselves.

With regard to political parties, one faces a chicken-and-egg dilemma when it comes to public opinion. Either the former has determined the latter, or vice versa, or both. George (1991b:65, 105) reckons that public opinion is even less enthusiastic about integration than the minimalist elite opinion. British public opinion proves semi-detachment to be valid. However, it is apparently more positive than it is often believed to be (Nugent, 1992:189; Greenwood, 1992:118). Although the British public is still less enthusiastic about the EU than other member states’ populations, it catches up. Nugent (1992) concludes that public opinion reflects the nature and focus of the slowly changing political debate. Until the mid-1980s, the question of membership was still an issue, and only later would the kind of membership be discussed. However, politicians often seem to be willing, and able, to exploit the lukewarm support of EU issues for short-term electoral advantages (Armstrong and Bulmer, 1996). As the AP thesis concludes, public opinion is becoming more positive about Europe but is itself too diverse to convert fully to Europhilia. This shift can only be led by political elites.


[1] Based on this, a distinction between ‘thesis’ and ‘framework’ is possible (see Buller, 1995).

[2] Shorter accounts focus on more recent events (cf. Wallace, 1990; 1995; Nugent, 1994b; Gowan, 1997).

[3] For example, George (1998) provides in every chapter of his book an account of the international forces.

[4] For Bulmer’s (1983) impact upon integration theories, see Cram (1996:50) and O’Neill (1996:87).

[5] See also Preface to the same book.

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