Great Britain and its troubled relationship to Europe mainland

Seminar Paper, 2007

13 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 Historical view on Great Britain’s Europe attitude
2.1 Labour’s sceptical view on the EU (Kinnock, Smith)
2.2 Conservative’s Anti-EU policy (Thatcher, Major)

3 Current relationship between Great Britain and the EU
3.1 Tony Blair and the EU - a dream team?
3.1.1 What political changes in regard of Europe did Blair accomplish so far?
3.1.2 In which areas does Blair have a rather critical attitude towards Europe?
3.2 David Cameron and the EU - hereditary enemies?
3.2.1 Which of the current EU-political approaches does Cameron support?
3.2.2 In which areas does the Conservative Anti-European attitude still exist?

4 Conclusion

5 List of refrences

1 Introduction

Britain and Europe does not really seem to be quite a blessed partnership. Deephistorical conflicts, contradicting international interests and approaches to theEuropean idea, geographical separation and injured national identities - this is thesoil on which the concept of a unified Europe is supposed to prosper. No doubt, thatthis undertaking will not be characterised by an easy-going, harmonic spirit. In thismatter of Europe policy, the two major parties in Britain had the chance to take afirm stand. Yet, how firm this stand in reality is, should be examined by this work.The question is, whether the British parties can be clearly distinguished into a proEuropean and an anti-European party and if that is the case, how unified is the voiceof the respective party?

2 Historical view on Great Britain’s Europe attitude

In order to understand the current Britain-Europe relationship, it is an essential step to go back a few years and have a look on former developments within Britain and its behaviour and attitude towards Europe.

2.1 Labour’s sceptical view on the European Union (Kinnock, Smith)

After the loss of 1 government majority in 1979, there has been a change of opinionwithin the Labour Party. The number of Labour politicians who supported an exit outof the European Community2 increased enormously. They claimed that there hasbeen a major unbalance between cost and profit of the EC-membership. Althoughthere have been some Europe supporters, a strong Anti-European spirit of he LabourParty could not be avoided. The most spread opinion was that the momentum of theEC was not compatible to Britain’s policy at all. (cf. WEINMANN 1999: 33 - 34)

In 1983, after an extreme Labour defeat at the House of Commons elections, thepressure of reorientating the party’s EC-policy became higher and higher. Althoughthis change did not happen at once, gradually a course adjustment of Labour’spolitical direction towards a more Europe-friendly attitude could be noticed. Theleader of Labour - Neil Kinnock (1984 - 1986) - encouraged a more active role of

Great Britain in Europe and he asked for EC-reforms, especially regardingagricultural policy, EC-budget and democratic control of supranational institutions.Yet, during this time period there has been definitely no harmonic atmosphere withinLabour, it was rather characterized by a strong ambivalence. Latter is shown in anenduring distance keeping to the EC on the one hand (for example through a criticalattitude towards the European Monetary System) and a clear commitment towardsthe EC-membership on the other hand. (cf. WEINMANN 1999: 35 - 38)

By the House of commons election in 1987, this uncertainness eventually dissolvedand Labour presented itself as the party with the strongest willingness for reformsand the most conclusive Europe concept (“[...]die politische Kraft mit dem stärkstenReformwillen und dem schlüssigeren Europakonzept[...]”) (WEINMANN 1999: 39).Although there has still been some latent Europe-sceptical and anti-Europeanpotential within the party, the pro-European voice of Labour highly dominated and astrong focus on Europe integration became an essential part of the Party’s selfconception (cf. WEINMANN 1999: 42). Eventually the visit to Britain in 1988 of thepresident of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, became an even clearerturning point, where he “received a standing ovation for a speech in which he laidout his thinking on a social charter for Europe, which guaranteed certain minimumstandards for pay, working conditions and social benefits across the wholeCommunity” (PILKINGTON 2001: 183). Further on Colin Pilkington holds the opinionthat “Labour’s change from an anti-European to a pro-European stance is thereforedue to a change in the nature of the European Union” (ibid.).

The party’s political program for example was geared more to the developments ofother member states and the EC as a supranational institution. Also it included amore active participation in EC-policy because necessary changes in the light ofglobalisation could not be ignored any more (cf. WEINMANN 1999: 40). At that timethe question for Labour was no longer whether to exit the EC or not but rather howthe European integration process could be arranged most effectively (cf. WEINMANN1999: 41).

By 1992 the party began to see quite a lot of potential of the European social policy for Britain’s economical and social modernization and it became an important part of Labour’s next election campaign in 1992. The Party adapted some ideas from the European social policy as for example regulation of working times, equalisation of men and women, and minimum wage. (cf. WEINMANN 1999: 43 - 44)

Eventually the pro-European stance was carried on by John Smith - leader of Labourfrom 1992 to 1994 (cf. ZÁRATE 2006) - and of course Tony Blair, whose modernisedNew Labour party was nearly completely pro-European (cf. PILKINGTON 2001: 184).

2.2 Conservative’s Anti-EU policy (Thatcher, Major)

It can hardly be ignored that the attitude and behaviour of Margaret Thatcher duringher time as the Prime Minister3 from 1979 to 1990 has “led to a growing isolation ofBritain in Europe” (PILKINGTON 2001: 19). Mrs Thatcher did not generally opposecooperation with other European countries but to her opinion it should notcompletely be a “part of the formal [European] Community process” (ALLEN 1988:35). British enthusiasm about the Community’s goals and political focus was quitelow, for example the Common Agricultural Policy4 or budget arrangements withinthe EC (cf. ALLEN 1988: 36). Maybe the most significant incident that influencedBritain’s relationship to other Community members throughout the entire Thatcherperiod and probably even further than that was the ‘British Budgetary Question’. Ather first European Council meeting5 Margaret Thatcher demanded in a very stricttone that British contributions to the Community funds should get reduced by £1billion (cf. PILKINGTON 2001: 20) According to Mrs Thatcher, Britain’s contributionshad been too high: “In spite of North Sea oil, we are still among the least prosperousof the member States but are nevertheless expected to be one of the maincontributors to the Community budget.“ (THATCHER 1979) Although this was quite aharsh manner, the French president and the German chancellor showed theirwillingness to compromise (cf. EUROPEAN COUNCIL 1979: 14). Yet the tone for thefollowing years between Britain and the rest of the EC members was set from thenon. Finally after five years the European Council came to a conclusion and grantedBritain a “permanent rebate worth 66 per cent of the difference between what Britainpaid into the Community and the amount Britain got back from the Community”(PILKINGTON 2001: 22). From the perspective of the UK-Government, thisachievement was a huge success for Margaret Thatcher in Europe: “It was not all thatshe had asked for, but it was much more than Whitehall had expected.” (BLAKE1985: 341).


1 abbr. EU

2 abbr. EC

3 abbr. PM

4 abbr. CAP

5 1979 in Dublin (cf. PILKINGTON 2001: 20)

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Great Britain and its troubled relationship to Europe mainland
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen  (Anglistik)
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Simon Ennulat (Author), 2007, Great Britain and its troubled relationship to Europe mainland, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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