Britain in Europe : dissenter or defector?
Seminar for graduate students in international relations
Syracuse University (N.Y.) September 12 2005
A troubled relation
Ever since the British joined what is now called the European Union, in 1973, their relationship with Europe has been difficult, somewhat troubled. Europe has therefore always been a controversial issue in Britain. As the Daily Express noted just before the 1997 general election and this is still appropriate at present : "it's the issue that makes the parties swoon and the voters yawn".
An awkward partner
The UK which is geographically speaking on the edge of the EU, is often seen as a political outsider at least, half committed to European integration or half way between Europe and the United States. Consequently, for the EU's more integrationist countries, the United Kingdom has traditionally been a constant "bother", often resisting or opting out of schemes or provisions for further integration. Britain has also often been blamed for its "divided loyalties" and more particularly for its atlanticism which has been seen as incompatible with its commitment to Europe. Its market-oriented approach, which it shares with the United States, has also been criticized by its European partners such as France and Germany who believe in a different socio-economic model.
A nation of euroskeptics British public opinion has never been enthusiastic about Europe and has often been rather hostile. Other European countries are often puzzled by this degree of hostility to the EU, often referred to as "Euroskepticism." Such attitudes to Europe seem to be deeply rooted in the U.K for both geographical and historical reasons. In Britain European integration is seen as a threat to national sovereignty and independence. The EU still seems, even though it trying hard to improve its image, remote from people's day-to-day concerns about health care, education, transport etc… It is also worthy of notice that British public opinion remains far less interested in EU matters than the political elites. This survey of a relationship between Britain and Europe from the inception of Europe to the present days will include three major parts :
I. Britain's aloofness towards Europe "in the making" II. The long way to membership III. British European policies since membership IV. The different shades of blue
We'll try to see how and to what extent Britain, for a variety of reasons --its geographical position, its historical legacy, its other political commitments etc…-- has very often been "peripheral" to Europe's economic and political integration. This brief survey will also show that commitment to European construction has fluctuated and the attitude of each of the two major parties in Britain has been anything but consistent.
I. Britain's aloofness towards Europe in the 1950s Britain, which was the leading European nation at the end of the Second World War, did not seek membership of the Community in the 1950s and it is generally argued today that Britain stayed out of the Community when it should have joined. It only decided to join in the 1960s. Britain chose not to join the ECSC (Economic Coal and Steel community) as well as the EDC (European Defence Community) and only sent a civil servant to the Messina negotiations in 1955 which led to the Treaty of Rome of 1957. Even though Winston Churchill, in a famous speech in Zurich in 1946, had called for a United States of Europe, his vision of Europe was that of a league of states preserving their individual identity whereas the Congress at the Hague of 1948 had called for the giving up of some national sovereignty on the part the states in order to achieve an economic and political international entity. Churchill made it clear in his Zurich speech when he said :
In all this urgent work, France and Germany must take the lead together. Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America and I trust Soviet Russia -for then indeed all would be well- must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live and shine. Therefore I say to you : Let Europe rise! .
The reasons why Britain did not seek partnership in the 1950s are diverse:
Reasons for not joining in the 1950s " Fear of supranationalism " Strong sense of national identity " EFTA seen as an alternative solution " Underestimation of the problems linked with a belated entry " A different vision of international politics
1. First the British political elite held the view that supranational integration was bound to fail, due to the persistent national concerns of the member states.
2.Britain's sense of national identity had been strengthened during the Second World War. It had fought so hard to preserve its independence that it was not ready to surrender any part of its sovereignty to a supranational institution. 3. Britain believed in an alternative non political free trade organisation which it established in 1960. This was EFTA, European Free Trade Association, set up by the Stockholm Convention of July 1959. The signatories were Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Portugal, Austria and Switzerland. Britain hoped that this plan would lure the EC six away from the supranational integration and towards that free trade association which had no supranational claims. It also believed that sooner or later the European Community would melt in it "like a lump of sugar in a cup of tea". 4. Fourth the British underestimated the problems of accession that they would come across once the foundations of Europe had been laid out. 5. Finally Britain had a very different vision of international politics from France. While De Gaulle believed in the emergence of a third force between the superpowers of East and West, Britain shared America's globalist perspective which was essentially a commitment to an open world trading order and the rejection of protectionism. Europe was only seen by Churchill as one of the three interlocking circles and probably the third priority after the special relationship and the Commonwealth.
II. The long way to membership
A.Britain's renewed interest in Europe in the 1960s By the early 1960s Britain had begun to review its former attitude to Europe The reasons for its renewed interest in Europe were both economic and political.
Reasons for seeking membership in the 1960s
" Economic reasons " Europe making significant progress " British economy lagging behind " EFTA a semi-failure " Harold Wilson's economic approach " Political reasons " Fear of isolation " New links between Europe and the USA
Economic reasons 1. Europe making significant progress First Britain was realizing that, contrary to what it expected, Europe was making significant progress economically speaking. In 1951 Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman had created the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community) with the Treaty of Paris signed on 18 April 1951. The European Economic Community had emerged in 1957 with the signature of the two treaties of Rome. In the 1960s the Common External Tariff was put in place and the CAP initiated. 2. British economy lagging behind During the 1960s British economy was lagging behind the fast-growing economies of the continent (which partly explained De Gaulle's veto in 1963 & 1967). 3. EFTA a semi-failure EFTA was not a success compared to the dynamic economies of the EC. Also members of the Commonwealth such as Australia and New Zealand were looking to markets in the USA and Japan. 4. Harold Wilson's economic approach By the time Harold Wilson became Prime Minister in 1964 economic concerns had come to the fore and European membership appeared as a necessary option. The new Prime Minister who believed in the modernisation of Britain through the white heat of the scientific revolution had come to the conclusion that Britain could not stay outside Europe as it needed larger markets for its new industries such as aircraft and computers.
Political reasons 1. Fear of isolation Having been the leading European nation at the end of the Second World War Britain became marginalised from the development of the EU. The fear of isolation was revealed in a memorandum sent by MacMillan to his foreign secretary Selwyn Lloyd in 1959 :
For the first time since the Napoleonic era the major continental powers are untied in a positive economic grouping with considerable political aspects, which, although not specifically directed against the United Kingdom, may have the effect of excluding us both from European markets and from consultation in European policy.
2. New links between Europe and the USA Britain was also worried that its close ties with the United States could be supplanted by links between the USA and Europe. In July 1962 President John Kennedy had called for an Atlantic partnership between the USA and the EC, including Britain. The problem was that when Britain eventually decided to join the Community the timing was wrong.
B. From De Gaulle's vetoes 1963 & 1967 to Pompidou's support Britain made two unsuccessful applications in 1963 and in 1967. Both applications were rejected mainly because of General de Gaulle's opposition. General de Gaulle was opposed to UK membership for both political and economic reasons. He considered that European membership would turn the UK into a "Trojan horse" due to its special relationship with the United States. He probably bore a grudge to Churchill for not having been invited to the Yalta negotiating table. Also De Gaulle objected to British entry for economic reasons as the British economy was at the time lagging behind the economies of the continent. In 1969 De Gaulle resigned and was replaced by Pompidou who had a much more favourable attitude to British membership. Pompidou then believed that Britain could serve as a counterweight to Germany. In West Germany the new Social Democratic government led by Willy Brandt was also eager to welcome Britain in the European Community. Negotiations on British accession began in June 1970 under Conservative Prime minister Edward Heath who was a keen advocate of membership. In July 1971, a White Paper was published which underlined the disadvantages of membership. According to that White Paper : " food prices would go up by 15% thus causing increase in the cost of living over a six-year period. " the amount of British contributions to the EC would be very high due to its external trading links and make Britain the second largest contributor behind West Germany. In spite of all these reservations on October 28 1971 the bill on membership was passed in the House of Commons by 356 to 244. The conservatives were given a free vote while Labour imposed a three-line whip against accession. When Britain joined in 1973, along with Denmark and Ireland, it was the first enlargement of the European Community.
Table 1 European Union enlargements
The EC6 1951 & 1957 First Enlargement 1973 Second Enlargement 1981 Third Enlargement 1986 Fourth Enlargement 1995 Fifth Enlargement 2004 Belgium France Italy Luxemburg Netherlands West Germany Denmark Ireland United Kingdom Greece Spain Portugal Austria Finland Sweden Hungary Poland Czech Republic Slovenia Slovakia Lithuania Latvia Estonia Cyprus Malta
But the timing was wrong. It was a time when European economies were entering a recession following a dramatic increase in oil prices. The integrative process had also reached a period of stagnation. These circumstances largely explain the series of problems that have marred the relationship between Britain and Europe.
III. British European policies since membership
A number of changes and differences in approach Commitment to Europe : anything but consistent Both parties divided over the issue It is not easy to study the policies of successive British governments since accession from Edward Heath to Tony Blair, i.e. over a period of 32 years. The least we can say is that there has been a number of changes and differences in approach, not only between the parties but also over each party's history. Britain spent its first decade of membership arguing about the terms of secession. Although the Conservative Party took the United Kingdom into the Union under Edward Heath, later it was to appear very reluctant to further integration. As for the labour party, it has always proved quite divided over the issue and at one stage even questioned its allegiance to Europe.
A. The first years of membership : A divided labour party under Wilson and Callaghan An attempt at renegotiating the terms of accession New terms with little change endorsed by the British Parliament Two thirds of the British in favour of continued membership Creation of the Social and Democratic Party
For Harold Wilson Britain's membership posed a sort of dilemma. Even though he had sought accession when he was in government in the 1960s, he had to express his difference from Conservative policy as regards Europe, all the more so as most members of his party were against membership. He therefore tried to renegotiate the terms of accession which he believed were quite unfavourable to Britain. In 1974 renegotiations talks were led by Foreign Secretary James Callaghan. Even though nothing much was gained, the House of Commons endorsed the new terms by 396 votes to 170. A referendum was held on 5 June 1975 and two thirds of the British people voted in favour of continued membership. When James Callaghan succeeded Harold Wilson, in 1976, the Labour party was still very divided over Europe. There was actually a rift between the rank and file who largely distrusted the EC and the leading figures of the party such as Roy Jenkins who were keen advocates of membership. The main arguments against were largely based on political principles. They were first associated with the fear of a supranational community which would restrict national sovereignty and the scope of national politics. Also the EC was seen by the labour party as a capitalist club with market-based purposes which were detrimental to the interests of the working class. The divisions inside the labour party eventually led to the creation of the Social Democratic Party composed by exiles form the Labour party who were in favour of Europe. In the second half of the 1970s Britain was still very reluctant to European construction. When Britain held the European presidency in 1977,Callaghan (who succeeded Harold Wilson as Prime minister in April 1976) identified three basic principles of membership in a letter to the General Secretary of the Labour Party.
Callaghan's three basic principles of membership 1. the maintenance of the authority of the nation states and the national parliaments 2. the necessity to safeguard the economic, regional and industrial objectives of the national governments 3. the reform of the budget procedure
These priorities have constantly been top of the agenda as we shall see later. There was also a rift between the rank and file who distrusted the EC and the leading figures of the party who were pro-european.
B. The 1980s conservative "obstructionist" policy Attempts at renegotiating the terms of British contribution to the EU budget Resistance to further integration Conflicting views on European economic policy The search for a compromise Opt-out policy In 1979 the conservatives won the election. And Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. For almost the entire period of membership (with the exception of the period when Edward Heath was in government and negotiated Britain's entry into the Common Market) the Conservative party, has strongly resisted further integration and has also, more often than not, attempted to loosen its ties to the Union, often opposing and thwarting schemes for further integration. Some of its leading figures even advocated outright withdrawal. Over that period Britain definitely emerged as "the awkward partner". This obstructionist policy which antagonized Britain's partners, seems to have been rather successful at the beginning but eventually proved detrimental. It damaged the government of Margaret Thatcher and dramatically weakened that of John Major. It probably contributed to the party's general election Conservative defeats in 1997, 2001 and 2005. Margaret Thatcher who became Prime Minister in 1979, shared her predecessors' views over the high level of contribution to the EC budget. She expressed her desire to "renegotiate" the terms of the United Kingdom's contribution, This issue has always been a bone of contention between the UK and the EU.
1.The British question By the end of the 1970s Britain was the second largest contributor to the budget paying more than £1billion a year, even though it had the third-lowest GDP per capita of the 9 member states. This situation was due to Britain's belated entry into the EC. Prior to Britain's accession to the Community the founder members had agreed about a budget framework at a meeting of heads of government at the Hague in 1969. This set of rules, which had been determined without any input from the British government, was formalised by Treaty in 1970. When Britain joined, it had to accept what is being known as the acquis communautaire. And the budgetary arrangement was part of it. It actually made the British level of contribution to the European budget quite high. Also the budget for the Common Agricultural Policy which amounted to as much as 70% of the overall European budget, was resented by the UK where the agricultural sector is far less developed than in France. To put it in a nutshell, the UK received much less than France. The British government then tried to renegotiate the terms of British contribution. A series of negotiations were held between 1979 and 1984 over what became known as "the British Budget Question" or "the Bloody British Question". At the Strasbourg Summit in 1979 M. Thatcher is remembered for having cried out :" I want my money back" implying that Britain had been robbed in the arrangement. Her attitude gravely antagonized the other European leaders who claimed that when Britain joined in 1973 it had agreed with the budgetary implications. The issue was finally resolved at the Fontainebleau summit in 1984 : a rebate was granted to Britain that amounted to 66% of the difference between Britain's contribution to the budget and its receipts. This provision has been enforced since 1985.
2. Resistance to further integration Under the Thatcher governments divergences increased between Britain and her partners as regards economic policy. Thatcherism soon embodied ultraliberalism with emphasis on a free market and very little intervention of the state in the economy as Margaret Thatcher had expressed her determination "to roll the frontiers of the state and allow free enterprise and market forces to flourish". For her European bureaucracy or "brusselscracy" was a threat to economic development. Britain's priority was to achieve a single market within the boundaries of the EU. A White Paper prepared by the Commission was published which put forward 300 legislative proposals. 282 of them were accepted by the heads of government at the Milan European Summit of June 1985. However France and Germany believed that the single market could not be put in place without the reform of EU institutions and increased powers for supra national institutions namely the European Parliament.
The 1986 Single European Act : a compromise package The four freedoms Qualified Majority voting The Schengen Agreement : Britain opting out A compromise package was signed which was the 1986 Single European Act establishing : " 1992 as a deadline for the completion of the four freedoms : freedom of people, goods, services and capital. " Stronger institutional structures with the introduction of QMV (Qualified Majority voting) in the Council of Ministers as regards new areas relating to economic and commercial issues. (Unanimity voting being still required for fiscal policy, immigration, and employees' rights legislation. " An area without internal frontiers (Article 8A) which was to give way to the Shengen Agreement According to the White Paper, 3 barriers had to come down : Physical barriers that is customs and immigration controls Fiscal barriers that is variations in indirect taxes Technical barriers which meant the end for each country to develop its products according to its own standards.
3. The Shengen treaty : Britain opting out The relaxation of frontier controls was to generate the Shengen agreement.
The Schengen agreement was originally signed on June 14, 1985, by five European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands) aboard the ship Princesse Marie-Astrid on the Moselle River, near Schengen, a small town in Luxembourg on the border with France and Germany. Its goal was to end border checkpoints and controls within the Schengen area (also known as Schengenland) and harmonise external border controls. It was originally separate from the European Union (then European Community) but has since become an EU competence, although there are some non-EU members in the Schengen area, and some EU members are outside the area.
Additional countries have since also signed the convention, making the total number of signatories twenty-six. Two EU members namely the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, have chosen not to sign the Schengen Treaty. The UK refused to participate in Shengen because it wished to maintain its external frontier controls. And also because of the presence of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland which is part of the UK. Ireland was not able to participate because of the Common Travel area it shares with the UK . However things have begun to move and on May 29, 2000 the UK and Ireland decided to participate in the Schengen Information System.
C.From Thatcher to Major : a change in tone but not in substance The Maastricht treaty Britain opting out of the social chapter Britain opting out of the last stage of EMU Thatcher's successor John Major adopted a more conciliatory tone towards his European partners. He expressed his intention of placing Britain at the heart of Europe. However John Major's European policy did not differ much from Thatcher's At the time John Major was Prime Minister the treaty on European Union was signed in the Dutch city of Maastricht in February 1992. It was meant to mark a new stage in European development by achieving an ever closer union (as close as possible to the citizens) and the creation of an area without internal frontiers. John Major managed to obtain two opt outs of important provisions of the treaty through protocols : the social chapter and the third stage of EMU. The Treaty's centrepiece was the plan for EMU ( Economic and Monetary Union ) and its final stage, the creation of a single currency (from which Britain opted out). The British Conservative government also refused to sign Maastricht's "Social Chapter" covering aspects of social policy. This meant that the other member states were forced to append it to the Treaty as an agreement of the 11 excluding the UK (the Labour government elected in 1997 opted back into the Social Chapter).
" The UK opted out of the last stage of EMU " The UK opted out of the social chapter of the Maastricht treaty (see the UK and European Social Policy) " The British Parliament was left free to decide whether the country should join EMU that is stage III in the process which meant compliance with the convergence criteria for the adoption of the single currency involving low rates of inflation, low government deficits, current stability and low interest rates. " The government promoted the notion of subsidiarity which implied the division of responsibility between the EU and the member states with the national governments always keeping the upper hand. " The government advocated intergovernmental cooperation as opposed to supranational integration in a number of key areas such as foreign affairs, defence, and domestic policy. The intergovernmental pillars were maintained within the Maastricht treaty.
C. Blair and Europe, old and new elements of European policy.
A more positive approach to European integration A claim for the modernisation of the EU Adoption of the Social Chapter A wait and see attitude towards the euro A wait and see attitude toward the constitutional treaty
It appears now that the labour party's overwhelming victory in 1997 was largely due to the conservative party's divisions over the European issue.
1. A more positive approach to European integration After nearly nineteen years of conservative rule during which relations with Europe, especially under Thatcher, had been difficult, Tony Blair pledged a more constructive approach to European integration in keeping with his commitment during the election campaign. 2. A claim for the modernisation of the EU. Blair's priority was to "modernise the EU in the same way as he wished to modernise Britain. Blair's attitude to Europe has not generated enthusiasm among European partners as British proposals for modernisation have always been viewed with caution and even mistrust by its partners which are reluctant to accept lessons from the UK. Blair's constructive approach consisted in a new commitment to EU social policy which was definitely more in keeping with labour's ideology. 3. Adoption of the social chapter Very soon after Labour's victory the new government signed up to the Social Chapter, a decision which was in keeping with the party's manifesto . However a number of divisive issues opposed Britain and the rest of Europe. The two major controversial issues that have dominated the European British policy have been the euro and the constitution.
4. The euro issue A commitment to the euro sooner or later Gordon Brown's five economic tests Promise to make a move by 2003 2003 Statement that Britain was not ready
It seems that over the last five years the British authorities have been economically preparing the UK for the future adoption of the euro. The government's position was made clear in a statement made to the House of Commons by Chancellor Gordon Brown. Then Blair stated that a decision would be made by June 2003. The timetable for membership of EMU was announced. The Treasury had to determine whether the five economic tests were satisfied :
The five economic tests " Sustainable convergence between Britain and the economies of the single currency " Sufficient flexibility to cope with economic change " The effect on investment " The impact on the UK financial services industry " The impact on employment
The Treasury Select Committee remarked a lack of precision about what was required. It seems that the Chancellor's aims have been loosely defined on purpose. According to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, greater convergence, such as between the British and European housing markets, needed to be achieved first. Sweden's rejection of the euro in 2003 probably had a substantial impact on the British political elite. The Swedish vote was largely interpreted in the UK as a popular revolt against a political and economic decision of the European bureaucracy. The Conservative Party's then Shadow Chancellor, Michael Howard, responded by claiming that Blair's policy on the euro and going for a future referendum was now "a dead duck". For the governing Labour Party, the response was somewhat mixed. The Leader of the Commons and Cabinet Minister, Peter Hain, claimed that Sweden's decision would have "no bearing" for British policy on the single currency.
And yet as The Guardian (15 September 2003) reported, "Tony Blair's lingering hopes of staging a euro referendum in this parliament were finally shattered" especially since the public in Sweden has been perceived in the UK - rightly or wrongly - as less sceptical than in Britain. The Chancellor was willing to give a reassessment of the revised five economic tests and further national economic testing was meant to take place in the future (in 2004 at the earliest). In practice, Britain was so to speak "taking a rest at the roadside", even though a future enabling Referendum Bill to Parliament and a completed "British National Changeover Plan" were announced to appease those wanting to keep the EMU option open in the future.
Gordon Brown's decision that Britain was not ready for the euro. Then in June 2003 Gordon Brown officially made it clear that Britain was right not to move to the referendum stage and provided a reinforcement of his 2003 assessment of the five economic tests. In fact, the Chancellor declared that only one of the five economic tests, the fourth one, had been met properly. Further reform of the UK housing markets and lower interest rates were deemed necessary to meet the first test of sustainable convergence. Good progress was also shown on the second, third and fifth tests - although more flexible labour markets were deemed essential to satisfy the latter. Only the fourth test, pertaining to no adverse affect on UK financial services and the City of London, was satisfied.
The paradoxical situation is that at present the euro-issue seems to be over before the debate has actually started. Also as many experts have pointed out, there definitely is "political and economic life outside the euro area". We see that as regards the euro labour has kept putting off the prospect of a referendum. This has allowed the government, with the 2005 general election year approaching, to concentrate efforts on winning the British public over on Iraq and public services reform and downplay the single currency issue. If there ever is a British debate on the euro in the future it will have to embrace the question of public trust in the benefits of further European integration, a job made particularly hard in the UK case in the face of a rather unenthusiastic public opinion and a very hostile press and media to the EU in general.
British public opinion and the single currency In September 2001, according to MORI, a quarter of the public said they would vote in favour (25%) and over half said they would vote against (55%), with one in six not giving no opinion either way (17%). In February 2004, by a margin of about two to one, the British public said they would vote against joining the single currency (60% against to 28% in favour). There has been only a slight swing in favour of membership if "the Government were to strongly urge membership". Table 2 : British public opinion and the single currency Which of the following best describes your own view of British participation in the single currency? Don't know 6% I strongly support British participation 14% I strongly oppose British participation 38% I am generally in favour of British participation, but could be persuaded against if I thought it would be bad for the British economy
20% I am generally opposed to British participation, but could be persuaded in favour if I thought it would be good for the British economy
22% Source : Eurobarometer Desk research on European Citizenship - August 2004) Base: 1,976 British adults, 18+, 11-16 As well as asking about how people say they would vote in a referendum, MORI regularly asks about the strength of attitudes towards the Euro. The latest research, carried out in September 2003, shows that around two in five people (42%) could be persuaded in favour or against membership of the Euro depending on how it would affect the British economy. In other words, they say they generally support or oppose British participation in the Euro, but might be persuaded to change their minds if they felt it was good or bad for the British economy. It is clear, however, that at present the economic case for Euro membership has not persuaded British citizens. The other controversial issue is the European constitution.
5.Britain and the European constitution In June 2004 the member states of the European Union concluded the negotiation of a treaty that, if ratified, would establish a European constitution that would make substantive changes to the way the union works. " The changes brought by the constitutional treaty " An appointed president of the European Council, overseeing the regular summits of the heads of government of the EU nations and their foreign ministers. " A foreign minister of the EU. The new rules on majority voting at the European Council would allow a measure to pass if 55 percent of the member states were in favour, so long as they represented 65 percent of the EU's population. " New powers for the EU in justice and home affairs, requiring cooperation among national ministries on immigration, asylum, crime, and justice.
The European Constitution was signed on 29 October 2004 at a ceremony in Rome. The governments of all 25 countries have signed the treaty, but it cannot take effect unless ratified by each member state, through parliamentary vote or referendum.
The constitutional treaty Signed in Rome in June 2005 Ratified by 13 member states Rejected by two member states : France and the Netherlands Some member states decided to move ahead with ratification Some member states-the UK and Ireland- postponing the referendum Europe facing a constitutional crisis Will continue to operate with the existing treaties
Twelve countries have ratified the treaty: Austria, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain. The German parliament has voted in favour of ratification. The opinion polls in France had increasingly suggested that the French might vote down the new EU constitution in a referendum. Much of the French opposition has focused on the so-called "Bolkestein directive"-a plan to liberalise trade in services. Even though President Chirac managed to get a promise to rewrite the directive it was no use. The French remained adamant and rejected the treaty with 55% against. The French vote threw the EU into a constitutional crisis. EU leaders at a 16-17 June summit in Brussels called for a "pause for reflection" and scrapped the original 2006 ratification deadline. Approval is not certain in the forthcoming Polish, Danish, Irish, and Czech referendums, although opinion polls point to a positive result in all those countries. The results of French referendum on the constitution have had a very serious impact on Britain's attitude and strategy. In the UK the polls have always suggested that a majority would vote no if the question was put to them.
*Before the French referendum Labour, which won win a third term at the 2005 general election in May 2005 was determined to launch a highly risky referendum on the European constitution. A defeat was quite likely with very negative consequences for both the government and Britain. The fear of the government was that that vote alone might throw the EU into a constitutional crisis and marginalise the UK. It would have destroyed the credibility of the government. Given the strength of British Euroscepticism, the government has usually found itself on the defensive with regard to the constitution. But the major concern for the UK was that some member states would probably try to push ahead and exclude the United Kingdom from the EU. France and Germany might then seek to establish a "hard core" of states, committed to a closer union, a new organization that would coexist within the broader EU like what has been termed as the inner cabinet in British politics.
* When France rejected the European constitution, there was some relief in British governmental circles. It reduced the pressure on Blair to move forward and go for a referendum. Before the referendum was postponed, ministers warned that a "No" vote would leave Britain on the sidelines of the EU, and focused on rebutting Conservative criticisms, rather than putting forward positive arguments in favour. Now that the treaty has been defeated by two founding member states Britain is no longer "the odd man out". The argument that a vote for the constitution is a vote for the status quo-and that a vote against would create chaos and uncertainty is no longer valid.
The labour government which had planned to organize a constitutional referendum in Spring 2006, has decided to postpone it. In June 2006 Prime Minister Tony Blair told parliament: "Realistically, given the 'No' votes in France and the Netherlands, ratification cannot succeed unless and until those votes change." Correspondents say that a general lack of knowledge about the EU's activities, and widespread distrust of Brussels in some quarters, will make it difficult to run a pro-constitution campaign, if the referendum ever returns to the agenda. Results of opinion polls on the constitution vary, depending on the precise phrasing of the question. The ICM polling agency found in February 2005 that opinion was evenly balanced when respondents were asked the question that will actually be used in the referendum: "Should the United Kingdom approve the treaty establishing a constitution for the European Union?" To this question, 39% said "Yes", 39% said "No", and 22% did not know. But ICM simultaneously asked a second group of people a slightly different question - "If there were a referendum tomorrow, would you vote for Britain to sign up to the EU constitution or not?" In this case, 54% of respondents said "No", 26% said "Yes", and 20% did not know. On July 1st Britain began to chair the presidency of the EU. A number of priorities have been identified.
Priorities for the UK Presidency of the EU 2005 economic reform and social justice security and stability the modernisation of Europe a more efficient market (implementation of the Lisbon agenda) promotion of the knowledge society emphasis on the free movement of services commitment to the next enlargement
The priorities of the UK presidency have been defined as follows : economic reform and social justice; security and stability, and Europe's role in the world. The emphasis is on the modernisation of Europe to make it more competitive in the wider world, which means the promotion of the knowledge society and a more efficient internal market along with implementing the Lisbon agenda which implies the implementation of the Sapir report of 2003 and the Kok report of 2004, the strengthening of the Internal Market along with Lisbon's national labour market reforms and the improvement of the business climate. There is also the emphasis on the free movement of services which as Blair underlined, was foreseen in the original Treaty of Rome. Britain has also expressed its determination to see Europe gather its forces to fight together on issues such as terrorism, organised crime and illegal migration. It has kept its pledge to move forward as regards the opening of negotiations with Turkey on 3 October after a great deal of haggling. Austria's objections to Turkish membership were withdrawn when it was eventually decided to open accession talks with Croatia . The Turks now have to fulfil the normal conditions of entry including the adoption of the acquis communautaire, which means over 80 000 pages of EU law divided into 35 different chapters, each covering a specific topic. Britain is also ready to welcome further enlargement, which means the preparations for Bulgaria and Romania's entry in January 2007.
Britian also wishes to foster stronger links with the EU countries of central and Eastern Europe acceding in 2004 that form part of the so-called "New Europe" and is ready to welcome further enlargement.
However the European budget with the British rebate remains the major bone of contention between Britain and its European partners is. According to the British government the issues of future financing and the CAP reform cannot be dealt separately as they are part of the wider debate on the future of Europe including a review of the EU budget structure and priorities. As regards the CAP the British position is that it should be reformed so that European farming can meet the challenges of globalisation. A crisis at the last European summit was sparked by Britain's refusal to see its rebate frozen without clear guarantees that the future of the EU budget, including its emphasis on agriculture subsidies, would be rethought .
Blair publicly rejected a proposal by Luxembourg, which chaired the talks, to freeze the rebate without accompanying this with a reform of the EU's £31.7bn in farm subsidies. This inability to reach an agreement is very detrimental to the new member states. It means that the new countries are not entitled to full EU benefits - known as the "full envelope" - until 2007. If a deal is not reached by then they will remain on more modest funding levels.
IV The different shades of blue British public opinion as a rule has never been very favourable to Europe. Public support for European integration is supposed to rely on two components .. " First an affective dimension based on ideological identification with European integration " Second a utilitarian dimension based on individual cost-benefit calculations. The British public generally speaking has remained uncommitted to idealistic arguments for a united Europe and therefore is more likely to assess membership in terms of costs and benefits. Since the early 1990s the affective dimension has played an increasingly smaller part in British people's assessment of European integration. This evolution is largely due to the problems that have opposed the UK to the European institutions and the European partners, such as the ERM crisis , the Maastricht ratification problems, the ESB crisis and now the rebate, but also to an increasingly hostile and negative press coverage. British respondents are less likely than respondents in other EU states to see EU membership as "a good thing", to think that EU membership has been advantageous to them personally, to support the Euro, to support Common Foreign Defence and security politics and to trust EU institutions. Some people have never believed Britain should be in the EU. Some of them object in principle to European institutions and rules. Some believe it is remote and unaccountable, others that it is inefficient, wasteful or creates too much red tape. Also the level of "don't knows" in response to questions about the EU far exceeds that in other member states. Table 3 UK : identity with Europe Which two or three of these, if any, would you most identify with? England/Scotland/Wales 46% Britain 45% This local community 44% This region 39% Europe 17% The global community 9% The Commonwealth 7% None of these 1% Don't know 1% Source: Eurobarometer 60
Research conducted by MORI for the Financial Times last year found that the British public still identify much more with their own country than they do with Europe, with fewer than one in five (17%) saying that they most identify with Europe. The British are also likely to say that they feel more 'attached' to their own country than they do to Europe, with over twice as many saying that they are attached to England/Scotland/Wales (88%) than they are to Europe (42%). In fact, the British feel less attached to Europe than do residents of any other EU country, with the exception of people in the Netherlands (29% feel attached).
The average EU15 countries is 58%, rising to 77% in Luxemburg. There has been little change since 2000 in the level of British 'attachment' to Europe, when the 42% said that they felt attached to Europe (the EU15 average was 59%). Low attachment reflects the fact that British people are unlikely to say they 'feel' European. Indicating very little change since 2000, six in ten (62%)Britons say that 'in the near future' they see themselves as 'British only', with28% (up 1% since 2000) saying they feel 'British and European'. The proportions saying they feel 'European' (3%) and 'European and British'(5%) are low. The UK still has the strongest sense of exclusive national identity, with the Finns following closely behind (57% saying they feel Finnish only). The EU15 average is 40%.
Table 4 : People's knowledge of the European Union True or false quizz results
Questions put to 1000 UK adults % giving correct answer
The European Community was created just after World War 1(FALSE) 52% Members of the European Parliament are elected by citizens like you and me (TRUE) 40% The European Union has its own anthem (TRUE) 24% The European Union consists of 12 Member States (FALSE) 20% Each year, Europe Day is observed in common by all Member States of the EU (TRUE) 17% Source : Eurobarometer 58 People's knowledge of the European Union
Table 5 : True or False Quizz results average % by correct answers (by country )
Member state % giving correct answer
Luxembourg 53% Finland 52% Portugal 50% Austria 47% Sweden 45% Denmark 44% Greece 44% France 42% Belgium 41% Spain 40% Germany 37% Ireland 37% Italy 36% The UK 31% The Netherlands 29% Source : Eurobarometer 58 True or False Quizz results average % by correct answers (by country)
There is obviously a limited knowledge of EU institutions and bodies. However, the UK public do not fare quite so badly when asked about some aspects of EU legislation. As shown in the following chart, when asked to decide whether a number of statements relating to European legislation are true or false, seven in ten (71%) answer at least six out of nine questions correctly, and 10% of the public answer all nine correctly.
Almost two-thirds are correct in saying that European legislation gives fathers the right to take time off when they have a child and that it can Opinion polls show that, if given the choice, around four out of ten Britons would vote to leave the EU and that an overwhelming majority oppose the constitutional treaty. Would the constitutional treaty have any chance of passing in case of a referendum? It is unlikely even though pro-Europeans have not given up hope of winning the referendum. They believe they will be able to reveal many of the Euroskeptics' claims to be false and that many voters will ultimately look less to the popular press for information on the treaty than to the BBC, which is more objective.
Europe and the media Various media outlets such as the television, the radio, newspapers and also internet play a key role on British public attitudes to Europe. The British media have always been largely hostile as regards Europe and they have all violently attacked the EU constitution, actually none have supported it. In November 1998 Tony Blair denounced the hostile coverage in Eurosceptical papers to the Rapid Reaction Force. "I'm used to British media being hostile to Europe but the public will be given the facts". In a speech in Ghent, Belgium he also expressed his anger and frustration:
If people tell you the argument for Europe has been lost in Britain, they are wrong. Of course our position is made more difficult by our media. One part has abandoned all sense of objectivity and is essentially hostile to the European Union. The other part is supine in the face of that hostility. Take the example of last year's financial negotiation at Berlin. Europe is always at its most hard-headed when it comes to paying for it. But by making our case persuasively we protected Britain's rebate and got a very good deal on structural funds. Yet that got a fraction of the media attention that attended the failure by France to lift the ban on British beef, even though the financial consequences for Britain were more far-reaching. Another example is Vodafone -Mannesman. For weeks, our media had been telling us that this was the test of reform and that Europe would flank it. That politicians rather than shareholders would decide. When the deal went through, the British media barely concentrated on the economic implications .
Euroskeptic newspapers especially in the tabloid press have a significant impact. The Sun has always had a definitely anti-european, populist approach as can be see from some front pages. For instance in November 1990 one could read "Up yours Delors" on the front page. When the euro was launched in January 2002 the Sun announced the dawn of a new €rror. The Daily Mirror has also proved to be very anti-european and even xenophobic. Quality newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph and the Times have also provided important contributions to euroscepticism mainly among right winged people. The various anti-EU lobbying groups are well organized and well funded. Their combined budgets are probably between five and ten times greater than the money spent spent in 2004 by the United Kingdom's single pro-EU lobbying group, called "Britain in Europe".
Traditionally, British business leaders have been pro-European, and particularly pro-euro. They have resented the fact that the Labour government failed to deliver on its promise to hold a referendum on the currency, and they have refused to fund the pro-constitution campaign unless the government leads the way. Before the general election, Downing Street has kept quiet: its priority being winning the general election in May 2005. The government then would try to convince people to support the constitution. However over the last few years, Britain's Captains of Industry have become less enthusiastic about Euro membership. In 2001, 59% of Captains said they supported the principle of Britain participating in a single European currency and 36% opposed. By 2003, attitudes had become more evenly divided (47%support and 48% opposed).
Conclusion The study of the relationship between Britain and Europe raises fundamental questions as to the nature and destination of Europe. In Britain debates have been deeply influenced by a specific historical and political context which has led to a persistent emphasis on national sovereignty and independence. The debates have revealed a certain degree of mistrust towards European construction. British governments have tended to prefer intergovernmental cooperation rather than supranational integration. Anti European feeling has evolved from the adversaries of the Common Market in the 1960s and 1970s to today's right-wing and conservative euroskeptics from the UK independent party who advocate outright withdrawal.
The European connection is definitely one among others and Britain's place on the international scene has often been seen in a more global perspective. The umbilical cord with the United States has been preserved with Britain's involvement in Iraq. This analysis has tended to prove that Britain has often been a dissenter in Europe as it has always showed its hostility to supranationalism and therefore to further political integration. Its attitude has been pragmatic in all circumstances and this pragmatism has characterized both parties which have adopted a "wait and see attitude" whenever some new dimension in European construction has been introduced whether it be the euro, the social chapter or the free movement of people. Contrary to what one might think, there has been a large degree of continuity in conservative and labour European policies. Even after Tony Blair's arrival and despite some major steps forward such as the adoption of the social chapter, some areas of government are still being considered as strictly pertaining to national sovereignty.
This being said, even though the spectre of a European super state is used as a scapegoat by some euroskeptics, leaving the EU has never been seen as a possible option. Britain could survive outside the European Union but it would certainly face huge problems given the fact that nearly 60% of British trade is with Europe and that more than three million jobs depend on the UK's membership of the European Union