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Monday, April 08, 2013

Beyond the simplifications, what is Margaret Thatcher's European legacy?

Margaret Thatcher is often labelled a 'eurosceptic' - a modern day British Boadicea ready to do battle against all things European. But she was also today described as a “a committed European” by none less than the arch-europhile President of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz. Another EU President (Jose Manuel Barroso) added with some circumspect that she was an “engaged player in the European Union”, “remembered for both her contributions to and her reserves about our common project.” Confused? Here she is in her own words:

On a European superstate:
Was it always "No, No, No" to the EU?
“The President of the Commission, Mr. Delors, said at a press conference the other day that he wanted the European Parliament to be the democratic body of the Community, he wanted the Commission to be the Executive and he wanted the Council of Ministers to be the Senate. No. No. No."
On upholding national democracy:
"What is the point of trying to get elected to Parliament only to hand over sterling and the powers of this House to Europe?” 
On the EU budget:
A strong voice on the EU budget
“there should be a cash refund of our money...I am only talking about our money, no-one else's…there should be a cash refund of our money to bring our receipts up to the average level of receipts in the Community.” 
On the Treaty of Maastricht:
“It is nonsense to describe Maastricht as if it were a technical adjustment to the Treaty of Rome. It expands from 11 to 20 the number of policy areas in which the unelected Commission in Brussels can have the sole right of initiative.”
On the single currency:
“I do not blame the Germans. They have managed the new currency in exactly the way we should have managed ours. They put their country first and in doing so showed up the impossibility of a single currency for a group of such divergent economies as those of Europe.”
On EU bureaucracy and CAP protectionism:
“...we were not prepared to reach agreement unless we had stabilisers that mainly involved price cuts…We were amazed when the French refused to confirm them and said... they must go to a meeting of Foreign Ministers. Now I did point out that we had all Foreign Ministers here...so that they could have agreed then. This obvious factor did not escape them; they merely refused to have it…Only a Frenchman could have done that. It is absolutely unbelievable.”
But, clearly, she was not hostile to European cooperation - and most certainly not against "more Europe" in the areas that really do count, such as boosting economic growth. She campaigned to keep the UK in the E.E.C in 1975, was in favour of and and a driver behind the Single European Act, which saw a quantum leap for the Single Market, and championed EU enlargement to take in former communist states in central and eastern Europe. She saw the economic benefits of the EU if separated from what she saw as the political costs of centralisation.

To this end in her famous Bruges Speech she set out a pragmatic vision - which, if you read the actual speech, can, at least in part, be seen as 'pro-European':
“Europe is not the creation of the Treaty of Rome. Nor is the European idea the property of any group or institution. We British are as much heirs to the legacy of European culture as any other nation. Our links to the rest of Europe, the continent of Europe, have been the dominant factor in our history…"
“Let Europe be a family of nations, understanding each other better, appreciating each other more, doing more together but relishing our national identity no less than our common European endeavour. Let us have a Europe which plays its full part in the wider world, which looks outward not inward, and which preserves that Atlantic community—that Europe on both sides of the Atlantic—which is our noblest inheritance and our greatest strength.” 
So, as PM, Margaret Thatcher was neither "pro" nor "anti" EU. She set out more clearly than any other recent Prime Minister her own vision for the EU. A vision as legitimate and authentic as that which ultimately prevailed for the eurozone. She was quite prepared to argue for EU integration when there was a real economic benefit to be had. She was however a "sceptic", in the true sense of the word, in that she was suspicious of the prospect of political and ideological ambition alone stamping out economic and democratic reality. In that sense, given recent developments in the eurozone she was perhaps ahead of her time.

Bruges: pro British and pro EU?


jon livesey said...

The fact that you say "pro British and pro EU?" as if it is a somewhat dubious combination really just shows how badly the EU has managed its relationship with the UK.

It ought to be perfectly easy to be both in favour of membership of a single market, and also enthusiastic about your own country, its institutions and its history.

It is the misfortune of the EU that it managed to get itself kidnapped by a ruling elite that was explicitly hostile to national sovereignty and the nation state.

The EU could have had a much easier relationship with its members if it had kept to the vision of the Founding fathers, who believed that integration would emerge naturally as economies converged, and who foresaw that process taking a long time.

It was the temptation to force the pace that led to many of the EU's current problems, mainly, but not only, the problems of the euro-area.

Beach Bum said...

She was pro-Europe and anti-EU. It's a shame you aren't.

Rik said...

The irony being that her ideas of the possible pace were far more realistic than of those who ultimately decided to go the way they went.

Rollo said...

Maggie did make mistakes and the Single Europe Act was the biggest. But although much vaunted for her steadfastness, she gave way too often to the quislings in her cabinet. Even the strongest can be brought down by a surfeit of vegetables.

Denis Cooper said...

Put simply, her legacy has proved disastrous, as she herself began to realise when it was too late.

christina speight said...

What almost all the commentators have failed to notice is that experience changed her views on Europe.

At the time of the 1975 referendum the EEC was a dream of peace and stability. She and the British people fell for that lie and she embarked on trying to work with it. She was part architect of the Single Europe Act but disillusion then set in when it became apparent that our "partners" had no intention of abiding by the spirit - let alone the letter - of that deal. All the areas where Britain was strong still to this day have not been fully implemented.

So she was disgusted and said so and the Marbaret Thatcher, faced with new circumstances changed her attitude to the EU. She saw - a bit late but she saw it - for the racket it was having no regard for EU law or EU deals if it didn't suit the Franco-German axis. So an EU conspiracy was organised and she was summarily removed from office.

Her legacy was that because the people were increasingly in agreement with her stance we, the people, also began to see it bas a racket and the illegal way the euro has been conducted from the start means that a majority here now want "OUT". Our problem, under our electoral system, is actually putting that desire into practice! (But that is another tale!)

Average Englishman said...

Well said. I could not have put it better.