European Union (1247 words) Essay

European Union
“We have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We
are linked, but not combined. We are interested and associated, but not
absorbed.”1 Winston Churchill’s famous quote aptly describes Britain’s
intentions towards European integration. In this essay I shall attempt to show
that Britain’s relationship towards European integration has been one of a
reluctant union, supporting free trade and mutually beneficial cooperation,
while attempting to distance itself from economic and cultural ?unity’ with
Europe, and I will finish by describing the effects on Britain’s sovereignty
since joining the European Union . The term integration can be understood, in
context of the European Union, as a situation of unification between
individually sovereign nations into a collective body, sufficient to make that
body a workable whole. A fully integrated European Union could be seen to have
two possible outcomes. Either a)A Federalist or ?stewed’ union, where all
member states give up their individual sovereignty and form a superstate that
would be an economic world power, or b)A Confederalist or ?salad bar’ union,
where each member state has its own place in a continental alliance, maintaining
national sovereignty and individually contributing, through trade and
cooperation, to form a greater whole.2 Throughout the 1970’s and 80’s
Britain’s aspiration for a Europe unified through trade and cooperation arose
from a desire to maintain complete control and sovereignty over its own affairs.

The history of the British Empire and its position as leader of the Commonwealth
in addition to its history of beneficial association with the United States3,
left many in Britain to believe that it could still maintain its prominent
global role and historical status of world leader in political and economic
affairs. However, the fact that Britain had to accept that there was a need for
trade barriers to fall and new markets to open, coupled with the realisation
that it could not exist successfully as a separate economically independent
entity. There was the recognition by some that the only hope to attain these
goals was to join the EC as “there was little scope for a United Kingdom
outside the community, especially when the six (Germany, France, Italy, Belgium,
Luxembourg and the Netherlands) had done so visibly better than the UK4″ Since
?biting the bullet’ and gaining its membership to the then called European
Community in 1973, Britain has vocally announced that it would prefer the
?salad bar’ version of integration to the ?stewed’ version. For example,
Margaret Thatcher spoke in Bruges in September 1988 and she said she “sought
to lay down a vision of a Europe of sovereign states, economically considerably
more liberal, deregulated and interdependent, but a Europe based essentially on
cooperation rather than integration5″. Within the EU, Britain could work with
the other member nations to guarantee its economic interests and attempt to
maintain its influence and continue to hold sway in world affairs. Inside the EU
Britain would “be able to mould the trading systems of Europe to its
advantage. As an outsider, it feared being on the uninfluential receiving end of
decisions made by the combined power of the original ?six’6″. The EU has
stated explicitly that its objectives are “to lay the foundations of an ever
closer union among the peoples of Europe … the constant improvement of the
living and working conditions of the people, and the reduction of differences in
wealth between regions7″. And so, Britain has had to temper its view that
Europe could survive as a system of completely independent yet cooperative
states in order to benefit from the advantages, such as open markets and free
trade with other members, which is offered by membership in the EU. Britains
decision to join the EU was a considered one, to gain economic benefits and
submit to some loss of individual control over social matters that concern all
members of the Union. However It appears that they want to ?have their cake
and eat it too’, by gaining the economic benefits of union and not submitting
to any social initiatives proposed by the EU. For Example in 1989 the all the
member states adopted a Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of
Workers, all that is except Britain, this charter was supposed to be a
fundamental building block in the construction of Europe, yet Britain rejected
it saying that it would disrupt its vision of free and open trade among the
member states of the European Economic Community. This action is a demonstration
of Britains attempts at avoiding the creation of the Federalist European
Superstate. Sovereignty can be defined quite simply as the supreme authority to
not only declare law but create it, deriving this power from a populace who have
given up their personal sovereignty and power and vested it in the sovereign8,
in the case of Britain the sovereign is the Government, since the King passed
sovereignty to the parliament over time. Britain’s ability to defend its
sovereignty has been effectively compromised in the first instance by the very
act of joining the EU. The declared intent of the EU, to create an ?ever
closer union’, defines a certain path that the member states must follow. The
path may be wide to allow a number of different routes to the intended goal, but
in the end it restricts the sovereign nations ability to choose its own course
of action both economically and socially. Three specific instances of the
erosion of Britains sovereignty are a)The European Communities Act 1972, which
established a principle that European Law would always prevail over British law
in the event of a conflict, effectively decreasing the supremacy of Parliament.

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b)The Single European Act 1988 (SEA) withered sovereignty more by replacing
unanimity rule, that is, any nations power to veto, with majority voting in
certain areas. therefore the power of the European Parliament over Britain was
further enhanced. And finally c)The treaty of Maastricht 1993 further empowered
the European Parliament, it can now block new legislation but cannot itself
initiate new legislation. The European court was also given the power to fine
member states9. These examples show that Britains ability to defend its
sovereignty really relates to its ability to negotiate within the framework of
the treaties that it signs, and also the extent to which it can slow the process
of the erosion of its sovereignty down. Britains actions concerning the Single
European Currency are a good example of this. Because under a Single European
Currency Parliament would lose sovereignty over its currency reserves, the
Central Bank interest rate, and the amount of currency minted, since no Act of
Parliament could be used to set these things. This sovereignty would pass to the
European Central Bank10. Britain decided to hold itself out of the introduction
of the Euro and see what reaction the new currency would create on the world
market. It currently plans to join the monetary union in 2003. In conclusion,
Britains relationship to European integration since 1973 has been one that sees
this as a pragmatic necessity. Britain would prefer a ?salad bar’ Europe,
with sovereign and individual states adding their own flavour to an economic
Confederate of European states, though it will concede social integration when
it can not avoid it. The extent to which Britain can defend its sovereignty, has
been shown to be limited, it can negotiate to arrange beneficial agreements with
other members and really delay the effects of union.

1)Almdal, Preben. Aspects of European Integration Denmark, Odense University
Press, 1986. 2)Edwards, Geoffrey. ?Britain and Europe’ in Jonathan Story
(ed) The New Europe:Politics, Government and Economy since 1945. Oxford,
Blackwell Publishers, 1993. 3)Stuart,N. New Britain Handbook on Europe, New
Britain, 1996 4)Wise,
Mark. & Gibb, Richard. Single Market to Social Europe:The European Community
in the 1990’s . Essex, Longman Scientific and Technical, Longman GroupUK Ltd.

5) The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations is licensed from Columbia University
Press. Copyright ? 1993


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