Sunday, 17 June 2012

The supra-national EU

Once again ("Sunday Supplement" this a.m.) we heard the complaint from the Europhobes that "we" were lied to about the EU. As I recall, the main liars about the political implications of membership were the faction led my Mrs Thatcher. Liberals, and most supporters in other parties up to the 1990s, were open about the surrender of some sovereignty ("pooling of sovereignty" as the generally-accepted expression had it) to the joint European enterprise. Edward Heath may have played down this aspect later in his career, but he could not have been more clear when he led the Macmillan government's attempts to join in 1961:

The British government and the British people have been through a searching debate during the last few years on the subject of their relations with Europe. The result of this debate has been our present application. It was a decision arrived at, not on any narrow or short-term grounds, but as a result of a thorough assessment over a considerable period of the needs of our own country, of Europe and of the free world as a whole. We recognise it as a great decision, a turning point in our history, and we take it in all seriousness. In saying that we wish to join the EEC, we mean that we desire to become full, whole-hearted and active members of the European Community in its widest sense and to go forward with you in the building of a new Europe

or in his later expression of regret at being blocked by de Gaulle:

The end of the negotiations is a blow to the cause of the wider European unity for which we have been striving. We are a part of Europe, by geography, history, culture, tradition and civilization ... There have been times in the history of Europe when it has been only too plain how European we are; and there have been many millions of people who have been grateful for it. I say to my colleagues: they should have no fear. We in Britain are not going to turn out backs on the mainland of Europe or the countries of the Community.

It would be interesting to know what motivated Margaret Thatcher to support remaining in the EEC in the mid-1970s. There is no doubt that she did. As Michael Cockerell wrote for BBC News, "one of the leading pro-Marketeers was the newly-elected leader of the Conservative Party, Margaret Thatcher. She turned out in a sweater made up from the flags of all the nine Common market countries and called for 'a big Yes vote for Europe'". (There is a picture of Mrs Thatcher in that very communitaire sweater on the Web site.)

My own theory is that she was acting on behalf of the financial services industry. During her successful career at the commercial bar, she would have forged strong links with the big banks, stockbrokers,  insurance companies and consultancies. These would have wanted to increase their penetration of continental Europe, and would not have been too concerned about later embarrassment to governments of any hue over loss of sovereignty. Hence the concessions made at Maastricht.

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