Europe: anything but a sinecure!

Measuring the enthusiasm for membership from the single perspective of potential benefits would nevertheless be too reductive. In effect, other factors, linked to the history and politics of the State concerned, can also influence the decision. Thus the reticence of the United Kingdom can be explained by fears of a loss of sovereignty, difficult relationships with the France of President de Gaulle, the wish to maintain privileged links with the United States and for the British preference for wide and supple international relations, which do not include supranational decision making bodies.

In addition the hope of consolidating rediscovered freedom and to make security durable over the long term has probably also played a role in countries which were for a long time subject to totalitarian power, such as Romania, Lithuania or Spain, freshly emerged from Francoism.

Finally, the mechanical link between easy accession and the perspective of material gains is given the lie by the unenthusiastic ratifications of Denmark, Malta and Portugal, nonetheless net beneficiaries. On the other hand, the accession of Austria was acquired quite comfortably, whilst this country is a net contributor to the European budget.

And how are the newcomers accepted by the member States, which must also ratify the enlargement treaty? Historically the clearest reticence has been expressed by France during the first enlargement (the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark). There was also French reticence to the entrance of Greece, then Spain and Portugal, motivated by fears of the losses which could be incurred by French farmers. The fourth and fifth Enlargements did not however provoke significant opposition, but the sixth (Romania, Bulgaria) was only ratified by 95 Dutch members of parliament, with 54 having voted against.

The British paradox

In the eyes of the greatest number of observers, the United Kingdom is the standard example of the Eurosceptic State. Regardless of its insular character, which prevents it from feeling physically attached to the European continent, this country has historically cultivated two diplomatic axes which stop it from privileging its integration into Europe: its privileged relationship with the United States and its commitments to the Commonwealth, a group of interest which gathers together some fifty or so ex colonies or protectorates of the British Empire. Moreover the United Kingdom has no written Constitution, which renders it wary of supranational legal texts. bush blair ENFinally its European debuts were painful: even though it delivered its application in 1961, London could only join the EEC in 1973, thanks to the hostility of de Gaulle’s France.

But, despite this combination of factors adverse to Europe, the British parliament has maintained a majority of around 70% in favour of all the treaties which have punctuated European construction since its accession: this is what is called ‘the British paradox.’ This apparent great consistency nevertheless does not allow the British journey in Europe to be considered a plain sailing affair. Even after the thorny question of the British contribution to the European budget (Margaret Thatcher’s famous ‘I want my money back!’) allowed London to receive the discount it wanted, the United Kingdom has often used all its weight to deflect European policy towards a direction in line with its preferences. Hostile to the EU’s federal vocation, drawn up in the project of the Maastricht Treaty, London succeeded in introducing into it the principle of subsidiarity, according to which Europe must only intervene when a problem cannot be resolved satisfactorily at the level of the member States. Subsequently the progressive movement to a political union and, above all, the structuring of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) was equally poorly received in the United Kingdom.

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