It has often been argued that since joining the EEC in 1973, Britain has been an ‘awkward partner’ in its attitudes to European integration. The “awkward” partner thesis was put forward by Stephen George in his famous book, “An Awkward Partner: Britain in the European Community”1. George’s arguments were based on the fact that Britain priority puts more focus on “special relationship” with America and association with commonwealth. George also asserted that Britain has demonstrated hard lines with regard to economic integration and European negotiations as well as domestic constraints to integration within the European Union. While Tony Blair initiated a roadmap towards British full integration later in 1997, David Cameron has emerged with stringent conditions regarding tax and other policies. Cameron specifically outlined five new conditions to be met and even if the conditions are met, he does not promise joining the Euro. The continued change in tactics as well as reluctant to full integration has reinforced the British as “awkward partner”. Generally, British foreign policy is for a long time been based on the idealistic view. Many Britain is mainly focused on working together with different nations in agreement to bring peace and order and influence. In order to asses this relationship, this essay will consider the origin of the European integration, Britain attitudes to it and comparing this to later time periods. This analysis will also depend on different types of international relations.
Origins of European Integration 1945-1973
The origin of the European integration dates back to the Second World War resulted into serious economic costs thus there was need to ensure that the war never occur. The 1946 Winston Churchill’s speech which called for the “United States of Europe” made a turning point especially as it became popular three years later. This speech was the basis for the formation of European Coal and Steel Industry after signing the treaty of Paris in 1951 involving France, West Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and Netherlands. It is however important to note that Britain declined participation in the European Coal and Steel Community2. This was followed several failed attempts to form European Defence community. However, through the Messina conference of 1956, Spaak committee was established which drafted a report which culminated to the formation of European Economic Community (EEC).
During the formation of European Economic Community, Britain decline to participate again. The main reason why Britain declined to be involved in the initial integration process was due to the fact that they were committed to a wider world order3. While smaller states such as Slovenia viewed the development of EEC as an advantage, Britain looked at the integration as a disadvantage since it narrowed their opportunities as well as the influence across the world. They also established rules that created barriers to other countries. The aftermath of the treaty saw the development and flourishing economy of the six member states of EEC while at the same time the economy of Britain suffered severely because the other nations had transformed EEC to their advantage4. British applied to join 1961 after recognizing of success of the EEC and not a change of strategy despite opposition from France5. However, a merger treaty of 1967 which was signed in Brussels allowed the membership of United Kingdom and formed the European Community6. This was followed by Change of French Presidency and after many negotiations, United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland eventually integrated in the European Community in January 1, 1973.
EEC Relations with Britain from 1973-1997
Britain Entry into the EEC in 1973 marked a new turning point to its approach to European integration. The European Communities Act of 1972 plays a key role in influencing the actions that were taken by British in the preceding years since it was threat to their sovereignty because it conflicted with its constitution. The act conflict the British’s unwritten law that gives parliament the supreme power to pass statute laws7. In the year 1975, the new leadership of the labour party called for a referendum to pull out of the Community barely two years after joining but a simple majority voted to stay. The conservative party leaders however turned against the integration idea and this was confirmed by their leader Margaret Thatcher in 1975 when she became the prime minister8. She openly become against the full integration of social, political and economic relations demanding for amendment of tax and budgetary rules as they lamented about higher contributions9.
Thatcher argued that “working more closely do not require power to be centralized and a decision to be taken by appointed bureaucracy”10. She also opposed the joining of European Monetary System which was aimed at member countries adopting a common social policy since she viewed this as a plot to the formation of a closer political union. Thatcher’s reluctant to revolutionary changes was also witnessed when she declined to adapt to fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of communism in 198911. John Major who replaced Thatcher also advanced the ideals of nationalism in respect to relationship of Britain and European Community. While he ratified the Maastricht treaty in the year 1992 leading to the creation of the European Union, he was very sceptical and opted out especially on joining of the monetary and economic union and dealing with social policy12.
Tony Blair after 1997 up to Current
Tony Blair becoming the prime minister in 1997, initially started a new phase in Britain’s approach to European Integration with the new labour government keen for Britain to be seen at the centre of Europe rather than at the margins. The prime minister’s enthusiasm about the European Union was witnessed when he signed the social chapter after coming into power13. Gordon Brown also demonstrated an effort to ensure Britain is integrated fully within the EU than the previous leaders. However, Britain’s “special” relationship with the United States emerges once more. Since Britain do not want its foreign policy to be limited, this again reinforces the argument that it is an “awkward partner” in the European Union”14. This “special” relationship was however demonstrated during the terrorist attack of the United States in 2001 and Britain was actively involved and when Britain sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan despite the fact that many European Nations and British themselves did not support the decisions. Tony Blair instead argued that the interest of British is protected by staying together with American government in all that they do15.
David Cameron’s actions after the integration also played a key role in isolating Britain from the integration process. Cameron’s activities and attitudes at the meeting of European Council in December 2011 further complicated integration process and it was becoming apparent that integration could not move with Britain16. Cameron’s arguments confirmed the traditional British policy that mainly focuses on nationalism and awkwardness in EU.
Evaluation and Conclusion
Overall this leads to the judgement about Britain’s approach to European integration that Britain’s attitudes towards European integration have been a difficult one. The main reasons for adoption of this kind of argument are three. The first reason emanates from the beginning of the European integration itself. During 1950s, the governments of Unite Kingdom initially opposed and excluded itself from being involved in the initial experimental for the European unity. The second reason is that even after joining the European Union in 1973, Britain has persistently called for the amendments of the agreements as soon as they are formed mainly to accommodate her “special” interests.
The third reason is the nature of British foreign policy. From this analysis, it is clear that the United Kingdom finds it particularly difficult to narrow its political interests only to Europe. While conservative governments contributed to high level isolation of Britain from European Union, labour governments seemed to bring a more close relationship with Europe but the fact that they still keep even strong relations with America makes Britain remain an “awkward partner”. This way of foreign policy is mainly based on their long lasting idealistic view of the world since the beginning of Nineteenth century.
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