“Europe has always been attractive.” — this was the catchphrase of a former university professor of mine. Ever since the Antiquity people traveled, fought, loved, lived and died over this continent. Now for the first time in its bloody, war-torn history it is a relatively peaceful region, with most of its countries united in an one of a kind supranational political and economical union.
The European Union (EU) is far from being a regular international organisation. One core aspect is the fact that the member states delegate decision power to the European Institutions, which are ultimately run by said member states. However the policy fields, for which the EU responsible is, are limited. The areas of EU action with exclusive competences are among others the customs union, monetary policy and trade. A few of the shared competences areas, where both EU and the governments of the member states decide are security and justice, health, the single market and research. Lastly there are policy areas where the EU has only supporting competences such as public health, industry, education or culture. The complexity of the union is overwhelming at first and there is enough room for improvement. Yet it accomplished to unite a continent, improved previous and established new economic ties, facilitated crossing borders and knowledge exchange and the list can go on. It is absolutely amazing how easy it became for people, goods and services to move across Europe. Smaller countries and transitional countries receive development aid and support to develop their economies and become richer within the organisation while on the outside the block has a valuable voice on international level. Europe has become a superpower.
My husband considers that Brexit is the best political decision the United Kingdom took in the last decade. He read Dominic Cumming’s Blog and he agrees with his point of view entirely. Thus our argument started.
In the aftermath of WWII the European countries looked for long-term solutions for conflict prevention, resolution and economic opportunities. Thus the European Communities were established. The United Kingdom rejected the European integration project at first. Several political and economical arguments consolidated this decision:
- the country was still a global power. The decolonization period was ongoing, yet the country’s influence on the world stage remained untouched. The UK had closer ties to the Commonwealth in contrary to the European countries.
- the political power rivalry between France and the UK.
- the sovereignty principle. The idea of delegating political power to a supranational organisation was rejected from the start in the British (political) circles. This argument is arguably the main drive behind the Brexit movement. In the history of the United Kingdom is embedded that it never was a part of Europe, but a neighbour to the continent. And you lend your neighbour flower, milk and eggs, but you do not let him take over your entire house.
Hence instead of joining France, Germany, Benelux and Italy, the country focused more on the development of economic relationship between the European countries. It started with the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), then continued with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). In contrast to the European economic and political integration model of the ECs, these organisations were only promising to their member states trade cooperation while maintaining their freedom to act independently while pursuing their own foreign policy interests.
However the European integration project grew momentum. Its member states enjoyed a boost in their economic development. It attracted more and more European countries, while the trade organisations initiated by the UK failed to become more popular. The British economy suffered from WWII and lagged behind the other European power players such as Germany and France.
At this moment, in the early 60s, the British started warming up to the idea of joining the ECs. The European project look promising and
(…) the fear of loosing economic ties and being cut-off from the fast growing European market, outweighed the concerns against an accession. (Lehmkuhl, 2016)
Thus the British government applied for two times for membership before being accepted the third time and finally joining the ECs under somewhat personalized conditions in 1973. France’s president, Charles De Gaulle, vetoed the first two accession attempts.
Therefore the first assumption is confirmed: reluctantly the United Kingdom joined the European Communities to consolidate its position as a world power and economy with the assistance of an expanding supranational organisation.