"'A troublesome partner.' Using examples, to what extent would you say this comment accurately describes the United Kingdom's membership of the EU since 1973"

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Tutor: Martin Todd                                                                                                                                               05/01/05        

“'A troublesome partner.' Using examples, to what extent would you say this comment accurately describes the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU since 1973


Since the mid-1980s, the transfer of state powers to a EU level and reforms affecting the distribution of power in EU policy have challenged the sovereignty of member states. Since the United Kingdom joined the European Union through the Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath, it has been seen as the most awkward partner in the ‘club’ and has been a force for disintegration within it.1 This was particularly apparent during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership.1 This view however, neglects an appreciation of the importance of accomodationism within the UK approach to EU developments. The UK/EU relationship from 1945-present will be profiled in the contrasting terms of uncooperativeness then accomodationism with an attempt at explaining the reasoning for the actions of the ‘troublesome partner.’1 

        Plate 1: Thatcher in 1975 in pro-European campaign  

                                                         Source 2

At the time of Britain’s accession in 1973, EU membership was seen as essential for the reversal of economic decline. Since then, UK governments have encouraged the EU to develop into a large free trade area, but have sought to limit EU competences and revenues in attempts to ensure that sovereignty is not diminished and that the UK governmental system, as a whole, is not affected.1 Because of this particular conception of state interests and the possession of a broadly different idea of what the EU should be in comparison to continental ambitions for various forms of integration, the notion of the UK being an ‘partner’ bear considerable weight.3    

One present issue that aligns itself with the notion that Britain is the EU’s ‘awkward partner,’ per se, is the ‘wait and see’ approach with regard to the possibility of EMU. This non-committal policy creates many dilemmas. Firstly, it confuses prospective and current inward investors, (exemplified by car manufacturing) and the British public as a whole.4 Secondly, and perhaps more imporatantly, it brings about the question of the implementation of a ‘two-speed’ Europe with an ‘inner core’ of nations whose integration is accelerated. Further fudging of the issue will inevitably mean that Britain’s voice in Europe in terms of shaping the Union’s future monetary and fiscal policy is significantly diminished.4 If Britain’s future is within the Euro, this policy is unquestionably harmful to Britain’s future interests.

This all, not surprisingly, stems from Britian’s initial main reasons to join the European Union. The first predominating reason for the UK’s integration was that it was ‘essential to reverse severe economic decline’ and ‘maintain global power status.’ 1 The second, was obviously sign up for a ‘club’ that entailed ‘accommodation to core developments,’ which is a ‘necessity in order to fulfil the original aims of membership.’1 It was obvious that following the Suez crisis, Britain had been marginalized in Superpower relations, and coupled with squabbles within the Commonwealth it was recognised that membership of the EC would ensure her standing in international politics, whilst reassuring a domestic audience of continued state prestige.1

It is, perhaps, rather ironic then, to remember that Winston Churchill (interestingly, voted the greatest ever Brit according to a recent BBC poll) was the one who first mooted the creation of a EU superstate. In a speech to the Zurich university in 1946, Churchill called for a ‘kind of United States of Europe’ to prevent any more wars between neighbouring countries.5 In 1948 he chaired the International Co-ordination of movement for the Unification of Europe Committee at the Hague, attended by 800 delegates. This meeting laid the basis for the European Special Council, European Deliberative Assembly, a European Human Rights Charter and the European Court of Justice. It took a long time for Britain to be accepted within the European Union that was founded in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome. This was because of two vetoes for membership by the French premier, Charles De Gaulle.6 

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Plate 2 and 3: Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill

Source 5


Formerly, the two countries were allies throughout the two World Wars but De Gaulle opined that Britain was too close to the United States for membership of the EU. Also he believed that Britain would not be fully committed to the Union. With hindsight, he was broadly correct on both fronts.


                                                      Plate 4: Edward Heath on bringing Britain into the EU


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This is a very good, factually detailed essay. It contains a nice narrative, is beautifully written, and is well substantiated. However, I would have liked to have seen several things. Firstly, the 'awkward partner/cautious partner' tension expressed more fully. Secondly, for the examples to be flagged up more as examples *of* something. And thirdly, more comparison with other member states, since Britain is regarded as awkward by comparison.