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Labour and Conservative parties policies on the EU have become increasingly similar. Discuss. discuss

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Ayesha Mazumder                                                                                     Grade:


Labour and Conservative parties’ policies on the EU have become increasingly similar discuss

The European Union (EU) originally known as the European Commission (EC) is an institute first established during the 1940s soon after the Second World War, by the six countries who had all been defeated during the world in order to ensure security, among these countries were France, Germany and Holland. Britain’s first entry however was not until 1973, 15 years after the development of the EC. Conservatives and Labour are the two main stream parties in the British political system, more commonly known as the left and right wing respectively. When the UK first joined in 1973 it was under the conservative government lead by Margaret Thatcher, and originally the conservatives were known to be Euro-Enthusiasts and Euro-Positive because they saw the economic advantages of Britain being a part of free trade economy, however once they began realising the negative implications like the loss of sovereignty they soon turned sceptical. Labour however form 1970s-1980s was very much anti European because they believed the EC was a capitalist club, helping the rich earn money at the expense of the poor. However during the late 1980s Labour started becoming more Euro-Positive because the EU now is not only about economic benefits but is also about social factors such as Human Rights, which is in the best interest of the sector of society that Labour represents. Therefore where Conservatives have gone form being more Euro-Positive to Euro-Sceptic, Labour has gone from Euro-phobic to Euro-Positive. In the recent years however the opinion of both the parties towards the EU seems to changing once again, where both Labour and conservative have been heard saying Britain is at the heart of Europe suggesting an Euro-positive mindset, they have both opted out of joining the Euro zone and have rejected further integration suggesting an Euro-sceptical view. In this essay I am going to be discussing on whether both Labour’s and Conservative’s party policies regarding the EU have in fact become increasingly similar, or if they are both just as divided as they were forty year ago.

One of the arguments which suggest that the two party’s policies on the EU have become increasingly similar is the fact that they both oppose a federal system of government. A federal system is a system where power is dispersed between a central authority and the federal states and current example of a federal state is the USA. Under a Federal system federal government will be responsible for certain policies and the state government will be responsible for certain policies. The Federal government are responsible for things that affect the country as a whole like the economy; where as the state government will be responsible for things that affect their state only like policies on crime. Both Labour and Conservatives are against such a system because in order to achieve a federal state we as a country will have to give up a significant amount of national sovereignty. A large part of the UK’s constitution is based on the idea that parliament is the ultimate law making body i.e. Parliament is sovereign and by agreeing to a federal system of government it will mean parliament transferring some of its sovereignty to the EU, therefore undermining the concept of parliamentary sovereignty.  Also the major decisions made under a Federal system will be made at a super national level which means the decisions will be made in the best interest of the whole of Europe and where the decision may favour some countries it may cause trouble for others. An example of this was when Ireland decided to become a part of the Euro zone, in doing so Ireland agreed to let the EU control its economy including interest rates, and Ireland with help from the EU began to grow at a vast rate. However the problem with all growing economies is the rise in inflation- when there is too much money chasing too few good- and Ireland was no exception so in order to lower inflation Ireland requested the EU to increase interest rate so that people would spend less and save more. However because  Ireland  is a part of the Euro zone and lowering interest rates in Ireland would mean lowering interest rates in other countries as well, but not all countries were in agreement with this. France and Germany’s economy was very sluggish and they needed interest rates to stay down so the people in those countries will borrow and spend more, so because the majority ruled against increasing interest rates Ireland had no choice but to keep interest rates low. Therefore when the credit crunch happened Ireland already fragile economy crashed completely hence leaving Ireland in a state of bankruptcy. This is the kind of situation both labour and Conservative fear hence the opposition to a federal state as it would mean that the decision making process is taken further away form the people, resulting in decisions being made for the state as a whole not individual countries.

A second point which suggests that the two parties have similar policies regarding the EU is that both parties are willing to both reject and accept policies that are in the best interest of the country. Both parties have wanted opt-outs of major treaties that they have signed, which means they are prepared to give up some sovereignty when signing treaties with other countries but there is a limit to how far they will go. These opt-outs will be largely based on public opinion, so if they have a problem selling the treaty to the public that is when they will ask for opt-outs, as if they continuously kept agreeing with all the treaties the public will start thinking they are weak when it comes to European issues. Both parties are prepared to ensure that they have opt-outs in major treaties particularly if the public sees those treaties as going against their interests as citizens of Britain. An example of this was during the signing of the Maastricht treaty where Britain opted out of the Euro and social chapter because they felt it was not in the interest of the country. Also under Labour when the Lisbon treaty was being signed Brown said there were red line issues he was not willing to compromise on, one of these was an area to do with criminal and justice policy. Therefore both parties are prepared to sign treaties but would want opt-outs if they believe it is not in the interest of Britain and public opinion will be against it.

Both parties are prepared to pool or give up sovereignty if they believe it is beneficial to the UK, therefore it could be said both party’s approach towards Europe is ‘pragmatic’, William Hague the current foreign secretary has called himself and David Cameron ‘pragmatic.’ This means that neither party have any long term views on how Europe should be developed nor what they believe will be good for Britain. They react according to what they feel is in the best interest of the country at that moment in time, therefore neither of them have a long term strategy on how the country should be run in relation to the EU. The Single European Act for example signed in 1986 by Margaret Thatcher and she signed because of the economic benefits she did not particularly have any long term impact of this.

A third point which suggests that both parties are similar in terms of their policies on the EU is the fact that they both are in favour of the enlargement of Europe,  we know this because when Labour was in power the membership of the EU rose significantly form fifteen to twenty seven countries. Cameron in a recent speech has said he is very much in favour of an enlarged EU. Both parties are in favour of this enlargement is because they are both in favour of an anti-federal Europe and enlargement will make federalism harder to happen as no all countries will agree to it. Also Conservatives believe that if EU membership is widened this would stop further integration, and they are against this because further integration means giving up more sovereignty. Therefore while Labour is pro-enlargement in order to stop federalism, conservatives are pro-enlargement not only because they are anti-federalist but also because a larger Europe means less integration, therefore no loss in sovereignty.

However there are points which suggest that the two party’s policies on the EU are not as similar as it originally seems. One of the arguments which suggest that Labour and Conservatives have very different ideologies about the EU is both their stance and rhetoric about the EU. Conservatives argue that the EU is a threat to British sovereignty and identity and recently there have been talks within the conservative party that they want to retrieve some of the sovereignty that has been lost or given up by previous governments. Therefore the conservative’s rhetoric is very much about The EU being a threat; therefore their tone towards the EU is very negative. Where as Labour’s tone has been a lot of positive towards the EU, Blair and Brown have both talked about Britain being at the heart of Europe, this therefore suggests that Labour believe Europe has played a vital role in the lives of the British people and Britain should have an active role in the growth of Europe. Therefore unlike the Conservatives their rhetoric is very much a positive one in regards to the EU.

Another major difference between the two parties is their opinion on the euro. Traditionally Labour have been cautiously in favour of the Euro, where as the Conservatives from the very beginning have been very much against the Euro and have said under no conservative government will Britain ever join the Euro. This is because joining the Euro will mean giving up sovereignty, particularly economic sovereignty, which no Conservative will be willing to do. However Labour during Labour’s thirteen years in power not once did they hold a referendum on Britain joining the Euro, because it will have denitrified that there were key divisions with in the party which would have made them as a government look unstable in the eyes of the electorates resulting in them perhaps loosing supporters. However Labour’s polices in the past have suggested that they have cautiously been in favour it, when Brown came into power however Labour’s views started tending more towards anti-Euro but historically and generally speaking Labour have always been cautiously optimistic about the Euro.

A last difference is that both parties had different views and opinion about the Lisbon treaty. When Labour signed the treaty they insisted that all the treaty was, was a tiding up exercise it was simply making the powers the different institutions with in the EU had more clear. It was also ensuring that the decision making mechanism was easier in regards to other countries joining in the future. Conservatives however argued that this tiding up exercise has meant that Britain has had to give up more sovereignty and eventually it would lead to Britain signing the Fundamental Charter of Human rights, therefore where the Human Rights Act in Britain can be changed simply by changing a legislation the European Charter of Rights will be more fixed hence harder to change, but still applicable to the British parliament.

Although there are fundamental differences between the two parties in regards to the EU, the similarities seem to out weigh the differences. Both parties agree on points that have the potential to change the complete structure of the UK, like the idea of a federal Europe. It is essential that both parties are able to agree on these larger and more vital points as an united front is likely to be a lot more effective on an EU level and is perhaps likely to have a greater impact when it comes to making the decisions. Also both parties agree with working with the country’s best interest in mind which is an essential element in a democracy, due to the fact that the government is directly accountable to the public therefore the decisions they make should reflect public’s opinion.

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