Britain's Membership in the European Union

  • Britain's Membership in the European Communities and the European Union

    Author: Grzegorz Ronek
    Institution: John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (Poland)
    Year of publication: 2013
    Source: Show
    Pages: 218-243
    DOI Address:
    PDF: ppsy/42/ppsy2013015.pdf

    One of the most important factors affecting British politics is its membership to the European Communities (EC) and latter the European Union (EU), which has already had massive implications for this country. Th e relationship between Britain and Europe has always been problematic. In Britain there has been little enthusiasm for European integration per se, and equally little understanding of the enthusiasm felt on the continent. Europe has been seen as a menace rather than an opportunity and very few British politicians have attempted to argue (as is commonplace on the continent) about monetary union, for instance, it is the only way of regaining control over financial policy. The European idea of pursuing economic integration as a means to political union has also been met with blank incomprehension, if not outright hostility. Britain has always been attempting to slow down the process of integration and, consequently, has often fallen behind and had no choice but to catch up. However, the portrayal of Britain as a “difficult partner” or “laggard leader” in European affairs is only partly justified. Based on its specific understanding of national sovereignty, Britain has developed a much more pragmatic and instrumental approach towards Europe than most of its partners on the continent. Nevertheless, the country was a strong driving force in favor of integration in many crucial policy fields like the single market or trade policy. According to Alan Milward, the process of European integration entails “pooling” the sovereignty in order to protect national interests and extend national governments’ control of their own destinies. In Britain, contrary to the continent, national interests dictated a different line and it was only when exclusion from the Communities appeared to threaten them that the then British government began to accept the need for membership. The very different motivation behind British entry ensured that the British aims inside the Communities would be limited or “defensive”. The most controversial aspect of Britain’s membership of the EC has always related to “erosion” of its sovereignty. 

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