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  Euroskepticism in Western Europe: the British EU- skepticism (1)

Kristina Puleikytë
2007 02 22

http://www.dbooth.net/photos/london/images/london17.jpgEuroskepticism cannot be identified as an apparent indiscrete ideology, since the rhetoric of Euroskeptics and ideas in various countries are different. This skepticism is mostly related to the pursuit of sustainability of the national state sovereignty.

The United Kingdom, which refused to introduce single currency Euro and become one of the parties of the Shengen Treaty, is also attributed to the „major Euroskeptics“. The key arguments of the British Euroskepticism are: the balanced tax system, social policy, single currency, extension of powers of the European Commission in the spheres of justice and internal policy, lack of democracy in the EU institutions and, finally, the Constitutional Treaty for Europe.  Certain British Euro-skeptics declare the primacy of their institutions, traditions and methods over other states and highlight that the adjustment to other EU states would be culturally indiscreet.  Euroskeptics are afraid that the EU might become a super-state and destroy sovereignty of Great Britain (GB).

Formerly W.Churchill indicated three international spheres of interest of Great Britain: empire and confederacy of former British colonies, Europe and the United States. The United States had become then a priority.  Besides, London tried to maintain relations with the liberated colonies. Until now one of the key aims of Great Britain is to make use of cultural and social relations with them in its policy and economy. Europe is not so important in the British policy.

In 1961, when it became clear that Great Britain will not become the third power alongside the USSR and the United States, London started negotiations with the European Community (EC) on the membership in the EU; however, only in 1973 Great Britain has become a full member of the European Community.  The opposite Labor Party did not approve this integration, and the ones who approved, argued that the EC will be exceptionally a trade (commercial) organization. Straight after joining the EC, debates on Euro-skepticism have become for the British one of the key political problems. Skepticism in 1975 encouraged the then Labor Government to organize a referendum on the membership: 64,5 of the British confirmed the necessity of membership in the EC.

Internally the range of attitudes on the EU  in the key parties – Labor and Conservatives – is very wide, however, the majority of members of the Conservative Party are Euro-skeptics, meanwhile members of the Labor Party are considered as Eurocentrists.

Euroskepticism has shown up among the Conservatives when they realized that the EC was not any more a trade organization. Meanwhile the Labor Party mitigated its rhetoric and position in terms of the EU. The current Labor Government executes quite a pro-European policy, and certain actions of Prime Minister provoke criticism of Euroskeptics. They criticized the Prime Minister for the proposals of Great Britain on the common energy policy issues and endorsement of the European Commission’s report, encouraging a better co-ordination of tax policy between the EU Member States. In response to that, T.Blair expressed his conviction that Great Britain can cope with globalization and terrorism challenges only subject to unified efforts with other EU Member States. There are also extremely Euroskeptical parties in Great Britain. One of them – the Independence Party of the United Kingdom, established in 1993. Then one of the objectives of this party was to prevent from ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, meanwhile currently the Party speaks up for the secession of Great Britain from the EU. In 2004, the Party received 16% of votes in the elections to the European Parliament and got 12 seats in the Parliament.

Great Britain Press, especially the yellow press has been criticizing the EU very sharply. The majority of newspapers are Euroskeptical and publish critical articles in respect of the EU and its politicians.  The Sun, which has been shouting against introduction of Euro, wrote in one of its editorials: „Euro means the handover of our lives, our futures and citizens of our state to the non-democratic and corrupted group of the left clerks in Belgium. Meanwhile Financial Times was and still is one of few British newspapers upholding the pro-European policy.

The recent inquiries show that citizens of Great Britain are against introduction of Euro and feel insufficiently informed on the integration processes inside the EU; however they do not seek the secession from the EU. After Germany, Great Britain is the biggest donor of the EU‘s budget. Majority of citizens of the country consider lack of democracy as the essential characteristics of the EU rather than the main defect of the institutional framework. For many of them the EU economic model is also unacceptable and is considered as an out-of-the date model. Even certain business representatives of Great Britain are of the opinion that the EU impedes economic development. That is why the British are against any EU’s attempts to consolidate regulation in the sphere of social, internal or justice police. The British are especially sensitive in terms of the tax system issues.

The British Euroskepticism is fostered not only by economic reasons, but also by the fear of getting deprived of the British identity and oneness. The British identity is predetermined by the historical past – Great Britain was a metropoly and maintained close relations with its colonies. These imperial past and long-term relations with non-European states have historically formed the sense of their separateness from Europe.

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