UK vs. EU … The Background
by Mustang (Our man on the beat in the UK)
The entire history of Great Britain is one involving conflict. First among the early British tribes, and then with its many invaders, which history suggests began with Celts long before the Romans in 55 BC, and then continued with Germanic tribes, Vikings, Normans, the French, various combinations or alliances of these, and that all of these ended up becoming British. The official language of the British sovereign was, for much of this history, either French or German.
Today’s royal family name is Mountbatten-Windsor, a derivative of two traditions: Battenberg, from Princess Alice of Battenberg, wife of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, who were the parents of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Windsor, which is the name of the royal dynasty established in 1917.
Despite the roots of the royal family, hostilities have clouded Britain’s view of Europe throughout its long history, and there is little doubt that this favor has been returned in full measure by Europeans. In modern politics, French and German interests appear to go out of their way to block British intentions at every turn.
Resentment, perhaps? In World War II, Britain stood alone as the British people faced an overwhelming Nazi war machine and would not succumb. This singular event, particularly following World War I, may have led to the British to conclude that the United Kingdom is its own best friend —that if anyone can be relied upon as an ally, it must be the United States of America.
The face-off between the United Kingdom and Europe continues. Is this because Britain is an island nation, one that has over so many years developed an arms-length attitude toward Europe? Given the amount of European tourism that originates in Great Britain, and the number of British citizens who now live in Europe (estimated at 1.5 million), the answer is probably not entirely. But I do think the British enjoy their relative isolation and that most British do not wish to have close ties with the Europeans. Maybe this attitude results from the days of the British Empire, when the British dictated the terms of relationships rather than considering the directives of others.
In any case, the British and most of Europe faced devastating rebuilding challenges after 1945.
The formation of the European Union had at its beginnings a desire to bind European nations so tightly together that another world war would be unlikely. Then Prime Minister Winston Churchill agreed with this thinking. He proposed for Europe “a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety, and in freedom … a kind of United States of Europe.” The first step toward this goal was in the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, formed in 1951. Although invited to join the six-member founding nations, Great Britain declined.
A few years later, under the financial stagnation of Harold Macmillan’s government, Britain’s parliament recognized that both France and Germany were experiencing the beginning of a strong post-war economy and had formed a strong political alliance. Great Britain wanted in. French President Charles De Gaulle vetoed two British applications for membership —De Gaulle having accused the British of having an abiding hostility toward Europe. He must have forgotten the substantial contributions the British made to European liberty in two world wars.
De Gaulle also did not like the fact that the British and Americans had formed a close relationship. In any case, even if the British had selfish motivations for joining the EEC, this was the entire purpose of the EEC to begin with … which is to say, gaining mutual benefits from an economic alliance. Besides, while true that the British and Europeans were at each other’s throats over a period of several hundred years, the British and Europeans have also found opportunities for political and economic agreement.
It would be an understatement to suggest that Charles De Gaulle was no friend of the British. Among several foundations for his apparent animosity, he claimed that during his exile to England during World War II, the British treated him shabbily. At a press conference in 1969, De Gaulle said:
“England in effect is insular, she is maritime, she is linked through her exchanges, her markets, her supply lines to the most diverse and often the most distant countries; she pursues essentially industrial and commercial activities, and only slight agricultural ones. She has in her doings very marked and very original habits and traditions. The question is, whether Great Britain can now place herself like the Continent and with it inside a tariff which is genuinely common, to renounce all Commonwealth preferences, to cease any pretense that her agriculture be privileged, and, more than that, to treat her engagements with other countries of the free trade area as null and void —that question is the whole question.”
Even though the British Commonwealth today isn’t what it was in 1969, De Gaulle’s attitude toward Britain prevails today within the European Community. Thus, we able to see that even at the start of this relationship, the UK-EU were always going to have a rocky relationship. In trying to understand the foundations for these difficulties, we must recognize that France (embarrassed as it should be over the loss of its Empire and dismal defense of its own country during World War II), found new opportunities for leadership (or what passes for leadership in France) within the European Economic Community.
Germany was happy to partner with France, either owing to its guilt about World War II, or its ability to game Charles De Gaulle for their own purposes. Whatever the reasons, the EEC finally did extend the hand of friendship to the UK, and in 1973 British Prime Minister Edward Heath was happy to lead his people down the road of romantic idealism.
This concludes Part One. The conclusion tomorrow.
Mustang has other great reads over at his two blogs – Thoughts from Afar
with Old West Tales and Fix Bayonets