by Carmen Sumadiwiria
– The common British dislike towards the European Union –
Although Great Britain is not considered one of the European Union’s founding states, it is one of Europe’s wealthiest countries and benefits immensely from the common market. Nonetheless, many British people are very pessimistic about the institution they committed to. One step towards understanding this mentality requires taking a look at Britain’s history.
Not only is Britain geographically separated from the rest of Europe, it has also always tended towards protectionist policies. Another reason for this is the highly esteemed monarchy in Britain, which creates a great amount of patriotism, which in turn enhances the feeling of detachment and superiority.
In the year of 1952, right after the devastating impacts of World War II, six countries including Germany and France signed a treaty creating the European Coal and Steel community in the hopes of unifying the western European Mainland in order to maintain peace and stability. At this point, Britain did not see any benefits in joining the community and therefore preserved the control over its coal and steel.
The first move towards integration on the side of Britain was initiated 21 years later, when the rivalry and competition against the newly established European Economic Community would have been damaging towards Britain’s economy, leading them to join the EEC.
Even though this might be seen as an improvement in foreign policy, the political move of De Gaulle, who rejected Britain’s application at first in 1963, proved that the Brit’s were less interested in European solidarity as opposed to mere economic benefits. (The newest example for this is Britain’s unwillingness to join the Eurozone which has been put to use since 2002.)
Apart from these market ties which they enthusiastically acknowledge, so called eurosceptics still fear the emergence of a European super state and political infiltration. They furthermore mistrust the intentions of the EU and label it a threat to British sovereignty.
But coming back to the stereotypical one sided interest Britain shows towards the EU, there were some aspects that did provide legitimate ground for debate. For one, the integration of Britain as a member state meant that there were a range of policies and regulations she had to abide by as a condition to entry.
For one, the trading links to the Commonwealth were a disadvantage due to penalties the government had to take into account. This raised Britain’s contribution immensely. Furthermore the agricultural potential was extremely high given the small amount of land they had to submit to. Britain therefore refrained from subsidies that were directed to countries with larger industries, but worse means of production.
Fortunately, after having overcome the negative Connotation when referring to the community, a public referendum in 1974 held by the Labour Party enabled the government to further integrate towards the mainland due to a two-thirds majority in votes which pledged for the membership to the EEC.
A known sceptic that vetoed this movement was the later elected Margaret Thatcher who felt that Britain’s contributions towards the EEC was far too large an investment for much too poor an outcome. Nonetheless she passed and approved, if not entirely, of the Single European Act, which on the one hand promoted higher competences for the European Parliament, but also the deregulation of economic activity. The embrace of the Act was a further great step towards Britain becoming an integral part of the community.
Now that we have analyzed Britain’s European history, we can focus on how Britain currently feels about European policies.
A shocking development can constantly be seen embodied by British press releases. Many popular newspaper editors have chosen to spread fictitious rumours about the EU.
Two of the most nonsensical ones are:
“Clampdown on off-licences”
EU health chiefs are drawing up plans to close thousands of British off-licences… The proposal is said to be part of a drive to curb alcohol abuse across Europe. Other measures include a Monday to Friday ban on off-sales and huge booze price hikes through tax rises. A blueprint masterminded by EU health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou also contains moves to control sales through a state-run monopoly…
The Sun 21 February 2005
“Barmaids protest at probably the silliest directive in the world”
BAVARIAN barmaids are to be forced by a European Union directive to cover up, supposedly to protect them from sun. Brewery owners, politicians and most of the women themselves have condemned the legislation as absurd, claiming the „tan ban“, as it has been nicknamed, will destroy a centuries-old tradition. Bavarian barmaids typically dress in a costume known as a „dirndl“, a dress and apron with a tight, low cut top whose figure-hugging effect is enhanced by a short white blouse. Under the EU’s Optical Radiation Directive, employers of staff who work outdoors, including those in Bavaria’s beer gardens must ensure they cover up against the risk on sunburn. Bavarian bar keepers have been told that the dirndl, generally rather revealing, will have to be replaced as it offers no protection.
The Daily Telegraph 3 August 2005
The press releases these influential newspapers distribute are a common threat to the mental position Britain’s shall take in the future. It is obvious that the EU cannot regulate the use of exposing clothes, neither is it the EU’s intention to raise taxes on alcoholic beverages. These decisions lay in the hands of the local governments, considering the newly implied principal of subsidiarity.
Fortunately, the European Commission has already taken action against these attacks and created a page dedicated to false articles on EU policies.Hopefully, it will contribute to successfully counter-acting the negative perception of British people and leading them towards accepting the EU as a whole, as less a burden than a benefit, and as an institution worth having as much as a monarchy is.