British views on the European project since 1948

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Classe(s) : Tle ES - Tle L - Tle S | Thème(s) : Multi-level governance since 1945
Corpus Corpus 1
British views on the European project since 1948




> timelines and maps, p. I-III & VI

In 1946, the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill pledged for the creation of the “United States of Europe”. Despite this statement, the United Kingdom
always seemed reluctant to this project. Why is the UK
an unenthusiastic European?

1 1948-1961: British reticence to European construction

A The “three circles” theory

In 1948, in a famous speech at a Conservative meeting, Winston Churchill explained that the UK stood at the intersection of three circles. The first circle was the Commonwealth (Empire): British economic policy interests were predominantly oriented towards it. The second one was the transatlantic link, called “special relationship”, with the United States. The last and the least one was Europe.

B No “supranational authority”

 In May 1950, the French government came up with the Schuman plan for a European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). For Britain, it was unacceptable to establish a supranational authority. The British government rejected this proposed organization. Then in 1953, Britain also dismissed* the project of the European Defense Community (EDC).

 From 1955 to 1957, during the negotiations for the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC), Britain tried to enforce* its vision of an intergovernmental structure with economic priorities. But it failed to impose its point of view.

2 1961-1979: the UK joins the European construction

A The end of the “three circles”

 After the Suez crisis in 1956 (>card12), as the USA seemed no longer a special partner for Britain, an obstacle to the UK’s EEC membership disappeared.

 In 1960, the Macmillan government initiated a policy of decolonization. British economic growth could not result from trade with the Commonwealth anymore.

B Three applications to the EEC

 In 1959, Britain and some Scandinavian countries ratified the Stockholm Convention establishing the EFTA (European Free-Trade Association). But, the EFTA was a small market.

 In 1961, Britain formally applied for EEC membership. In 1963 and 1967, the French government (mainly President Charles de Gaulle) prevented the UK from joining the EEC.

 Finally, Britain joined the EEC on January 1st, 1973. The referendum on continued membership in 1975 (the first in British history) produced a two-to-one majority in favor. EEC membership was seen as an economic necessity.

3 Since 1979: Britain shapes Europe

A The Thatcher period (1979-1990): a turning point

 Margaret Thatcher’s election in May 1979 brought a change of style to Britain’s relationship with the EEC. She wanted to shape Europe from her British point of view.

 Her most famous objective was to revise Britain’s contribution to the European budget. In 1984, she succeeded: Britain was granted* an abatement.

quotation “I want my money
back.” M. Thatcher, 1979

 She also actively supported the single market, signing in 1986 the “Single European Act”.

B The British intergovernmental project

Since the 1990s, Britain hasn’t taken part in certain policy areas of the EU, such as the Schengen agreement or the Monetary Union. These opt-out* clauses symbolize British choice for an intergovernmental and only economic involvement.

  • an opt-out = un retrait
  • to dismiss = rejeter
  • to enforce = faire valoir
  • to grant = concéder


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