Thatcher and Europe

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Classe(s) : Tle ES - Tle L - Tle S | Thème(s) : Multi-level governance since 1945
Corpus Corpus 2
Thatcher and Europe



Documents Analysis


Margaret Thatcher, Bruges Speech, September 1988

The European Community is one manifestation of that European identity […]. We must never forget that east of the Iron Curtain, peoples who once enjoyed a full share of European culture, freedom and identity have been cut off from their roots. We shall always look on Warsaw, Prague and Budapest as great European cities. Nor should we forget that European values have helped to make the United States of America into the valiant defender of freedom which she has become. The European Community belongs to all its members. It must reflect the traditions and aspirations of all its members. […] The Community is not an end in itself. Nor is it an institutional device to be constantly modified according to the dictates of some abstract intellectual concept. Nor must it be ossified by endless regulation. The European Community is the practical means by which Europe can ensure the future prosperity and security of its people in a world in which there are many other powerful nations and groups of nations. We Europeans cannot afford to waste our energies on internal disputes or arcane institutional debates. They are no substitute for effective action. Europe has to be ready both to contribute in full measure to its own security and to compete commercially and industrially, in a world in which success goes to the countries which encourage individual initiative and enterprise, rather than to those which attempt to diminish them.



[Kind of document and author] This text is a speech delivered by Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1979-1990), in September 1988.

[Public targeted and aim of the document] It was addressed to the College of Europe in Bruges, a small postgraduate body funded by member states but independent of the Community. The Foreign Office had for some time been looking for an opportunity for Margaret Thatcher to make a “positive” speech on Europe. [Historical background] It was written after the signature of the Single European Act (1986) and before the European Community became the European Union under the Maastricht Treaty (1992).


 Firstly, Thatcher presents the British points about the European Community. “We must never forget that east of the Iron Curtain” alludes to the British commitment to enlargement instead of deepening, as an intergovernementalist partisan.

 Margaret Thatcher was enthusiastic about the European single market. She praises it when she wants to “compete commercially and industrially”.

 Secondly, she condemns the way that Jacques Delors, President of the European Commission (1985-1994), led the European policy to federalism. She also opposes his vision of a “social Europe” when she defends “individual initiative and enterprise”.

 She points out the mismatch between Europe’s elites and its peoples in the clauses “the dictates of some abstract intellectual concept” or “arcane institutional debates”.


[Summary of the analysis] In that speech, Margaret Thatcher was still a European partisan but she wanted to produce an alternative to the project of the European Commission.

[Opening] The speech began the transition by which the Conservatives ceased to be “the party of Europe” and moved to Euroscepticism.