Cover story of the June issue of “The World of ABC Economics”. Click HERE to download your free copy
Massimo Morelli reports.
Everything started 43 years ago when the United Kingdom joined what was then the European Economic Community (EEC). The membership application to this exclusive club of nations was far from being a cake walk.
The process started at the beginning of the sixties but stumbled twice when the then French President, Charles De Gaulle, vetoed the application in 1963 and in 1967.
In De Gaulle’s own words: “England in effect is insular, she is maritime, she is linked through her exchanges, her markets, her supply lines to the most diverse and the most distant countries, she pursues essentially industrial and commercial activities, and only slight agricultural ones. She has in all her doings very marked and very original habits and traditions.”
The French opposition to the UK joining the common market was not only economic; it was also cultural, political and strategic. The Élysée was trying to shape the European Community the French way and the old war ally had different views with regard to defence, agriculture and integration.
Both countries were at the end of their imperial experience. De Gaulle was smart to realise that his nation’s delusions of grandeur could be only achieved by leading the process of European integration.
On the other side of the Channel, the United Kingdom tried to juggle around the Three Circles model – namely the Special Relationship with the United States, the relationship with the former colonies through the Commonwealth and, finally, the relationship with the European Continent – before understanding that joining forces with Europe was the only way forward.
But it was too late. Britain missed the boat in becoming a founder member in 1957 when France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy signed the Treaty of Rome giving birth to the European Economic Community. Negotiations resumed in 1969 following De Gaulle’s departure from the political arena. Great Britain joined the EEC in 1973 along with Denmark and the Republic of Ireland.
Throughout all these years, Britain has long been seen as that of the awkward partner of Europe. The UK has built this reputation through countless renegotiations of the treaties and budgetary agreements.
Taking everything into account, the UK has also benefited from the free movement of goods, services, capital and people in terms of boosted trade, economic growth in addition to gaining from EU directives and regulations with regard to employment rights, health and safety, and environmental laws.
A lot of Eurosceptic commentators in the UK are asking today what the EU has done for the Britain. What if we switch the viewpoint and ask ourselves what has Britain actually done for the EU?
The United Kingdom contributed to enriching the European Community Law and Jurisprudence by introducing key elements of English Common Law such as estoppel – a group of legal doctrines in common law legal systems whereby a person is prevented from asserting certain matters before the court to prevent injustice.
Westminster also provided the European Institutions with excellent Civil Servants who helped to shape the future of the European Union. For example, the father of Brexit campaigner and former London Mayor Boris Johnson, was one of the authors of the world’s most advanced environmental legislation namely the Habitat Directive.
But Europe and Britain have changed significantly from the 1970’s, with the UK wanting to defend their sovereignty against the creation of a EU super state and the EU suffering from a democratic deficit with banks and corporate powers being more influential than citizens.
It was inevitable that the relationship between Britain and the EU would have reached another crisis. Its resolution is now in the hands of the British people who on the 23rd of June they will decide whether to stay and change things from within or start a new era outside Europe.