We are going to study the Bruges speech and examine its influence on Britain’s relations with Europe and its impact on eurosceptism after the Speech and today. It is a speech delivered by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in September 1988 on the subject of Britain’s relations with Europe. It is important to put forward the fact that the Bruges Speech, written in 1988, was written in a period ofdynamism concerning Europe: indeed this period is situated just after the signature of the Single European Act (1986) and just before the Maastricht Treaty (1992).
First of all, we shall look at Thatcher’s vision of Europe and the role Great Britain is supposed to have in Europe according to her.
Here we are in fact dealing with thatcherism. According to Thatcher, Europe should not be restrictedto the European Community “the dictates of some abstract intellectual concept” which is only a practical mean. Indeed, Europe has existed for a long time and for her the idea put forward by the signatories of the treaty of Rome it is not new. Therefore Europe should not be deemed as an institution but should rather be defined as a combination of each nation’s history. By using this vision ofEurope and highlighting the importance of history, Thatcher insists on Britain’s specificity “But we British have in a very special way contributed to Europe”. Even though she bears in mind that Britain has benefited from the history of Europe, Thatcher believes that this relation is reciprocal. She illustrates her arguments by putting forward the example of the Magna Charter such as Britain’sinvolvement in the two world Wars. By doing this, she wishes to prove Britain’s commitment to Europe’s future but above all that Britain has a specific role in Europe. Britain has been a historical model and therefore Europe should copy Britain in the European construction. Margaret Thatcher sets out principles for the future of Europe which will be the key to its success. One key principle isindependence. According to Thatcher, the concept of supranationality is detrimental to each country. Indeed, she does not want European power to be centralized in Brussels but she highly insists on the sovereignty of each nation. It is vital for each nation-state to preserve its own parliamentary powers, traditions and identity. For Thatcher, dispersing power is essential if one does not want to beconfronted to a situation such as experienced in the Soviet Union. Her other principle consists in “practical change”, which is reducing the agricultural budget and more exactly reducing Britain’s contribution (cf. 1979 “I want my money back”). The other major principle pointed out is the importance of economic liberalism, which therefore leads to the will of reducing the government’s intervention andthe abolition of barriers and the free movement of goods, capital etc. (represented by the signature of the Maastricht treaty in 1992). Once again, Thatcher insists on the fact that Britain has lead the way and represents a model for the others: regarding monetary matters, Britain has already claimed for free movement of capital and abolished exchange controls in 1979 (although she points thatfrontier controls cannot be totally abolished in the name of security). Last but not least, her will to ensure Europe’s defence through NATO is firm. Europe must contribute to the defense of the West.
Furthermore, we will analyze more deeply this thatcherite point of view which represents eurosceptism, which in fact also shows the ambiguous nature of Britain’s relations with Europe and which helpsus understand Britain’s position today. In the Bruges Speech, Margareth Thatcher does not only “deliver” her vision of Europe but she also responds to president of European Commission Jacques Delors’ reading of the Single European Act (1986). Whereas she reads the SEA as an end in itself, Jacques Delors and others consider the SEA as a means to its end which is in fact not only economic but also...
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