Uneasy Allies: British-German Relations and European Integration since 1945

By Klaus Larres; Elizabeth Meehan | Go to book overview

11
The Creation of the Single Market and
Britain’s Withdrawal from the EMS

IAIN BEGG AND MICHAEL WOOD

Britain’s uneasy relations with its EU partners, especially Germany and France, have noticeably improved since the election of the Labour government in May 1997. The subsequent decision by Britain to forego entry into the European Monetary Union (EMU) in the first wave has, apparently, been accepted without acrimony by the other member states, and British support for European employment initiatives, and its adoption of the social chapter have been welcomed. All of this suggests that what has often been a fractious relationship is in one of its more constructive phases.

There have, however, also been dire periods when antagonism to Europe has been pervasive. British ambivalence about the EU is captured in the possibly apocryphal comments attributed to Russell Bretherton, the Board of Trade representative at the 1955 Messina conference which paved the way for the Treaty of Rome. His words on leaving the meeting early are said to have been:

I leave Messina happy, because even if you keep on meeting you will not agree,
if you agree nothing will result, and if anything results it will be a disaster.1

Two recent episodes in European integration exemplify the ups and downs in Britain’s links with its EC/EU partners. The first is the single market, now widely seen as a successful initiative that helped to overturn the ‘eurosclerosis’ of the early 1980s. The intellectual inspiration for this chimed with the market-orientated approach of the Thatcher government and one of the key figures in promoting it was the British Commissioner, Lord Cockfield. Although 20/20 hindsight has engendered some disquiet about the loss of sovereignty consequent upon the Single European Act, the single market continues to be seen in a positive light.

Iain Begg would like to express his gratitude to the ESRC for financial support for researching this chapter.

1 Sir William Nicoll claims to have traced the statement not to Bretherton but to the French delegate Deniaud (reported in the European Business Journal 7/3 (1995), 63).

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