Member states have joined the EU – with or without the expressed support of their
national populations – in a bid for national advantage. National governments have
concluded that, on balance, their countries would be better placed pooling their
sovereignty and operating inside the Union rather than retaining nominal sovereignty and
operating as free agents outside. The specific arguments for membership have varied
among the twenty-seven states, as has the degree of enthusiasm among ministers and
peoples about belonging to the EU.
In this chapter, we look at the experience of member states according to the stages at
which they joined, ascertaining in the process perceived advantages from and popular
reactions to membership.
Along with Luxembourg and the Netherlands, Belgium had already had some experience of practical cooperation before it became a founder of the ECSC. The three Benelux countries had been involved in a customs union and this encouraged them to work towards wider economic and political harmonisation. In addition, the governments and peoples of each state knew that they could achieve more by working together than they could by acting on their own, particularly in the economic and political arena.
Belgium has been generally supportive of all moves to closer integration in Europe. Paul-Henri Spaak played a leading role in devising the draft treaties. Since then, the country has been responsible for urging the EC forward in many of its initiatives, not least in the run-up to Maastricht.
Lacking as strong a sense of national identity as some other member states, the Belgians have had no problems with federalist notions. They have seen benefits in advancing more swiftly in that direction. That Belgians favour a federal solution is not surprising, given the country’s federal status. They see it as a means of catering for diversity, and of promoting decentralised and effective government. From this perspective, subsidiarity is an inevitable and desirable element of the federal idea.
Belgians have had few fears of EMU, CFSP and majority voting, seeing all of them as part of the general move towards closer integration, a goal which they warmly embrace. In the interpretation of that goal, Belgian governments have been flexible, accepting that it does not by definition mean that all states must proceed at the same pace or commit themselves to every policy initiative.
Politicians of all shades of opinion and people be they Flemish or Walloon all see benefits in European membership, making the relationship of Belgium and Europe what one writer has called ‘a marriage of love and reason’.1