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Britain has often been perceived as Europes awkward partner, a thesis coined by Stephen

George in his book, An Awkward Partner: Britain in the European Community. The awkward
partner thesis can be summarised in four main points. To enumerate, Britains awkwardness has
derived from domestic constraints; difficulties in both European negotiation and economic
integration, and lastly, from Britains association with the Commonwealth and the prioritization
of the special relationship with the USA that have served as a partial barrier in its performance
on the European level (Pinpointpolitics.co.uk, 2012). Liberalism is a theory of both governments
within states and good governance between states and people worldwide. Unlike realism, which
regards the international as an anarchic realm, liberalism seeks to project the values of order,
liberty and justice into international relations (Baylis et al., 2011).The purpose of this essay is to
assess, to what extent, from both theories of world politics, Britain has been the awkward
partner in its approach to European integration. After first considering the origins of European
integration, and Britains attitude to it,and comparing this to a later time period an overall
conclusion will be given.
The origins of European integration date back to the end of the WWII.The Schumann Plan
(1950) sought to preserve peace between France and Germany, whose antagonism contributed to
the outbreak of both World Wars (Leach and Coxall et al., 2011: 267). The earliest form of
integration was the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which was formed in 1952 by
the Sixcountries. This was a supranational body with its own policy-making authority, budget
and law. It differed from intergovernmental bodies in which states cooperated voluntarily and
could veto proposals (Lynch et al., 2010). The Treaty of Rome inaugurated in 1957 the European
Economic Community (EEC) which established Euroatom and agreed a Common Agricultural
Policy (CAP)that was removing an internal tariff barrier and establishing a common external
tariff(Leach and Coxall et al., 2011: 267-8).The 1965 Merger Treaty brought together the
existing bodies to form the European Community (EC) (Lynch et al., 2010).
The British Government refused to become involved in the EEC negotiation on the grounds that
joining a supranational organization would endanger national sovereignty (Bentley, 2004).There
were a number of reasons for Britains decision not to join. The geographical separation from
mainland Europe prevented it from being subject to conquest. In addition, Britain still had
trading links with former colonies. And third, the British Government believed in a special
relationship with USA (Bentley, 2004).Although Churchill called for a kind of United States of
Europe it was specified that Britain would be among the friends of the new Europe rather than
an integral part of it. Thus, UK did not join ECSC nor ECC (Leach and Coxall et al., 2011: 268).
Indeed, the British Government took the lead in establishing the European Free Trade
Association (EFTA) in order to dismantle barriers to trade between members and to provide a
base from which to negotiate with the EEC over the creation of a single European
Market(Bentley, 2004).

Attitudes to what in the UK was called the Common Market gradually changed amongst
leading politicians due to growing anxiety about the Britains loss of great power status caused
by the 1956 Suez Crisis. Macmillans Conservative Government followed by Wilsons Labour
Government attempts to join the EEC were both vetoed in 1963 and respectively 1967 by de
Gaulle (Heywood, 2011).The Treaty of Accession was signed in 1973 after de Gaulle retired and
the British Government under Heath was able to negotiate its entry into the EEC (Bentley,
2004).When Britain joined the EEC, it was confronted by a number of problems which marked a
new turning point in its approach to European integration. One, most British politicians did not
share the euro-enthusiastic vision of a European superstate. The first example is the return of
Labour government under Wilson, which in 1974 pledged a renegotiation of the terms of entry
and a referendum in 1975 resulting in 67% votes for staying in. A second, Britain had to sign up
existing regulations designed by others countries to meet their needs (Bentley, 2004). A third,
Britain contribution to EEC funds was particularly high because its considerable trading links
with non-EEC countries were penalized. Moreover, Britain did not benefit from the CAP since
its agricultural sector was highly efficient (Bentley, 2004). There was also a self-perception of
superiority, as Morris (in Young, 1999: 24) has put it, they believed that they above all their
Allies, had won the war. They saw themselves, like their grandfathers, as a senior and superior
race.
Britains reluctance remained under Collaghan due to the domestic factors such as a small
parliamentary majority and also international factors which were seen as a better alternative
(Bentley, 2004). Margaret Thatcher, who became Prime Minister in 1979, openly expressed her
very negative attitude towards the EEC because Britains high contribution to the budged. The
long and acrimonious battle over Britains contribution was not settled until 1984 when a rebate
was agreed The period of Thatchers service was marked by an increasing political isolation of
Britain from Europe. She was ardently against complete economic, political and social
integration(George, 1998).The Single European Act (SEA), which envisaged an unrestricted flow
of goods, services and people was passed by Tatcher in 1986 on the grounds that a free, single
market would mean greater deregulation and less governmental intervention. On the other hand,
other European leaders interpreted the SEA as a call for the harmonisation of other economic
aspects (Bentley, 2004). According to Geroge (1998: 191) France and Germany argued that
European Monetary System needed to be strengthened by the creation of a European central
bank, and by moves to establish a common currency of the Community. Even so, Thatcher
agreed to UK entry to the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in 1990. Later on, her rejection of
the social dimension being promoted with the EEC led to a leadership contest, which, in turn,
led to Thatchers downfall (Bentley, 2004: 227).
There was a widespread expectation that Majors election would bring a conciliatory stance
towards Europe after the megaphone diplomacy of the Thatcher years(Bentley, 2004: 229).
However, Eurosceptism reached its peak due to the government small majority that has placed
considerable power into the hands of Eurosceptics on the Conservative backbenches (Bentley,

2004: 229). Meanwhile, in ratifying Maastricht Treaty several key features were established by
the member states: a European Union, comprising of the existing EC and other two
intergovernmental pillars; EMU, with a single currency for states meeting convergence criteria
and the principle of subsidiarity (Lynch et al., 2010: 314). Different from other states British
government vehemently opposed the use of the world federal in the text of the Treaty because
the eventual super-state centralized in Brussels would limit its sovereign authority(Bentley,
2004).Major assured a more cooperative approach and presented the Maastrict Treaty as a good
deal for Britain, given the opt-outs on EMU and the Social Chapterwhich extended cooperation
in social policy buy could also impose costs on British employers (Heywood, 2011). Major
maintained his wait and see policy, but struggled to hold pro-European wing of the
Conservative Party and the Eurosceptics wing for whom adopting the euro would represent the
ultimate loss of sovereignty, namely loss of formal control over economic policy since interest
rates would be e set at European level (Bentley, 2004; Lynch et al., 2010: 330).
Tony Blair came to power 1997 with a more embracing attitude towards the European Union.
Labour government was keen for Britain to be seen at the centre of Europe, rather than at the
margins and quickly signed up to the Social Chapter (Lynch et al., 2010). However, hostility
toward Europe among the British people and divisions in political parties meant that Blair had to
take a cautious route that continued Britains reluctance but also more conciliatory. In the
Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon treaties, Blair accepted an extension of QMW but preserved the
veto on issues of vital national interest such as taxation and defence. While he insisted to join
the Euro, Brown, sounded a more cautious note similar with Majors wait and see policy that
consisted in five tests for joining the single currency (Lynch et al., 2010: 330). The Britons
support for EU membership in 1988 was 36%, compared with the EU average of 49%(Bentley,
2004: 234). Similarly, in European election the UK Independence Party, won three seats in the
1999, making it the fourth largest party (Bentley, 2004). Blair was forced to agree to a
referendum to be held in 2006 over a new European constitution. It can be said that, France and
Netherlands had at least the same awkward stance by rejecting the constitution in a referendum
held a year before(Leach and Coxall et al., 2011).
The Lisabon Treaty, the successor to the Constitutional Treaty, was agreed in 2007. The
Conservatives under Cameron requested a referendum on this treaty, but Brown disagreed and
the UK parliament ratified the treaty in 2009(Leach and Coxall et al., 2011). The Eurozone crisis
prompted the EU to move towards fiscal union. The old tensions between Britains relationship
with Europe had re-emerged in 2012 when Cameron vetoed plans for an EU treaty on fiscal
union(Lynch et al., 2010).In his January speech, Cameron has been forced to take a stronger
stance on Europe. He promised that he will re-negotiate a better deal from Brussels setting out a
vision for a more flexible, adaptable and open relationship between all members (BBC News,
2014). However, hepledged an in-out referendum on EU membership in the first half of the next
parliament arguing that democratic consent for membership is currently wafer thin(Waterfield,
2013).On the other hand, Miliband argued that Labour will go into the next election, backing an

EU referendum only if the government wants to sanction power transfer to Brussels(Wintour,


2014). Regarding other state stance, Merkel agree on the urgent need to make Europe more
competitive and flexible (BBC News, 2014). Hollande (cited in Telegraph.co.uk, 2014) put
France in an awkward position by stating that revising the treaty is not a priority at the moment.
Overall, from a realist point of view, Britains approach to European integration can be judged as
not being awkward because behind every decision it was the reason to reverse the transfers of
sovereignty which often brought political costs rather than benefits. On the other hand, from a
liberal point of view, Britain awkwardness has fluctuated in comparison with other member
states. There are numerous reasons which render British membership in the Union problematic.
As a former imperial power, the UK found it particularly difficult to adjust and narrow its
political interest only to Europe. Being a latecomer in the Community, Britain had to
accommodate itself to the already established policies and rules, some of which directly
conflicted with the basic principles upon which the British Constitution is based. Antagonism
with France and affiliation with America are additional issues. Furthermore, the fact that the UK
joined the Community only for economic reasons at an economically difficult time resulted in
popular discontent. However, not only is the population dissatisfied, but also this disillusionment
and division are mirrored by the political elite. From 1979 until 1997 Conservative Governments
contributed to a high level of British isolation in the Community. Blairs Government
demonstrated keen interest for close links to the USA, which at some points seemed to exceed
those with the EU. However, Labour Governments have generally shown much more interest in
Europe and British membership.

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