Over the last 30 years Britain has consistently supported the enlargement of the European Union (EU). Both the former Conservative, and the current Labour governments have always presented favourable rhetoric for the ‘widening’ of the EU. This apparent consensus on European policy belies the fractious nature of opinions in Britain over the future of Europe. The rough undercurrents of Britain’s contingent support for the intergovernmental vision of the EU reflects just how complex and protracted the political discourse on Europe has become.
We often refer to ‘Britain’ as a single actor, but references to Britain are simply a convenient abbreviation used to represent the dominant political discourse of the elites, such as the political majority in Westminster or the Civil Servants in Whitehall (George 1994: Preface V). Britain’s policy regarding the future of Europe has been a compromise between at least two conflicting discourses, played out in the British establishment. Over the course of this essay I will explain how these schools of thought have shaped the debate over Britain’s vision of Europe
This essay will proceed in the following steps, first an examination of the eurosceptic narrative. Discussing how the touchstone issue of national sovereignty has stymied support for the European project from its inception, putting British nationalist in opposition to the federal supranational Europe. Second, looking at how Britain, unlike many other continental European nations, has consistently failed to develop a Europeanised national identity, that further exacerbates British exceptionalism. Finally, I argue that the neoliberal position, which has often been in contradiction to the exceptionalist discourse, has led to a compromise, an intergovernmental Europe that supports expansion as a vehicle for the spread of economic and political Liberalism, particularly eastward, into the former Soviet states.
One of the central themes of the EU debate revolves around the issue of national sovereignty. The European project has always involved, to a certain extent, the relinquishing of some national sovereignty, but in trying to persuade Europe’s established nations to cede powers to a European centre, often without the consultation of the general public, has created a growing eurosceptic backlash, a narrative that has been well received in Britain.
Many of Europe’s 'founding fathers' (such as Monnet and Schumann) shared a 'federalist' vision for Europe. They hoped for a European polity which would cooperate for the greater good, above the national divisions that had caused such calamity in the recent past. Convinced in that a strong supranational body, with the ability to make executive decisions, was vital for peace and prosperity that goes beyond what can be achieved with treaties between nations (Ash 2005).
The eurosceptics agree about the value of cooperation in many areas, but see this best achieved through intergovernmental...