Year XXVI, 1984, Number 3 - Page 212
BRITAIN WITHIN THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC COMMUNITY: THE WAY FORWARD
While the process of constructing the European Union following the approval of the Draft Treaty by the European Parliament has reached the stage of inter-governmental collaboration with the Dooge Committee, once again there is the feeling that Great Britain may well be a significant braking factor, because, if British consensus is to be gained, almost inevitably the innovative content of the Draft Treaty will be significantly diluted, thus risking the loss of the “political and institutional minimum” needed to guarantee the Community’s effective control over the European economy.
But we need to recall that in the past things have often been different. Without going back to the inter-war period, when Federal Union represented the federalist avant-garde,  we may recall that in the period following the Second World War, when American policy came to favour European unity, the need for Europe’s autonomy was voiced by Churchill who at that time spoke in Europe’s name, who even launched the idea of a European army, and who guaranteed a certain European spirit to a policy decided outside Europe, in North America. But when in the subsequent phase of the process, the problem of introducing Germany into the Atlantic alliance and the European economic system, and membership of the ECSC and EDC was offered to Britain, who had stayed in the ‘game’ during the previous phase, Britain refused to bow to supranational ties of too cogent a nature, and the start to the effective economic unification was made without the British. Subsequently, after her late entry into the Common Market, Britain did not return to the position of leadership in the process which she had previously enjoyed.
I t is therefore highly significant that in this phase, which is decisive for the future role that Britain will be able to play in Europe, two books have appeared, Britain and the EEC edited by Roy Jenkins and Britain Within the European Community: The Way Forward edited by A. El-Agraa, both of which open up a profound debate on British membership of the Community and on the reasons. for the diffuse reticence on the subject among the public and the political class in Britain.
Northedge identifies five factors which may justify this attitude: “Firstly, for two centuries at least Britain has been the thalassic, maritime, sea-going power par excellence, protecting its scattered empire and worldwide trade by a navy equal (until 1921) to the two next biggest navies in the world combined. The British had interests as a premier naval power and trader too extensive for them to be cabined and confined in Europe (...). Secondly, for as long as British folk-memory went back, governments at Westminster had worked for disunity in Europe, not unity. The traditional British policy towards Europe, natural to a small island anchored off a politically turbulent continent, was the balance of power, or the organisation of international coalitions against the most threatening state of the day, the France of Louis XIV and Napoleon, the Germany of the Kaiser and Hitler. The unification of Europe could never be a project dear to British hearts because a united Europe would be able to disarm on land and invest the resulting savings in sea power, which would bring the independence of Britain into question (...). The fact that since 1918 so many schemes of European unification had their origins in France is a third reason for Britain’s lack of enthusiasm about them (...). Fourthly, Britain embarked at the end of the Second World War on a programme of social and economic reconstruction (...) . Reconstruction involved the creation of a new social service system to shield the unemployed, the sick and other victims of social misfortune, the maintenance of full employment and the taking into public ownership of key sectors of the economy as a means of fulfilling these objectives (...). Finally, there was the question of sovereignty. The British have found it harder than most people to accept the idea of the divisibility of sovereignty, parts of it remaining at home, parts being signed away to other authorities in Brussels or elsewhere".
Britain’s special role has been clearly stated by Dehio, who clarifies how the history of the European system of states, from Charles V to the Second World War, was characterised by a continuous alternation of phases of equilibrium and attempts at hegemony, which have always been frustrated by a coalition of states threatened in their independence by the hegemonic power. In this coalition, a decisive role was played by Britain who, as an insular power, was able to guarantee her absolute security by her sizeable fleet, without having to resort to a standing army or administrative centralisation, the main instruments with which the absolute state was constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Britain was thus able to develop the liberal revolution fully, but to this end it repeatedly had to fight against the strongest power on the Continent, and in particular against France.
As regards the fourth reason given by Northedge, it is true that in Britain the construction of the Welfare State has developed more rapidly than on the Continent. It is also true that the dominating philosophy of the Treaty of Rome is substantially laisser-faire orientated. But from this it does not follow that with the Draft Treaty for European Union a downward levelling out of social achievements of a particular member state need take place. In actual fact, with the construction of the European Union, provided with effective powers in the economic and monetary fields, a completely new situation would arise as regards modern states, since the typical policies of the Welfare Stale, health, education, protection of the unemployed, the old and disabled, would be the responsibility of the lower levels of government (the member states), while the Union would be responsible for defining the economic policy guidelines (the European development plan) and for implementing a redistribution of resources to smooth out the weaker areas’ handicap. Within the Union, divergent plans for social welfare would be perfectly compatible and, indeed, every state should finance its own system with national taxes. In this way, it would be possible to revamp welfare policies which have deteriorated due to the fact that to gain votes the political class can increase public services by financing the deficit through an increase in the money supply, without increasing taxes. At the same time, the citizens of the Union, voting with the feet, could choose the country whose social welfare system and tax levels correspond more satisfactorily to their own preferences, thus introducing the competitive conditions typical of the federal state.
Finally, as regards the dogma of the intangibility of absolute sovereignty of the state, it is clear that it can be easily overcome in those countries where sovereignty “was at one time or another sequestrated in the course of the Second World War. Once sovereignty has been lost, it is not too hard to get accustomed to the idea of losing it again. Britain, on the other hand, remained a virgo intacta throughout the Second World War”. Tt is here that light is thrown implicitly on the unity factor which Albertini called ‘the decline of national sovereignty’ and which is expressed in the fact that European countries are no longer able to face up effectively to two basic tasks of any state: promoting economic development and guaranteeing citizens’ security.
In fact, European states are unable to provide their own defence autonomously and have resorted to American protection within the Atlantic alliance. But “positive theories of alliance predict that the members have an incentive to cease providing the collective good before the socially desirable output of the collective good can be achieved by substituting a union for an alliance. In this way, the various parts of the union can be required to contribute the amounts needed by their common interests. At the EC level, the analysis implies that a European political union is a means of achieving the optimal amount of European defence”. On this basis, Hartley maintains the ineffectiveness of any attempt to achieve an optimal defence structure at a European level using a confederal model. “Without a central defence decision-making agency to represent Community collective security, the EC’s efforts to redistribute military burdens would be unlikely to change the incentives for each member to select the combination of expenditure and forces which maximises its national benefits”. Progress can only be made by standardising armaments, which on the one hand would reduce the overall cost of defence significantly (in a study quoted by Hartley it was estimated that the duplication of efforts in the military sector in European countries costs 4.4 thousand million dollars, at 1975 prices) and, on the other hand, would be a strong incentive for the technological development of European industry. But even this objective is not easily achievable, because “proposals for an EC procurement agency imply a degree of political union which is only likely to be attained in the long run”.
Even though the problems of foreign policy and defence are not part of the Community’s responsibilities under the Treaty of Rome, over a period of time a praxis has grown up regarding the co-ordination of the European countries’ activity in these sectors within the so-called political co-operation. But “the European Political Cooperation (EPC) system is still very far from having entered effectively into the vital area of foreign policy represented by military defence and security affairs”. And, more generally, as Morgan points out, “Political Cooperation, despite its ambitious title, remains essentially a system of diplomatic coordination between Western Europe’s ministries of foreign affairs ( ... ) and goes only a very short way towards the ambitious objective of creating a ‘European Union’ which the governments of the Community set themselves in 1972”.
And in fact the European Union, which the decline of national sovereignty makes historically possible, has not not yet been achieved, even though the attempt to found it is currently under way as a result of the European Parliament’s initiative. And the absence of a de facto Union is the basic reason why the Community’s policies are inadequate in promoting economic development and guaranteeing an end to the growing gap between Europe on the one hand, and the United States and Japan on the other. Hence the need for these policies to be discussed in Britain too, in such a way that the adverse and positive aspects stand out, even though positive aspects are often under-estimated.
The general conclusion that emerges from this debate is that, although seen from a strictly British standpoint, new policies need to be pursued in Europe and incisive reforms of existing policies must be pursued. Indeed, “he member countries will be unable to bring stagflation under control and restore their economies to price stability with full employment and healthy growth unless they provide the Community with substantial instruments such as the proposed Reserve Fund and adequate funds for Community industrial policy". The need, in other words, is to achieve economic and monetary Union.
Achieving this objective presupposes the foundation of the European Union, because it is unthinkable that decisions of great significance, which are indispensable to achieve economic and monetary Union, can be adopted without the effective participation of political and social forces and without a sufficient government capacity at the European level. It is therefore right that in Britain, too, the current debate on the reform of common policies be linked increasingly to the as yet under-developed debate on institutional reform. Appropriately, Pinder, after recalling British federalists’ contribution in the forties and after recalling that any federalist theory today ought to show “what minimum of instruments may be required for the management of a Community economy at the present stage of market integration, what minimum of changes in the Community institutions may be necessary to ensure those instruments’ effective use, and what conditions might enable the instruments to be transferred to the Community and the institutional reform to be accomplished”, concludes by saying that “one such condition is clear thinking on the subject. It is to be hoped that British scholars may find it possible to emulate their predecessors of four decades ago in this respect”.
On this point see in this issue of the Review: C. Kimber, Federal Union, pp. 199-205.
Cfr. R. Jenkins (ed.), Britain and the EEC, Macmillan, London, 1983; A.M. El-Agraa (ed.), Britain within the European Community. The Way Forward, Macmillan, London, 1983.
Cfr. F.S. Northedge, Britain and the EEC: Past and Present, in R. Jenkins, cit., p. 20.
Cfr. L. Dehio, Gleichgewicht oder Hegemonie, Sherpe, Krefeld, 1948.
This expression, which indicates how citizens can choose different localities by taking into account decisions apparent in public accounts, was coined by C.M. Tiebout, “A Pure Theory of Local Government Expenditure”, in Journal of Political Economy, October 1956.
Cfr. F.S. Northedge, cit., p. 24.
Cfr. M. Albertini, L’integrazione europea e altri saggi, Il Federalista, Pavia, 1965, p. 89.
Cfr. K. Hartley, EC Defence Policy, in A.M. El-Agraa, cit., p. 306 et seq.
Cfr. R. Morgan, Political Cooperation in Europe, in R. Jenkins, cit., pp. 238-240.
For an effective and analytical assessment of these positive aspects see, in particular: A.M. El-Agraa, Has Membership of the EEC been a Disaster for Britain?, in A.M. El-Agraa, cit., pp. 319 et seq.
Cfr. J. Pinder, History, Politics and Institutions of the EC, in A.M. El-Agraa, cit., p. 37.
Cfr. J. PINDER, The Political Institutions of the EEC: Functions and Future, in R. Jenkins, cit., p. 227.