Is Britain part of the old or new EU
After being released from the Soviet stranglehold some Eastern European states are reluctant to re-erect limits on state sovereignty in anyway similar to those they just escaped. Klaus is refusing to fly the EU flag over public buildings ‘saying it reminds him of the days when his country was made to fly the Soviet flag’ (Cendrowicz, R. Tue, Dec 30th 2008 p. 14). So what can be said for the UK sitting aside mainland Europe and arguably even more complex than the Eastern European states? What is British state strategy and in those terms where does Britain belong, in the old or the new Europe?
A Clear-cut Understanding Looking at Britain’s strategic culture can help identify an identity. It helps to point out what makes Britain tick within Europe and on the international stage. Qualifying old and new Europe does not individually involve the European level of analysis. This project considers how state-centric policy interprets Europe. There is also a further dimension. How Britain’s national security policies are shaped to accommodate international relations outside Europe is equally important. British ties to America and historical commitments to the Commonwealth can’t go unmentioned.
History plays an important role as scholars argue that it has lead to the unique way that states construe their strategic culture. The shared beliefs and common experiences provide a set which the member states relate to. In the aftermath of WW2 achieving political and economic harmony across Europe was necessary. Those states also shared a belief that democratic economies were essential, however contrasting their views were on the specifics. This project will consider to what extent those strategic cultures are interrelated.
If a common thread can be identified between the earlier members then old Europe may become an exhaustive, definite list. Determining Strategic Culture Carnes Lord (1985 p. 272) argues that there are certain operative factors which determine strategic culture. 1. The geopolitical setting 2. International relationships 3. Political culture and ideology 4. Military culture-military history, traditions, and education 5. Civil military relationships and bureaucratic organization 6. Weaponry and military technology Certain scholars who advocated theories of strategic culture were criticised for stereotyping nations or regions.
I understand the notion to be transitory especially when one considers how European politics has evolved so dramatically over the last 50 years. This is not to say that state strategies aren’t long term but rather that they can change and that the stereotypical illustrations are not absolute. This means that a valid assessment can be made. Nicholas Sarkozy’s transatlantic stance is notably different from his predecessors as an Atlanticist saying ‘France is the friend of the United States of America’ (Baldwin, T ; Brenner, C. 2007 p. 5).
This illustrates that one cannot immediately suppose that all French Presidents are anti-American. However, when similarities can be identified between past national governments then the assessment of a more permanent state strategy becomes evident. Strategic Culture and Britain I will discuss the geopolitical setting of the UK, individuality concerning International relations and the UK’s political culture and ideology. Being situated off mainland Europe has had a notable affect on the autonomous nature in which the British perceive themselves and this has been brought about by a maritime rather than continental devotion.
During the 15th Century Britain behaved in a similar manner to other European countries, notably France, Spain and the Netherlands. Building colonial superpowers those states played a part in depicting a pre-20th Century Europe that was still remembered post-1945. Maybe Britain can be considered in the most contemporary classification of old Europe. The transitory nature of strategic culture makes this classification irrelevant within the EU political forum however. Post-1945 the colonial similarities between the UK and the likes of France faded. Two factors can be identified.
First, such a level of international cooperation was unheard of and the UK was weary of such a development in European international relations. Second, the UK was reluctant to participate in the European project being wary of rebuilding Germany as a continental superpower regardless of the concept of monitoring German strategic culture. This was partly down to the UK’s geopolitical setting. Furthermore, the fact that the UK did not join until later has had a significant impact on state strategy towards Europe. Why Britain joined later is partly down to her international relations.
Britain’s international relations differ considerably from her continental partners. The close alliance with America, still evident today, requires a balancing act. The Bush/Blair relationship illustrated this alliance. Britain is also closely allied to the commonwealth. From Marlborough House to the Commonwealth games, there are many symbolic aspects to this historic alliance. Such symbols bring life to the alliance, something which is questionable in relation to the EU. Remaining loyal to those states and participating in Europe requires another balancing act not so dissimilar to the Anglo-American act.
Significantly, British commitments can be distinguished from the other member states commitments. The commonwealth alliance is independent of Europe whereas the monarchical alliance between Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (the Benelux countries) is not. The Benelux countries are all members of the EU and therefore share a common strategic culture. If the US and Commonwealth countries were members of the EU then Britain’s strategic culture would be notably different. The individuality of British politics has also had an affect on British strategic culture.
The adversarial political system in Britain means that the opposition will nearly always oppose the European project. The unpopular nature of the EU means that the opposition can capitalise on taking an anti-European stance. In turn the government will protect themselves acting unenthusiastically to integration. Public support in the original six is generally high and the political systems allow for the process of Europeanization. In terms of Strategic culture Britain is closer to Europe than to America or the Commonwealth however.
Foreign policy helps illustrate strategic culture. The Blair government took a leading role in the European integration particularly because Blair held the rotating presidency. Blair openly supported the European project, something that his predecessors often avoided, stating, ‘I believe in Europe as a political project. I believe in Europe with a strong and caring social dimension’ (Rennie, D. ; Carlin, B. 2005 p. 14). British strategic culture changed during Blair’s tenure. International relations were strengthened both within Europe and with America.
Trying to maintain such commitment to both may be part of the reason why Blair’s premiership was considered unfulfilled (Riddell, P. 2005). Britain has taken a leading role in European foreign and security policy over the past decade. The government believed in their own expertise. A similar stance can be seen presently with Brown taking a leading role as of his economic expertise. Taking this role required the British government to take a more pro-European stance. Before her Bruges speech Thatcher took a similar leading role in European integration being an advocate of single market.
Blair’s state strategy towards Europe poses certain similarities and he is considered a ‘neo-Thatcherite’ by some (BBC News/Politics 2004). What I argue is that the British government is of old Europe both at the level of regional integration and in relation to everyday policy making. Government and Opposition State strategy experiences the greatest change when a different political party takes office. There is a limit on the degree of change however and this is particularly so in relation to European integration. Political parties display an inconsistency towards Europe when moving in or out of government.
One thing that highlights the inconsistency of the political parties towards Europe is the press. The Press, particularly tabloids, take a consistent stance as to the European Project. For example, ‘the daily express conducted a long and intense campaign against British entry into the EEC, and throughout the 1960’s was more consistent and outspoken in its condemnation of the Market than were the parties represented at Westminster’ (Punnett, R. M. 1973 p. 21). However, inconsistency regarding the European project seems likely when one considers three factors that create an exclusive link between the government and the EU.
The opposition do not benefit in the same way and therefore campaigning against European integration is a powerful electoral tactic. First, resource based theory suggests that ‘domestic actors benefit when international cooperation generates net transfers of four domestic political resources to them’ (Dinan, D. 2000 p. 286). Participating in Europe may be loss-making for some but not the government who are the first to benefit from European activities which strengthen the state (Moravcsik, A. 1994). Second, a new government does have to accept that British membership is a reality.
In 1971 Labour energetically campaigned against the way in which the Conservatives were joining the EEC but equally ‘had to acknowledge that… a future Labour Government would almost certainly have to face a situation in which Britain was an EEC member’ (Punnett, R. M. 1973 p. 32). Accepting membership is mandatory as withdrawing from the community is completely unfeasible. Not only would it test most parts of society and the economy, such an action by a government would ironically threaten their holding of office.
I believe that the negative affects of withdrawing from the community would outweigh the approval from the anti-European British electorate. Third, the role of the head of state concerns state craft. It is argued that the main role of a head of state is to maintain diplomatic relations with other nations. The EU provides a suitable forum to do so and transaction costs are significantly reduced. Blair showed more consistency in office than his predecessors thorough his commitment to European relations ‘Thatcher by the end was barely on speaking terms with most of her counterparts.
Major was the object of pity and scorn. Blair has learned the lesson and made friends’ (Stephens, P. 2001 p. 70). Blair realised that the political forum should be approached diplomatically and this helped him take a consistent stance and still keep the electorate on his side. This is a further reason why a government would not reject the community upon taking office. Conclusion Departing from Rumsfeld’s depiction was required to fully assess the concept of old and new Europe. Identifying leadership suggested that the UK would be part of old Europe but such an understanding was ambiguous.
Political circumstances left Britain out of the loop in comparison to France, Germany and Italy. Post-Thatcher and during Blair’s premiership a change can be noted but the modernity of that change may place the UK in new Europe. This would have to be weighed against the political might that Britain has within the Council. Examining strategic culture meant a valid assessment of the categories could be made. The conclusion reached argued that British government is of old Europe. The nature of EU law and policy means that the rest of Britain should follow suit and belong to old Europe.However, certain parts of society challenge the concept of European integration and feel that they are still part of a sovereign UK.
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