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Academic interpretation of the existing relationship between Britain and the European has been that of Britain being an awkward partner (Buller, 1995, 33). This paper seeks to establish what the meaning of an awkward partner is, as well as its use in this context. This paper also looks into a number of arguments put forward by other scholars that the awkwardness of Britain has been due to Britain's prioritization of the special relationship they share with the United States, domestic constraints, and difficulties towards economic integration (Buller, 1995, 34). However, this argument does not define the current Anglo-European relationship because Britain is very much different from the rest of Europe in terms of their culture and traditions. There are times which their awkwardness has been justified.
Why is Britain considered to be an awkward partner in EU?
Different definitions of awkwardness have been put forward. The first is that Britain has been awkward when negotiators set out to obstruct negotiations deliberately so as to gain their objectives (Buller, 1995, 35). The other has been that Britain has been a difficult member to deal with (Young, 2000, 43). However, these interpretations seem to be inadequate as they do not prove whether Britain were justifiable in their actions that concerned Europe. For example, a deliberate and obstructive approach can be justified if it was the only way of to take a legitimate stand. This paper then looks at the definitions but goes ahead to see whether Britain was justified in their actions.
Britain's domestic and political issues did restrain her from being able to cooperate with Europe (Buller, 1995, 255). There were doubts on whether there would be benefits on European Unity. Moreover, Britain had attitude towards Germany and France; they had collapsed during the World War II. British scepticism towards alliances with them seems to have been justified; they viewed Western Europe as unreliable (Ferguson, 2004, 6). In addition to this fact, France and Germany were undoubtedly the most powerful of other European states; Britain was dealing with a union aimed at safeguarding German and French economic interests (Ferguson, 2004, 43.). The reunification of Germany seemed likely to upset the balance of power in Europe and threaten its stability (Shirley, 2007, 27). However, Britain cannot be termed as awkward since they accepted the deal, which had been brokered by the United States. In my view, awkwardness seem to be on the part of the six member states that shaped Europe in accordance with their own interests, and did not focus on being flexible for future enlargement of Europe.
Britain defended its relationship with Europe in matters dealing with the principle of enlargement, and not deepening of the European integration. This policy became successful in restraining Britain towards involved in a Franco-German model of Europe. It kept Europe flexible and open to other states. Austria and Scandinavia held the same views as British (Young, 2000, 260). This meant that Europe suited some countries more than others. Keeping this in mind, the lack of interest in Britain to join a new and expansive European project cannot be awkward (Rifkin, 2004, 7). Britain should be described as being cautious.
After gaining membership, the economy did not receive a boost as Heath expected. The European budget seemed to be an unfair burden on the United Kingdom (Rifkin, 2004, 80-1). Heath then left the next government to renegotiate its terms. However, most of the terms or areas that were being negotiated were not a problem to Europe (Young, 2000, 142-3). It seemed that European development was a positive one. With all these in mind, British awkwardness seem to have been justified, which were dealt with.
The decision on whether to join the Euro has been considered as awkward; it required that the British economy be adjusted. It appeared to be against British interest to join the Euro (Major, 2004, 56-7). The debate on whether the Euro would be beneficial to Britain has been an extensive one. However, there was no possibility that the United Kingdom would join as a group of the first wave (Goodwin, 1992, 211). It is clear that Britain aimed at retain leverage and influence during the critical phase. This means that the decision on joining the Euro was not a choice due to British euroscepticism and caution towards further European integration. It seems unjustifiable from the fact that Britain was unable to shape Europe after war (Smith, 1999, 17).
There has been awkwardness depicted on the part of British negotiators towards the European Community (Buller, 1995, 225). Thatcher's assertive style has been blamed for creating enemity within Europe. Her style did point out the British as being resentful Europeans (Else, 2005, 13-15). It is notable that, Thatcher's style of negotiation was assertive (McCormick, 2007, 167). However, it seems to be justified over the issue of budgetary contributions. Besides Thatcher, other negotiators have also been less awkward, for example, Wilson and Major. Major's propositions seem not to have been overtly awkward (Andrews, 2004, 95). Britain's tough and pragmatic style of negotiation seem to have been justified due to the fact that they were defending their national interests and contributed toward European reform and problem solving. Apart from France, other European Community members seem to have adjusted to British style of negotiation. The French continued to claim that the negotiators were awkward towards Europe.
There have been a number of times that Britain prioritized its relationship towards the United States and thereby undermining the European integration (Kaufman & Macpherson, 2005, 45). A number of British Prime Ministers have been considered to be instinctly Atlanticist during the war era, for example, Thatcher, Callaghan and Wilson (Black, 2000, 259). Other post-war leaders like Blair, Major and Bevin have also been pro-American. Bevin's foreign policies were considered to be committed to an alliance with the United States, while being skeptic towards European unification (David, 1999, 64). The main question that comes out of this is whether Atlanticism is a separate foreign policy or causes awkwardness. It is important to note that it was Heath who secured the British membership to the European Community. He was careful not be pro-American.
In my view, Atlanticism cannot be a factor in determining the British awkwardness with the rest of Europe since leaders like Blair and Thatcher succeeded in being both pro-American as well as pro-European. However, there have been exceptions like the decision by Blair to aid America in the war in Iraq without the backing of Europe, and Thatcher's skepticism towards a unified Germany (Major, 2004, 66). These events undermined the cooperation among the European Community. However, this relationship with the United States can be justified from the point of view that the America has been a superpower. Many nations attempt to create a strong relationship with it, for example, the Germany had prioritized to having stable relationship with the United States (Shirley, 2007, 211).
In conclusion, the relationship between Britain and Europe has been a difficult, contentious, and a long-lasting one. Britain has appeared to an awkward partner, but it seems harsh for critics to entirely blame on her (Goodwin, 1992, 10). This is because Britain made her decisions under complicated and contentious context; they put its national interests and traditions into consideration (Hearn, 2002, 15). When compared to other European nations, it is true that Britain has not been very much cooperative about the union. In my view, their being an awkward member has been justified from historical and cultural perspectives, which distinguishes Britain from the rest of the European Community.