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Thoughts about Brexit – Part One: The difficult pre-history

February 1st, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

I thought that I could just have a good night sleep and then go on with everyday life. I didn’t want to take up this theme on my blog. But apparently my thoughts are still caught with the departure of the United Kingdom from the membership of the European Union – Brexit, as we have known this for years. Now that this has happened I need to put down some thoughts and then try to leave this topic with some lessons learned. I do not claim to be a historian or a political analyst – by no means. I have just been an observer – most of the time from afar but every now and then from a closer distance. So, there are observations based on European media and some personal memories mixed in the thoughts that I am writing below. It seems that I need to write a couple posts. Let us start with the pre-history, then to the campaigning and then to the negotiations and decision-making processes after the referendum of the year 2016 until the final departure.

The difficult process of becoming a Member State

Looking back, the process of becoming a Member State was not that simple and pleasant for the United Kingdom (UK). In the initial phase – as I have recently learned it from media – the six founding members tried to get the UK into the club. Due to the illnesses of the crucial government members the decisions were postponed and the membership as well.The six founding members formed the European Economic Community (EEC) and the UK joined a parallel organisation – the European Free Trade Area (EFTA).

Then, later on, when the UK government was willing to join the EEC, the membership was blocked by the French president Charles de Gaulle. Only after de Gaulle had stepped down, the French government was ready to accept the membership of the UK. This was already a bad omen – the UK had to prove that it qualified for membership. This was reflected in the fact that shortly afterwards a new government organised a referendum whether to go on with the membership. The majority voted for remaining.

The bargaining for British opt-outs and discounts

These tensions became part of the everyday life in the British EU membership. The governments were reserved about deeper integration of the Community into a Union. The processes that paved the way for deeper integration and introduction of new fields of common European policies were not easy. For European observers this phase of the British membership appeared as constant bargaining for British opt-outs or discounts. The famous quote of the (then) prime minister was: “I want my money back.” To be sure, changes in the British government brought also changes in the climate of European participation. Yet, due to many opt-outs there was a clear distance that prevailed.

The road to the 2016 referendum

In the light of the above it is no surprise that – in spite of the governments’ commitments to European cooperation – it was easy to blame the EU as a scapegoat or as the source of all evil. In the media and later on in the social media such reporting flourished. In both major parties there were euro-sceptic fractions and a new political party started campaigning for the departure from the EU membership. The hard years of economic and financial crisis – and in particular the hard measures to prevent state bankruptcy in some of weaker countries of the euro-zone – nurtured increasingly sceptical views on the European Union. At this point the government party leader made a promise to organise a referendum on the membership if the party wins the elections. The calculation was that with the new majority government the prime minister is powerful enough to negotiate new concessions with the EU and then have a strong position when organising the referendum. As we know, the history took a different course. But that is to be discussed in the next post.

More blogs to come … 

PS1. Disclaimer: These are merely thoughts of the author – an observer from the European continent. Pontydysgu as an organisation is not responsible for the views presented above.

PS2. What could be a better musical theme for reflecting this pre-history than “The Long and Winding Road“?

 

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