Britain’s policy on Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s view of the EU is “utilitarian” and “similar to that of Margaret Thatcher” in that he supports it as far as it helps Britain, according to Sir Stephen Wall, the former UK Permanent Representative to the EU and former EU Adviser to the Prime Minister.

However, he added that Brown “supports European policies on energy, climate change and aid”, reports a September brief by the European Policy Centre (EPC). 

Brown is not such a “committed European” as his predecessor Tony Blair and is “unlikely” to make the case for Europe in the run-up to an election, said Wall – due to his need for the support of a eurosceptic media and the challenge of getting the new EU treaty ratified. 

Meanwhile, the British people see the EU as a “mixture of intergovernmentalism, shared values and supranationalism in the form of strong institutions”, he claims. 

Regarding the Labour years, Sir Stephen argues that there was “little substantive difference” between Tony Blair’s government and the previous Conservative one under John Major, except for Blair’s “slightly greater willingness” to accept extensions of qualified majority voting and a “constant desire” to demonstrate the benefits of EU membership. 

Sir Stephen believes that the decision to stay out of the euro was “not surprising” because Labour wanted to be perceived as a government that could “run the economy efficiently” – meaning that pro-European businessmen feel “let down”. 

Attempts to “sell Europe” to the British public were hampered under Blair by the euro decision, Iraq, and “differences of opinion” between Blair and Brown, he argues. 

Moreover, the “climate of opinion in Britain on Europe is unlikely to change” as Brown and Conservative Party leader David Cameron have “pretty similar” views on Europe. 

Difficult issues ahead include the future of the Common Agricultural Policy and the review of the EU budget. Brown is “unlikely” to give up the British rebate, said Wall. 

He added that the EU today is closer to the British view of Europe than is “healthy for its own good”, but British people “appear incapable” of realising that a federal Europe is no longer on the agenda. 

Sir Stephen concluded that “today’s EU may be a more comfortable place for the British”, but “this does not necessarily mean it is better for Britain”. 

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