The UK’s first female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died on Monday in London aged 87 after suffering a stroke. As the longest serving premier of the 20th century, she was one of the most influential and controversial political leaders Europe and the world has ever seen.
‘May I thank you for offering me this opportunity to reply. It seems to me that some people do not like me to reply quite as vigorously as they attack me. It is a reciprocal business with us, I hope it is with you’, said Baroness Thatcher.
Loved and loathed equally, her strong views on denationalisation and market oriented reforms transformed the British economic landscape forever.
As for Europe, her famous euroskeptic stance on a federal European project won her many enemies, but also many admirers. In a historical speech delivered in Bruges in 1988, Thatcher rejected an expansion of EU powers and called for a decentralised and free-trading Europe.
‘We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising new dominance from Brussels.’, Thatcher said.
Thatcher also wanted the UK’s contributions to the Union to be adjusted, warning that otherwise she would withhold VAT payments. Famously quoted as saying “I want my money back”, she finally got a rebate from the EU’s annual budget.
‘No money from Britain? We are the second biggest net contributor. Germany is the biggest, we are the next biggest, France is the third biggest. The money of the three of us, 5 billions ECU, is redistributed among the other nine.’, Thatcher said.
But ‘the Iron lady’, as she was internationally known, was not always opposed to the idea of a more integrated Europe. She played a key role in securing the Single European Act, which laid the foundation for the EU’s single market. She was also a strong supporter of of eastern and central European countries joining the Union.
Though her views on Europe were polemic, the death of the former British premier prompted numerous comments from EU leaders, who paid their tributes.
‘She was without doubt a great stateswoman, the first female prime minister of her country, and a circumspect yet engaged player in the European Union. She will be remembered for both her contributions to and her reserves about our common project’, said EC’s president Jose Manuel Barroso.
Thatcher’s funeral will take place next week at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral.