Europe may have been the issue that led to Baroness Thatcher’s political downfall in 1990, but 23 years later, in the wake of her recent death, it appears that she might just yet win in her fight against an United States of Europe.
When news broke of her death, David Cameron was on a European tour to assure leaders that the UK would stay within a reformed EU when it comes referendum time.
The audacity of Britain negotiating its membership and, worse, subjecting it to a popular referendum, irks EU leaders. They realize British independence and European integration are simply not compatible. Either power ultimately resides in the peoples of Europe through their national parliaments or in the ministers and bankers.
A more centralised Europe might be more efficient in governance than the current mess but it certainly will not advance the cause of democracy. Even if the commissioners are popularly elected, the EU is too large and diverse to have a common public sphere where ideas can be debated and decisions made between the European peoples.
Unlike the pro-EU reading of history, which blames European wars on nationalism, Thatcher laid the blame on attempts to unite the continent and correctly saw the EU as another artificial empire.
In its pursuit for more control, the modern nation-state is naturally inclined to curb human freedom at every chance it gets, but national governments are still accountable to the public to an extent that the EU could never be.
“We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed on a European level,” Thatcher said in her 1988 Bruges speech.
Two years later, in her final speech as Prime Minister, she recognised that “a single currency is … a Federal Europe by the back door.”
While the European Central Bank would be “accountable to no one, least of all to national parliaments. Because the point of that kind of European Central Bank is no democracy; taking powers away from every single parliament and being able to have a single currency and a monetary policy and an interest rate, which takes all political power away from us.”
Thatcher defined the UK’s relationship first with the European Economic Community, then secured the British rebate and when the EEC was superseded by the EU, she drew the battle lines in the public opinion that has defined the debate of EU membership ever since.
It’s little wonder that when the time comes for the UK to decide on the EU, the British people’s response might very well echo Thatcher’s last speech as Prime Minister of “No. No. No.”