Thatcher - Cuddly Europhile or fierce, penny-pinching sceptic?

Thatcher’s European Legacy

the perspective of a British Europhile

, by Chris Powers

Thatcher's European Legacy

It has been widely reported since her death that Margaret Thatcher has been one of, if not the, most divisive politician of the 20th Century in the UK. I would argue that the same is true for Europe as arguments about her person and her politics have been making the rounds on Facebook in myriad languages. The question is what to make of her mixed contribution to the “Ever Closer Union” and where do we go next?

It is perhaps best to outline those areas where my British nationality could potentially cause friction with some of my fellow Europeans out there. Firstly, the Falklands War (and I strongly oppose translations such as las Malvinas or les Malouines) and subsequent British policy was and remains a defence of the right to self-determination, a right which all Europeans hold dear. Anyone who is blind to this right; to the recent referendum in which Falklanders almost unanimously voted in favour of remaining British; and to the clear motivations behind Argentina’s revived desire for the islands (nationalism and oil) seriously needs to question their ethics. This willingness to defend and promote the rights we Europeans hold dear is something which all EU citizens should embrace.

I really do not want to get bogged down on the issue of Northern Ireland but I largely agree with Thatcher’s tough stance here. All too many tragedies occurred and all I can say is that I am glad a peaceful solution has been reached (under Blair, not Thatcher) and that I hope similarly peaceful outcomes can happen in other areas of Europe and the wider world, without such controversy.

Now so far it may sound like I am a fan-boy of Margaret Thatcher but rest assured that this is not the case! I simply believe she should be criticised only where criticism is due. Obviously she was far from the greatest advocate of political union and this is something I deplore. Times have changed since 1991, and I strongly believe that it is more important than ever that Europe makes common cause in the face of challenges such as the rise of the BRICs, global warming, or when handling the democratic transition amongst our neighbours in North Africa and the Middle East. I especially hope that my country, which was itself formed by an Act of Union and whose land covers only 0.16% of the Earth’s landmass and 0.88% of its population, cannot tackle these massive challenges alone and that only by working with the rest of Europe politically as well as economically can European rights and ideas be effectively defended and promoted. Unfortunately, British Euroscepticism could arguably be seen as the child of Thatcherism and it is this aspect of her legacy which the whole European community is going to have to face, especially in the run up to a 2017 referendum.

In other aspects of European politics Thatcher was the Federalist’s best friend and we should promote and further gains made here in the coming years. She was a strong believer in the single market and the free market, in the free movement of peoples, and in enlargement of our community. We should remember all of these facts when we form our opinion of her. Today, the EU needs to establish this free-trade agreement with the USA as she would have no doubt wanted, it could bring numerous benefits to a continent which is still struggling to make a consistent economic recovery.

Apologies to any protectionists out there but I strongly believe she was right on the free market too. The Common Agricultural Policy has to go. It was formed to help rebuild the French economy after the Second World War, it has no place in a modern Europe and the funds could be better spent developing our Eastern member-states or helping Enlargement. I would argue there are two examples of where the EU should use protectionist measures and Thatcher may turn in her soon-to-be-dug grave on hearing this, but they should be used firstly to support declining industries so employees can comfortably transition into new jobs, very much unlike in 1980s Britain. Second, some protectionist measures should be used to help fledgling industries across Europe such those in the ‘green’ sector, so that they can fight the economic tyrant that is Communist Super-Capitalist China. We should learn from the disaster of deindustrialisation under Thatcher so that Europe modernises in ways that its citizens can enjoy.

Finally, we Europeans need to better promote enlargement. Our Union should be both broader and deeper. I am very proud to say that in this area the British have not been a drag on progress. From Thatcher onwards, the UK has consistently supported enlargement in accordance with the Treaty of Rome. We need to do all we can to help our friends in the Balkans meet the membership criteria sooner rather than later; we need to keep an open door to those countries who have not yet joined our union, and keep discussing membership with those states on the Russian border so they can see that a European way of life is attainable. And finally, we need to really try and make overtures to Turkey, to try and get them on board before we’ve totally lost them.

What else can I say? Only that Europeans need to consider all parts of her legacy. As long as we learn from her mistakes and promote those areas where she made a positive contribution, the European Union could have a very bright future.

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