The European Union is devastated: an important puzzle piece of their economic and political success and influence has voted to leave it after almost 50 years of membership. Brexit has shaken the community. But what would you say if I told you that the difficulties regarding Britain’s relationship with the EU have actually been apparent since its beginnings in 1973?
The year is 1973: A pompous gala attended by Queen Elizabeth II is covered by the papers, European flags are flying all across London, fireworks and enthusiastic newspaper headlines underline the events, the people are celebrating their country’s entry in the EEC, the European Economic Community. Contrary to the stereotype of the isolated and private Brit, the British are now finally joining the common market of Europe to keep up with their economic competitors. Their economic losses and loss of political power during the Second World War have led to them needing to refocus and consider the idea of companionship to solve their problems. This historic decision is celebrated with a one-month-long and million-dollar program to show Britain’s optimism regarding its future.
But behind all the celebrational spirit and sense of community there is a feeling of discontent about the situation; a considerable part of Britain’s population is opposed to their country’s membership in the EEC. And the people do have their reasons; the loss of independence, the obligations and the commitments that come with it seem threatening. Additionally, on a smaller scale the prices for goods in Britain are expected to rise, giving the opponents of Europe a justification for their exclusionary attitude. The conservative British also struggle with the idea that their values and traditions may be influenced by those of the other European countries, which comes naturally with joining the culturally diverse community.
Although there is the occasional ray of hope of more liberal voices addressing the economic advantages and cultural diversity that come with the membership, the overall attitude is sceptical.
But the membership can actually bring a political influence Britain has not experienced for a long time; the two major powers of the EEC, West Germany and France, already anticipate their involvement in Brussels. This can bring political diversity and possibly positive changes for all.
Still, a big part of Britain’s society, the working people, view the developments as an unnecessary step to further complicate their lives and are hesitant to join the side in favour of the change. Nevertheless, a referendum in 1975 finally reveals that the majority of the British have faith in the EU and want to stay in it for another 40 years, with 67 per cent of the voters supporting the membership.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way to the twenty-first century something changed. Different events and developments in recent years have drastically altered the once so positive perspective. The economic crisis in 2008 eventually gives light to the idea that the EU is not as successful economically as anticipated, and the immigration crisis leads to rising nationalism and populist ideas. Eventually, the EU-critical voices become louder and are no longer possible to ignore in 2016: the UK has finally had enough of the community they were once so eager to join. This time, they do not have the same concerns as in 1973, but their conservative attitude has definitely always been a dividing factor in their relationship with the EU, which eventually leads to a breakup in the end.
Considering the history and concerns of the people, one can confidently suggest that Britain’s membership in the EU was doomed to fail from the beginning and should have been addressed way before it finally collapsed in 2016.