Britain’s standing in the EU — A heritage of the old Empire?

One year ago I spend eight month in Scotland as an assistant teacher. Fortunately I had an Advanced Higher course and one of the topics I taught was the EU.

I was quite surprised how little the students knew about the EU, how they are involved and what it means to be a member of the EU. It is not that uncommon to hear someone in the UK answer when asked about their holiday to hear that they have spent it in Europe. As a German living in central Europe you are surprised and start questioning if either this person does not know he or she is living in Europe or if he or she is denying it. Why is it that the British struggle to see themselves as a part of the EU?
The decision to join the EU was not out of the principle of voluntary. After the Suez crisis Britain’s status as the third power, its prestige and influence shrunk. Additionally, economical reasons and the maintenance of its global status drove Britain to join the EU in 1973.
In Cameron’s Bloomberg speech in January 2013 he proclaimed that Great Britain has the character of an “island nation — independent, forthright, passionate in defense of its sovereignty” (http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/british-prime-minister-david-cameron-to-offer-in-out-eu-referendum-a-879175.html )
One can identify the British defense of its sovereignty in its European policy. Some call it ‘cherry picking’ others a ‘special status’ of Great Britain. What they are referring to is among other things the British rebate 1984, the rejection of the Schengen Agreement 1990, Cameron’s refused consent 2011 to the EU Fiscal Pact and most recently the permission to hold a referendum.

The referendum can be seen as an outcome of Britain’s perspective of being restricted in its sovereignty by Brussels. We have to take into account that the monarchy and democracy prevails over centuries in this country and it was not that long ago that Great Britain secured the balance of power in Europe and won two world wars. Its status as an Empire ended so to say abruptly. However, we have to keep in mind that there is still a generation alive in Britain who witnessed the status as a Great Empire. It is still in their minds and passed on to the next generations. The sentiment of being a Great Empire still lingers on and shapes Britain’s policy and global status.

Sources:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/british-prime-minister-david-cameron-to-offer-in-out-eu-referendum-a-879175.html (24 April 2016).

http://www.channel4.com/news/britain-and-europe-an-identity-crisis (24 April 2016).

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