Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

How Maggie Was Right About The EU Decades Ago


As the Conservatives elect their replacement for Theresa May over the summer, it's worth looking back to see how crucial it is for a leader that is in line with grassroots views, and currently Euroscepticism is the overwhelming grassroots position among members. Ever since the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992 there has been a battle for a referendum on EU membership led by none other than the former Tory loyalist Nigel Farage and as we look back now, the points that Mrs Thatcher put out regarding the EU are astoundingly spot on to today's predicament.

One of Maggie's most remembered speech is of course her Bruges Speech in 1988 where she made clear the EEC planned on political union rather than an economic community. The Iron Lady spoke of how "we have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state here in Britain, only to be reimposed at European level with a European superstructure exercising a new dominance from Brussels." However, it seems that those frontiers of the state are being reimposed on a grand scale in the EU, only this time it is Mr Juncker instead of Mr Delors. Thatcher knew fine well that the EEC was heading towards a political union, especially with Delors as the appointed Commissioner, the superstructure that she spoke about is more evident now more than ever with plans for a EU central defence policy and further integration proposed by Emmanuel Macron and plans already put into motion by Chancellor Merkel. The EU is becoming more and more centralised and as Thatcher emphasised with the point of European nations spending years battling the Soviet Union with its centralised bureaucracy only to move power closer to Brussels following 1992.

The speech in question set out three guiding principles of "willing co-operation between independent, sovereign states", "perusing policies that relate supply more closely to market requirements" and the "need for the Community to encourage enterprise". The former PM suggested reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy back in 1988 yet little has been done to act upon those advisories. The points that were outlined is that the CAP sees a minimum price imposed and that around two thirds of the budget in the 1980s was spent on storing and purchasing food as part of the CAP. This of course was inefficient and was reformed slightly to reduce waste but the CAP still sees a minimum price and huge amounts of food to go to waste, of course farmers need to survive but by guaranteeing them an income no matter what drives down quality and reduces incentives to actually produce a good product. Still to this day, the CAP is one of the most unfair and regressive policies of the European Union.

Thatcher is often portrayed as ahead of her time with supply side policies and monetarism which created a prosperous and efficient economy as well as making London one of the world's two financial capitals. By reducing overmanning in the public sector to boost productivity and increase competition with her flagship policy of privatisation and the sale of council houses as well as share ownership increases. Thatcher was also ahead of her time when it came to Europe, predicting the failure of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, or as Norman Tebbit put it the "eternal recession mechanism", Thatcher herself caused a significant conflict leading to the resignation of both her economic adviser Alan Walters and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson. Thatcher had predicted the failing of the ERM in the mid 1980s as soon as the idea of a monetary mechanism was discussed, Thatcher even suspected a monetary union would "take away a country's identity", a point that was also made in the Bruges speech. Thatcher's resistance to joining the ERM caused conflict in the cabinet with all three of her Chancellors across her premiership, Sir Geoffrey Howe, Nigel Lawson and John Major, as well as other ministers such as Ken Clarke; those conflicts would eventually see Howe and Lawson resign but it was Mrs Thatcher who proved to be right in the end with Black Wednesday being a timely reminder on how a fixed exchange rate could never work.

In addition to this, it is reported in minutes that Mrs Thatcher warned then PM John Major about a crash of sterling, this was on 1st January 1991, over a year and a half before the disastrous Wednesday; Major was warned by his predecessor of making a "historic error" by entering the ERM and continuing in the mechanism.

But it wasn't just the failing ERM that the Iron Lady predicted, it was the whole direction of Europe, "suppressing nationhood to the power of a central European conglomerate would be highly damaging" and so we have seen in today's climate. The EU under Jean-Claude Juncker's Commissionership, we have seen plans for further integration to a European super state with the French and Germans as pioneers. The European Economic Community is no longer just a bloc for free trade and movement of capital which can benefit Britain, that started to diminish on the watch of Jacques Delors and Mrs Thatcher knew it. She would often go to Brussels and demand change to policy to benefit Britain, something we have seen too little of since her departure. Even her Press Secretary, Sir Bernard Ingham, came out this week and said how Mrs Thatcher knew how to deal with Europeans and she would more often than not get what she wanted. In her Bruges Speech, the go to speech for Eurosceptics, like ourselves, Thatcher laid out how "Europe will be stronger because it has France as France, Spain as Spain and Britain as Britain – each with its own customs, traditions and identity." However, that isn't the case now and the EU wish to create a single identity with a single currency and a central bank, essentially basing their model on the United States of America.

Margaret Thatcher described Europe's policies as "an inclination towards bureaucratic rather than market solutions to economic problems" and an "overt federalist and protectionist agenda" something which seems ever more apparent as time goes on. The CAP and Fisheries policies are proven to be an escalation of Mrs Thatcher's predictions of protectionism within Europe rather than embracing a free market and competition driven private sector. Thatcher said herself that Britain had joined the Community in the 1970s to "deregulate and free the markets by removing constraints on trade" however, by the late eighties, Thatcher took a different view and spoke of how the EEC had not embraced free markets and instead were ploughing towards centralisation, more regulation and more state intervention. The EU since it's creation from the EEC, has penalised entrepreneurs and crippled industries with red tape and regulation as well as doing exactly the opposite of what Mrs Thatcher advised "detailed planning does not work, and that personal endeavour and initiative do".

In addition to this, the PM said how "Europe should not be protectionist" and now we see all 27 nations (after Britain leaves) being forced to comply with endless regulation, quotas and targets set out by the Brussels bureaucracy.EU states are unable to negotiate favourable trade deals with other superpowers such as China and the US due to the EU's one size fits all policy; a trade policy destined to fail. The truth is that all nations' trade terms are different, here in Britain services are our greatest export whereas Germany relies more on automobile exports, therefore a single trade policy set out by a central body is inevitably going to fail.

And then of course we have the biggest failed project of all, the euro, single currency with a central bank. You don't need to be a financial expert, economist or politician to realise that this project was a doomed one from the word go. However, at the time Labour told us that if we didn't join then it would be us in crisis, looking back it's the best thing, we never did. It was in her 2002 book 'Statecraft' that Mrs T predicted the failing of the Euro saying how "this project is essentially political, rather than economic". It was plain to see, by placing contrasting economies such as strong economies like Germany and France with collapsing economies in the instance of Greece and Italy; the 2008 financial crisis nearly sent the whole Eurozone into collapse due to the stark contrast of economies using the single currency. The EU continued to dictate, and still do to this day, the budgets of Greece and Italy, placing them into special austerity measures which has caused serious political unrest and a rise of far right and far left parties as well as a rise in populism. Baroness Thatcher put it "without the power to issue and so to control one's own currency a state can no longer be said to determine its own economic policy", exactly the case which we've seen all across the EU and Eurozone in the last 10 years.

In essence, Mrs Thatcher has consistently predicted the correct outcome of flagship EU policies, not to mention the fact that she said that "she would have never signed the Maastricht Treaty if she were PM" in her autobiography. From the failing of the ERM to the failing of a single currency and to the direction of the EU bureaucracy, the Iron Lady has been spot on the money. In her famous House of Commons speech in 1990, Thatcher argued how the "Commission wanted to increase its powers with the European Parliament as the democratically elected body, the Commission to be the executive and the Council of Ministers to be the Senate. No! No! No!" and as we look back on that speech nearly 30 years later it shows astounding resemblance to what the plan is for the EU now. Baroness Thatcher was way ahead of her time and her predictions on the EU have near enough all been what has happened, one thing is for certain though: we'll never get a leader like Margaret Thatcher again, at least not any time soon.

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