Friday, 30 May 2014

The European project in the 1980s

The Le Monde cartoon above is by Plantu. It comments the outcome of the Fontainebleau European Council (June 1984). Thatcher is happy with the rebate she obtained on the UK’s contribution to the European Communities budget, and Mitterrand, who lead the Council, proudly holds up the first European passport. Plantu mocks everyone here: Thatcher for her self-satisfaction and the others for their "togetherness". Margaret Thatcher had said: "We are not asking the Community or anyone else for money, we are simply asking to have our own money back". The UK (which was not as wealthy at the time as it is today) was going to become the biggest net contributor to the EU budget (it gave twice as much to Europe as it received back, mainly because it did not benefit from agricultural subsidies as much as the others). Thatcher's stance (symbolized in the Plantu cartoon by her standing apart) was seen as being typical of her anti-federalist attitude.

In 1981, Greece joined the European Communities. In 1986, Spain and Portugal joined too. These three countries were poor and joining the Common Market was a means of development for them; it meant also that there were henceforth disparities of wealth and standards of living between the member states.

In June 1985, the Schengen Agreement abolishing border controls was signed (it came into force in 1995, and the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty incorporated it into European Union law). In the Schengen Area, there is free movement of people. The outside borders of the area have been reinforced.

The Single European Act (SEA), signed in 1986, amended the 1957 Treaty of Rome with the aim of:
  • achieving at last a full single market, concerning both the private and public sectors, by deregulation, i.e. overcoming barriers, namely: physical (border controls), technical (rules and regulations) and fiscal (different tax rates);
  • strengthening democracy by giving greater legislative powers to the European Parliament;
  • making it easier for laws to be passed by the Council of Ministers by increasing the number of areas covered by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV);
  • expanding the role of the Commission;
  • laying the basis for a common European ForeignJustice and Home Affairs policies.
The SEA’s push for a more open market pleased Margaret Thatcher, who declared: “The Community is now launching itself on a course for the 1990s, a course which must make it possible for Europe to compete on equal terms with the United States and Japan... What we need are strengths which we can only find together. We must be stronger in new technologies. We must have the full benefit of a single large market.

The SEA increased co-operation between member states on more areas of policy, i.e. it deepened integration, which was necessary in order to cope with new members. The ambition was summed up by Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor, in 1989: “We want a European Union, we want the United States of Europe.”

The SEA also made it easier to pass EU legislation by loosening the voting rules in the Council of Ministers and emphasized the role of the European Parliament. Jacques Delors, the European Commission President from 1985-1995, said: “In ten years, 80% of the laws on the economy and social policy will be passed at a European not the national level...”

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