After some preliminary concessions worked out by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the stage is now set for a June British referendum on the continuation of Britain’s membership in the European Union. This is a long overdue reassessment of a failed experiment in my opinion, and I would strongly suggest that every British voter get a copy of Lady Margaret Thatcher’s 2002 masterpiece, Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World and go immediately to the chapters on “Europe–Dreams and Nightmares” and “Britain and Europe–Time to Renegotiate” for a primer on the principles that should apply.
She starts with a quote from 19th century German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who, when commenting on appeals to European idealism in pursuit of the “European Idea”, said “I have always found the word ‘Europe’ in the mouths of those politicians who wanted from other powers something they did not dare to demand in their own name”. In other words, in his as well as her view, the idea of Europe has always lent itself to a large measure of humbug because, as she notes, “not just national interests, but a great array of group and class interests happily disguise themselves beneath the mantle of synthetic European idealism”.
The truth is that, after flirting with the European Idea herself early in her political career, she came to realize that “the drive to create a European superstate” is “perhaps the greatest folly of the modern era”. For her, the principle flaw was that democratic accountability would be impossible across a wide array of nationalities with varying histories, cultures, values, and languages. This fear has been realized and the European Idea has become simply synonymous with bureaucracy, which she says is “the ultimate bureaucracy because it is sustained by nothing else”.
She is cautious in her book about the details of how she would have renegotiated UK membership in 2002, but with her obvious pessimism about the possibility of EU democratic reform and an additional 14 years of hindsight, I suspect she would come to a recommendation to end it, not mend it.