February 1986: European Integration Moves Forward

Convinced that the European idea, the results achieved in the field of economic integration and political co-operation, and the needs for new developments correspond to the wishes of the democratic peoples of Europe, for whom the European Parliament, elected by universal suffrage, is an indispensable means of expression…

[Preamble to Single European Act]

Leadership is what is required in the Community. The leaders of the Ten must agree upon the direction of the Community in a spirit that wields and transcends individual national self-interest. Let us raise our heads above the petty squabbles of the past and lead the Community into new enterprises and fresh ventures, for the sake of both ourselves and the Community.

[Ted Heath, Europe – The Next Ten Years, at Conservative Group for Europe Annual Conference, March 1984 (IDU 32/2)]

By the early 1980s, discontent and frustration were growing among the member states of the no-longer-fledgling European Community. The Treaties of Paris and Rome in the 1950s had set the integration ball rolling, but barriers remained and made economic movement difficult.

Captain Europe attempts to educate British voters about the European Community

A number of camps formed among European nations to discuss future changes (including the famous Crocodile Club and Kangaroo Group). At the same time business pressures grew; Jacques Delors took office as president of the European Commission, making his primary purpose work towards a single market. Negotiations between member states began to create pressure to work towards an agreement.

In 1984, the member states gathered at Fontainebleau (see photo of the Heads of State at the Fontainebleau Summit of 25 and 26 June 1984) and commissioned the Dooge Committee to research the issue, and a white paper on the completion of the European Market was presented by Jacques Delors and the Commission to the European Council in 1985 (see also the House of Commons discussion of the report).

The ten leading member states convened in Milan in June 1985 to discuss a possible treaty. Consensus proved difficult, however, as many of the member states had severe misgivings about proposed changes. Britain, as a traditionally hesitant member, was unwilling to accept any stipulation that might prevent a nation from protecting its own interests.

Despite misgivings from a number of nations, a conference was convened and the text of the Act was finished in December 1985. A complicated signing process followed, including national referendums in Denmark and Ireland; the Act came into force on 1 January 1987.

The Act itself set out one of the most important provisions of today’s European Union: the European single market. In order to make way for the establishment of a single market by 1992, the Act touched upon the movement of refugees, tax barriers, VAT rates and other important elements to establishing a free trade area, and it institutionalized European monetary policy. The Act didn’t limit itself to finance and trade issues, however, and it set out goals for European social cohesiveness. The Act also established the European Court of First Instance, which would act as a filtering court and take some of the workload from the Court of Justice. To make these changes (and future decisions) work smoothly, the Act set extended Qualified Majority voting.

As Jacque Delors summarized:

The Single Act means, in a few words, the commitment of implementing simultaneously the great market without frontiers, more economic and social cohesion, an European research and technology policy, the strengthening of the European Monetary System, the beginning of an European social area and significant actions in environment.

[From Europa]

European Conservative Brief, January 1988 (CCO 508/11/60)

Not everyone was thrilled with the Act. Although the provisions it made were monumental, Thatcher herself called its impact ‘modest‘. Indeed, it was a modest version of the original; negotiations had been forced to make it palatable to all member states. But it set the Community on its way; by 1992, a huge number of barriers had been removed, and the member states signed the Maastricht Treat, setting out goals for the European Monetary Union.

That did not stop the UK’s Conservative Party from shifting to what Margaret Thatcher called a Eurosceptic stance in the late 1980s. In September 1988, Thatcher gave what is now called her ‘Bruges Speech‘ to the College of Europe. She affirmed: ‘Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community.’ At the same time, however, she passionately declared:

To try to suppress nationhood and concentrate power at the centre of a European conglomerate would be highly damaging and would jeopardise the objectives we seek to achieve …Europe will be stronger precisely because it has France as France, Spain as Spain, Britain as Britain, each with its own customs, traditions and identity. It would be folly to try to fit them into some sort of identikit European personality.

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