The intellectual debate in Britain on the European Union

This paper is the third in a series published by the Research and Policy Unit, “Notre Europe”, chaired by Jacques Delors, which aims to take a fresh look at the impact of the process of European integration on the future of the nation-state by examining the intellectual debate within the Member States of the European Union.

Available in German.

The first two studies were published as part of a collection of texts on the Franco-German relationship: “The nation and Europe: the German debate”, by Dr. Donate Kluxen-Pyta of the University of Bonn, and “The new European crisis of conscience: political Europe between nation and federation. A French viewpoint”, by Laurent Bouvet, Doctor of Political Science and researcher at the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris and at the University of Sienna.

Interestingly, this third study differs in style, although not in quality, from those on France and Germany in several respects. First and foremost, the very notion of “intellectual” debate sits uneasily with the traditional British pragmatic approach to all matters European. Stephen George, Jean Monnet Professor at the Department of Politics of the University of Sheffield, argues that Britain does not have a distinct class of intellectuals. As a consequence, some of the debate can be “parochial and somewhat unsophisticated”.

Second, despite the recent proliferation of so-called “think-tanks” on both the left and right which have an increasing input into the political debate on Europe, this rather small circle of intellectual opinion has little impact on popular perceptions. Another striking feature of the UK debate today is that it tends to focus on the question of economic and monetary union, although the arguments put forward by the left and right reflect more general attitudes towards the EU.

Yet, Professor George concludes on an optimistic note, highlighting original thinking on other questions, such as democratic legitimacy, particularly from the pro-European left, which he hopes will make a positive contribution to the EU debate and encourage Britain to embrace a European future. We hope that “The Intellectual Debate in Britain on the European Union” will also complement our publication earlier this year of Lionel Barber’s paper, “Britain and the New European Agenda” (updated and translated into French and German from the English version, published by the Centre for European Reform, London) and so lead to a better understanding of the debate in the UK.

Our long-term ambition is to publish similar studies for each of the Member States in order to provide a panorama of the intellectual debate on the future of European integration throughout the Union.

The document is also available in German.