The house that Thatcher built

Contrary to popular myth Margaret Thatcher spent most of her political career transforming the then Common Market into today’s European Union, writes Brian Denny

It is one of life’s ironies that some of the labour movement has continued to support the deeply neoliberal, right wing EU project long after Margaret Thatcher’s now famous Eurosceptic U-turn in her 1988 Bruges speech.

But the fact remains that Thatcher was one of the architects of the 1987 Single European Act, the treaty which gave us EU militarisation, the single market and the single currency.

Boosting the Thatcher myth, many fawning eulogies point to the Bruges speech which attacked the coming EU centralisation she had done so much to construct.

The speech was not only too little too late but it gave the EU more ammunition to present itself as vaguely progressive to the labour movement – vaguely being the operative word.

Former European Commission president Jacques Delors’s mendacious address to the TUC Congress in Bournemouth that year, offering full employment and mandatory collective bargaining across Europe, duped a generation of trade union leaders into believing that Brussels was “the only game in town.”

At this pivotal moment the foundation stones of new Labour and Blairism were being laid as delegates pitifully sang “Frère Jacques.”

So what was the Iron Lady’s true role in “European construction”?

Arch-Europhile and Tory prime minister Edward Heath brought Thatcher into his government in  before he dragged this country into the then Common Market in 1973.

In the 1975 referendum, Thatcher campaigned to keep this country in “Europe” before she ousted Heath to become leader of the Conservative Party in opposition.

One of the first things she did when she became prime minister in 1979 was to remove all controls on capital, as demanded by the European Community treaties.

Her successive administrations fell into line with the needs of the EU and the finance sector by deindustrialising the country, shutting down the steel and coal industries and eroding the manufacturing base, which led to mass unemployment paid for by squandering revenues from North Sea oil.

By 1983 the newly formed European Round Table of Industrialists, made up of major global corporations, launched plans to deregulate European economies to allow big business to grab more industries in order to extract profit.

To make this a reality former Irish foreign secretary James Dooge chaired the secret Dooge committee of the European Community in 1985. It prepared the ground for the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty. Malcolm Rifkind was Thatcher’s appointee to this committee.

These plans formed the basis of the Single European Act and set the ideological framework for all treaties that followed. In the proposals Lord Cockfield pushed through over 250 measures to remove barriers to trade by qualified majority voting.

As Thatcher herself put it, “We wished to have many directives under majority voting because things which we wanted were being stopped by others using a single vote.”

Another Tory involved was the young John Bercow, later an MP and now Speaker of the House of Commons.

He said: “Margaret Thatcher was herself a driving force behind the Act and some of her ministers positively fizzed with enthusiasm about the single market, which they believed achieved the Thatcherisation of Europe.”

This was followed by Thatcher’s infamous “big bang” deregulation of the banks and the City, marking the launch of a rapacious and profoundly corrupt casino economy that has led us to the current crisis of capitalism.

By the late 1980s all Thatcher’s hard work led to the launch of plans for the Maastricht Treaty, designed to further centralise powers to the EU.

It was at this point that she turned on the monster she had done so much to create. She opposed the fall of the Berlin Wall as she understood the power a revanchist, reunited Germany could wield.

Tory Europhiles quickly moved against her, kicking her out “like a dog in the night,” in November 1990 as Dennis Skinner put it.

Europhile John Major replaced her as Tory leader, forcing through the ‘Thatcherite’ Maastricht Treaty and among other things the privatisation of the railways – under EU directive 91/440.