As the debate over the forthcoming EU referendum gears up, it would be wise perhaps to remember how Britain was led into membership in the first place. It seems to me that most people have little idea why one of the victors of the Second World War should have become almost desperate to join this “club”. That’s a shame, because answering that question is key to understanding why the EU has gone so wrong.
Most students seem to think that Britain was in dire economic straits, and that the European Economic Community – as it was then called – provided an economic engine which could revitalise our economy. Others seem to believe that after the Second World War Britain needed to recast her geopolitical position away from empire, and towards a more realistic one at the heart of Europe. Neither of these arguments, however, makes any sense at all.
The EEC in the 1960s and 1970s was in no position to regenerate anyone’s economy. It spent most of its meagre resources on agriculture and fisheries and had no means or policies to generate economic growth.
When growth did happen, it did not come from the EU. From Ludwig Erhard’s supply-side reforms in West Germany in 1948 to Thatcher’s privatisation of nationalised industry in the Eighties, European growth came from reforms introduced by individual countries which were were copied elsewhere. EU policy has always been either irrelevant or positively detrimental (as was the case with the euro).