Glen Ruffle: Thatcher’s EU prophecies

The Iron Lady dominated British politics for over a decade, blazing a trail that changed the world. Yet the power of her understanding, powerfully visible during her life, is stunning when seen from the end of 2015.


This year has seen the fruit of the EU come to the fore. The Greek crisis, aggravated by the Single Currency, was forecast in her memoirs in ‘The Downing Street Years’. Thatcher stated that a single currency would devastate the weaker economies of Europe. She identified the Franco-German federal engine and its southern-state backers, who expected rewards in exchange for political support (“…they (the Greeks) hoped to receive sufficient subsidies to make their acquiescence worthwhile”), and the northern businesses keen to place their high costs and regulatory burdens on potentially cheaper rivals.

As for the basis of monetary union, Thatcher warned “I knew full well that whenever you take economic decisions for political purposes, you run considerable risks.” Billions-of-Euros-printed-and-thrown-at-failing-economies-later, it is difficult to imagine her writing this nine years before Euro coins started to circulate.

Speaking of the ERM, but using words that accurately describe the Euro, she pointed out that joining it would be an admission of failure, declaring to the world that we could not discipline ourselves economically, needing the restraint provided by other European economies – principally, Germany. This may be true of Greece, but is Britain really that hopeless? She wisely pointed out that, once in a single-currency structure, a state’s room for manoeuvre in times of pressure is removed, again born out in Greece’s inability to devalue its currency.

If people are still wondering what exactly Europe is, then vagueness was something Thatcher also encountered. The Single European Act’s wording of “progressive realisation of economic and monetary union” to Thatcher meant cooperation, but to the federalists, the Euro. Thatcher stated “Far too much of the Community’s history had consisted of … nebulous phrases …and … then later clothing them with federal meaning which we had been assured they never possessed.”

The consequence of this approach to policy were (and are) that “In three years the European Community had gone from practical discussions about restoring order to the Community’s finances to grandiose schemes of monetary and political union with firm timetables but no agreed substance – all without open, principled public debate…”

In explaining why Britain would benefit from being free of Europe, Thatcher pointed out that “…Britain’s own trade policy was now in the hands of the Community…with a tradition of cartels and corporatism and a politically influential agricultural sector.” She pointed out the relentless loss of sovereignty to a power-hungry Commission that always sought bureaucracy over market-based solutions, and the Franco-German protectionist alliance.

And, as the European dream has proved itself in 2015 not only economically fragile but also politically weak, so the Europhiles are “…clinging grimly to a half-Europe…when truly global markets were emerging…If there was ever an idea whose time had come and gone, it was surely that of the artificial mega-state.”

Her wisdom extends to the current campaign: If the EU was without Britain, says Thatcher, French and German taxpayers and businesses would have to pay for all the regulations, benefits and internal aid costs. Britain would be free to prosper, or at least determine its own future. After all, “What’s wrong with that (a two-tier Europe) if the other tier is going in the wrong direction?”

And her advice to the moral dilemma of immigration facing Europe now can be found in a ‘Le Monde’ interview: “Human rights did not begin with the French Revolution…[they] really stem from a mixture of Judaism and Christianity…” If the self-aggrandising leaders of the EU could only understand the roots of the values they say they hold, then they would stop downgrading Christianity and understand that in the tolerance of that one religion, the others can enjoy peace.

Margaret Thatcher: defining leader of the late 20th century; global presence; victor over oppressive communism; revitaliser of the British economy; and prophetess.

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