The British state and European integration : the politics of modernisation
My research develops a sociological framework for exploring the structural constraints on the Europeanisation of British politics. I examine the history of Britain's relationship to the European Community/European Union (EC/EU) from the immediate post-war period up until 1994 in terms of the politics of modernisation. I discuss forms of political and economic modernisation and argue that we can use broad conceptions of these processes to establish the underlying structural tensions within the relationship between the British state and European integration. I maintain that Britain has not followed the same pattern of political and economic development associated with modem Europe and has been historically constituted as a vehicle for global economic modernisation. This has placed the British state at odds with the organisation of Europe as a political and economic space. This structural problem emerges in the practices and struggles of political elites over the role of 'Europe' within a post-imperial Britain. I examine the chronic failure of elites to legitimate and establish a coherent strategy for European integration within the recent trajectory of the British state. British elites understandings of the role of European integration for domestic political modernisation have been flawed. I propose that this has been compounded by the ideological construction of 'Europe' as ' other' within populist political projects of British exceptionalism that emerged out of a post-imperial crisis. This culminated in the Thatcherite re-assertion of British exceptionalism in relation to the second wave of European integration, igniting tensions in Britain's relationship with the EC/EU that became fully manifest during the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. I explore in some detail the extensive attack by a Eurosceptic movement on the Major government that undermined the attempt of the governing elites to accommodate Britain to a second wave of integration. This reassertion of Britain's difference from Europe during the 1990s had long term implications for both the Conservative and New Labour governments. It is, therefore, apparent that the British contestation over 'Europe' is structurally reproducing Britain's distinctive relationship to the process of European integration.