The Independent Archive: Forty years of labour must not be swept away

21 September 1989 Edward Heath sees nothing to celebrate in the anniversary of Margaret Thatcher's Bruges speech
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The Independent Culture
THE ANNIVERSARY of Mrs Thatcher's speech at the College of Europe at Bruges was not a day for commemoration, let alone celebration.

To our partners in the Community Mrs Thatcher's insistence that Europe could be no more than an association of independent sovereign states was a rejection of all that they had been working for over the last 40 years. It also contradicted the declaration of the treaties of Paris and Rome which I had signed in 1972 and the Single Act which she had signed in 1986, which had the specific objective of creating a "European Union" and "extending common policies and pursuing new objectives" to this end.

Most importantly, it led our partners to consolidate their growing view that, if necessary, they must move forward towards their goal on their own by voluntary agreement, leaving Britain outside, powerless to influence events inside the Community and ignored by the rest of the world.

The speech contained wild allegations about the nature of the European Community and its institutions. The kindest interpretation was that these passages could only have been written by Mrs Thatcher's malicious advisers living in a world of fantasy of their own making. Who on earth has ever envisaged a "European identikit" being imposed on 320 million people?

The joy of the Community is that it brings together in freedom so many people of such varied backgrounds and cultures. The majority of our young people want to be able to move easily and freely around the Community to see its treasures, as did those of their forefathers who were sufficiently wealthy to make the "Grand Tour" in the 18th century.

Mrs Thatcher described the Community as being subject to "the dictates of some abstract intellectual concept". Why attack what does not exist? Why complain of being "ossified by endless regulation" when every Community regulation replaces 12 individual ones? Similarly, why put forward the gross exaggeration of being dictated to by "decisions taken by an appointed bureaucracy" when the decisions are taken by heads of government and ministers and implemented, as in Whitehall, by civil servants who are also appointed, not elected?

In the same category is the nonsense about the inflated bureaucracy in Brussels, when in fact it is smaller, even though it looks after 320 million people, than the bureaucracy in Scotland which looks after 5.5 million.

It was when Mrs Thatcher laid down her first guiding principle that she revealed her true intentions. She said: "Willing and active co-operation between independent sovereign states is the best way to build a successful European Community." It is that which has dismayed the British people and those who are our partners.

There is nothing to fear from closer union. It is the progress we have made towards that goal over the past 40 years which has kept the peace in Europe. A return to the 19th- century status of "independent sovereign states" would undermine the stability we have created. For it was that condition which brought about three European wars in 75 years. That is the past. We have resolved it will never return.

The fact is that this Community must concentrate now on immediate action to bring about the proposals in the Single Act which we all have signed. Britain must become a full member of the European Monetary System. We are made to look fools when, for the whole of the 10 years of her administration, the Prime Minister says Britain will join when the time is ripe. And now says "when inflation has been reduced". Our partners know this is blatant dishonesty, and laugh when they look at our still high rate of inflation, incredibly high interest rates damaging our industry and home owners, and the massive deficit on our balance of payments, only to be told that they should be running their affairs as the British government does here.

The Bruges speech was the clearest warning yet that the struggle is not yet over. We must fight on for the future of Britain and our people in a Europe united for the welfare of all.

From The Independent, Thursday 21 September 1989