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William King and David Lawton

Sceptical views towards European integration is a topic of significant relevance. Euroscepticism and criticisms of European integration are not a new phenomenon. There is a long history of criticism and scepticism towards the integration process throughout Europe, which is vital to understand in the current climate. Critical views towards integration form an integral part of the history of European integration. Those considered sceptics shaped and helped form the European Union we know today. In this project, views critiquing, resisting, or challenging integration will be explored not in a negative light viewing further integration as inevitable but in a balanced assessment of their role and place in history.

The Euroscepticism project consists of DHI Rome, Warsaw, London and the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. The subprojects analyse historical configurations that have led to the emergence of criticism of European integration. A meaningful result can only be achieved if Euroscepticism is understood from different perspectives. ‘Eurosceptic’ views and arguments cannot be reduced to purely a singular approach, ‘Eurosceptic’ narratives consist a plethora of views, visions and criticisms. The cooperation of four institutions in four European states provides the basis for investigations along these lines. The projects of colleagues explore the interwar and postwar periods. Topics include business and economic history, international politics, the politics of the far-right and far-left, elite networks, narratives, and Eastern Enlargement. The project is also not limited to national governments in Britain, Italy, Germany or Poland; it explores transnational networks, nations such as France and Portugal, empires, and global politics.

The British part of this European-wide collaborative project will zoom in on the 1970s-2000s. Focusing on the crucial period of enlargement and further deepening of European integration, with the Single European Act and Maastricht Treaty, it will explore a plethora of economic, social, cultural and political criticisms and arguments towards integration in Britain. It will not limit itself to a mainstream political history but include the views and visions of those not in power, the means and methods of communication and conveying essential information on Britain and integration, and seek to show the multifaceted nature of ‘Eurosceptic’ views.

David Lawton, the GHIL and Queen Mary University of London PhD Researcher on the project, is exploring ‘Eurosceptic’ networks in Britain. Dave is jointly supervised by Christina von Hodenberg (GHIL), James Ellison (QMUL), and Robert Saunders (QMUL). His project seeks to historicize the birth of ‘Euroscepticism’ in Britain by examining the slow transformation of the ‘anti-marketeers’ (or ‘antis’) after the 1975 referendum into a new and broader constellation of actors in British public life: ‘The Eurosceptics’. To understand this political evolution, it focuses on the emergence of trans-sectoral networks, which critically engaged with ideas about the future of European integration during the 1980s and 1990s, the same period in which ‘Euroscepticism’ as a concept was invented. The project aims to recover the social life of these networks, analyze conscious framing strategies used by actors and draw networking graphs to discover nodal points.

The GHIL Research Fellow on the project, William King, is exploring the European Parliament and the Labour Party. Before joining the GHIL, he was a Teaching Fellow at Sciences Po, and he completed his PhD in International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science. William’s research focuses on the 1970s-1990s, including the first directly elected European Parliament. It ends by investigating the impact of the Maastricht Treaty. At the heart of William’s research is a focus on key individuals who actively shaped and influenced the European integration project; many of them opposed British membership. A particular focus of the project is Barbara Castle. The project as a whole will be used as a ‘way in’ to explore the ‘Eurosceptic’ British Labour Group and their engagement in the Socialist Group and the European Parliament. It explores how they played a significant part in constructing and forming EEC/EC policy in many important areas and how they potentially enhanced the prestige and power of the European Parliament, but also their limited contributions and frustrations. This approach will allow appreciation of the varied forms of ‘Eurosceptic’ views and figures in the British Labour Group.

In all the projects, both in London and the Euroscepticism project as a whole, it is vital to view European integration as an arena of conflicted politics. It is not purely a progressive narrative nor an inevitable process. The collaborative European Euroscepticism project seeks to show how sceptical views of European integration were and are not exclusive to Britain and to transcend national borders through exploring the interplay between regional, national and European factors in a long-term perspective and study. There were a variety of ‘Eurosceptic’ and critical views across Europe, with some arguments following a similar vein to Euroscepticism in Britain but with others unique to specific groups and actors. The GHIL part of this wider project thus forms one integral link in this collaborative enterprise.

Blog post by William King

Project website