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  • Cited by 4
  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: April 2015

14 - Europe: The coalition's poisoned chalice

Summary

Introduction

‘Europe’ is an issue of domestic and international politics, with domestic ramifications and wider international implications. The UK's relationship with its partners and allies in the European Union (EU) has long been one of the most challenging issues in British politics, and one that the mainstream parties have sought to keep off the agenda. ‘Europe’ is also an area of major difference between the coalition parties. There is thus something of a dual coalition over European policy: that between the Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat colleagues, and that among Conservatives with increasingly divergent opinions on European matters. In an era of coalition government, policymakers have thus needed to work in three arenas: the internal Conservative, the coalition and the European. Yet, a policy area that might have been very controversial and sensitive appeared to be tackled effectively and constructively in the Coalition Agreement. And so matters would be tackled on a daily basis within government as Liberal Democrat and Conservative ministers and advisers developed positive and mutually respectful working relationships. Over the course of the Parliament the greatest tensions within the coalition over European issues were to be seen within the Conservative Party, rather than between the Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat colleagues. There was no clear sense of vision or leadership on European policy, which at times seemed to be driven by Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers rather than the party leadership. As this chapter will show, the coalition had some notable achievements within the EU but was unable to influence certain key policies at the EU level, notably failing to block the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission in the summer of 2014. However, many of the positions adopted by the government were also supported by the Labour Party. Thus, the fact of a coalition government per se neither impeded nor enhanced the effective delivery of British European policy, although the personality and style of David Cameron and his internal party difficulties did have an impact.

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