UK central government and the European Union

It is some thirty-five years since the United Kingdom joined what is now called the European Union. What has been the impact of the EU on UK central government? Has it been transformed or merely adapted to new pressures and requirements? This book explores the ‘Europeanisation’ of the work of civil servants and ministers and how they engage with the EU. Drawing on fresh empirical evidence—including interviews with over 200 serving and retired officials and ministers—it offers a comprehensive analysis of the spreading impact of European integration across government. The study is placed in the context of political divisions over the European Union but the book outlines the often neglected way in which the EU has transformed the business of government. This account charts the process from the Macmillan government's 1961 application to join the European Communities through to the end of Tony Blair's premiership. The book examines the character and timing of responses across government, covering the core government departments and also those more recently affected, such as the Ministry of Defence. It argues that central government has organized itself efficiently to deal with the demands of EU membership despite the often controversial party-political divisions over Europe. However, in placing the book's findings in comparative context, the conclusion is that the effectiveness of UK governments in the EU has been less striking.

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This chapter concludes the book by reflecting on the key characteristics of the response in Whitehall and on the strengths and weaknesses of Whitehall's adaptation. The examination of change has been facilitated by the development of tools of analysis derived from two approaches: Europeanisation and historical institutionalism. The book also highlighted the importance of significant individuals in facilitating change and the importance of exploring matters concerning the effectiveness of the UK approach to the EU.

in The Europeanisation of Whitehall

This chapter compares UK adaptation with that of other EU member states. By comparing the experiences of other member states, it seeks to give a clearer profile of the distinctive features of adjustment in UK central government. Second, it aims to build on the framework and explanatory model to offer a comparative approach to exploring the Europeanisation of member state institutions. The first section locates the UK response to Europeanisation in a comparative perspective using France and Germany as comparisons. The second section summarises the EU's impact on the working lives of civil servants and ministers across the EU. The third section seeks to identify analytical patterns of adaptation in central governments and government institutions more widely.

in The Europeanisation of Whitehall
Open Access (free)
Between political controversy and administrative efficiency

European integration has represented one of the most fundamental challenges for politics in the United Kingdom since 1945. Integration has highlighted the problems of, and possibilities for, the re-orientation of foreign policy as part of the United Kingdom's post-war descent from world power status. The authors have argued that two broad patterns of European policy conduct can be identified in the United Kingdom. Under circumstances of a small parliamentary majority, they argued that continued British sensitivity to issues of sovereignty could result in issues of European policy being handled in a highly symbolic, rhetoricised manner. However, they also argued that much European policy did not trigger these sovereignty concerns and was consequently conducted at a more technical level. There are two apparently contradictory patterns evident in the management of British European policy. One is a pattern of centralisation and the other trend is more centrifugal.

in Fifteen into one?
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The United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union (EU) has been complex and troublesome. The relationship itself is multifaceted: open to historical, political, economic and legal analysis. This chapter sets the scene for the study. It reviews the key events in Britain's relationship with European integration. It highlights the controversies in Britain's relations with the EU and how they bear upon the central focus of the book, namely adaptation in central government. The chapter then examines the different component parts of the relationship by looking at aspects of the reception of European integration in the British polity, and the very different task of projecting British politics into the European arena.

in The Europeanisation of Whitehall
Analytical challenges

In order to understand the notion of adapting to European integration both within government and in the wider political system, this chapter develops a conceptual framework through reference to ‘Europeanisation’ and institutionalism. Europeanisation dissects the phenomenon of adapting to integration. The discussion augments Europeanisation by using historical institutionalism to explore, over time, the adjustments of UK central government to the EU.

in The Europeanisation of Whitehall

This chapter examines the character of EU governance. What are the rules of the game at the EU level? Where do national governments fit in with EU policy-making? What are the pressures emanating from the EU system of governance that impact upon British central government? This chapter intends to reveal the rules and norms at the EU level within which British central government has to operate. This EU framework is important for a range of reasons, but most centrally because it is the main source of Europeanisation effects.

in The Europeanisation of Whitehall
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Europeanisation and accession

This chapter commences the study of adjustment within UK central government. It examines the process of coming to grips with integration: from the early 1960s, when the Macmillan government applied for membership to the EEC, up to accession. In examining the adaptation of the UK central government, the discussion argues that Whitehall's adaptation to Europe began well before UK accession.

in The Europeanisation of Whitehall
The hub

In sketching out the contemporary features of Whitehall's way of organising for Europe, this chapter concentrates on the three key organisations and the actors connected to them that are responsible for coordinating the handling of EU business above and across departments. These form the hub of the EU policy-making system. Initially, the chapter presents an outline of the contemporary structure and operation of this hub. The second half of the chapter considers the main structural and operational changes to it that have taken place since accession in 1973. The EU policy-making network can be defined in a general sense according to its membership but at any particular time according to the business being handled.

in The Europeanisation of Whitehall

This chapter explores the way in which the EU has impinged upon the inner core of departments most engaged in EU policy-making in UK central government. It prioritises certain parts of the Whitehall European policy-making network. These categories are: an inner core of ministries with extensive involvement in the EU: DEFRA, the Treasury and the DTI; other London-based ministries, which have varying degrees of involvement in EU business; and the ‘territorial’ ministries prior to devolution and subsequent arrangements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland thereafter.

in The Europeanisation of Whitehall