EU identity crisis brutally summed up as Gorbachev likened bloc to Soviet Union | World | NewsDecember 20, 2020
The EU is arguably going through its worst ever confidence crisis. Regardless of the current state of Brexit talks, Britain’s departure presents an unprecedented challenge to the bloc’s future credibility. Throw in the row between member states over the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund, the situation is bleak. To make matters worse, the supranational body’s very philosophy has been called into question.
Mikhail Gorbachev famously stated: “The most puzzling development in modern politics is the apparent determination of western European leaders to re-create the Soviet Union in western Europe.”
This, coming from the man who served as General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party from 1985 to 1991, is a damning indictment.
Mr Gorbachev is generally remembered on the right side of history, given he opened up the USSR and issued an olive branch to western leaders that dramatically de-escalated tensions.
His relationship with US President Ronald Reagan, in particular, could be seen as a factor that marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
Yet, Mr Gorbachev still resided over the Chernobyl disaster and the fall of the Berlin Wall – so he knows more than most what can go wrong when power becomes too centralised.
More worrying still for heads in Brussels, his comments have resurfaced after US President Barack Obama pinpointed the bloc’s “unresolved contradictions”.
And one of Mr Gorbachev’s contemporaries, Margaret Thatcher, also made the Soviet Union comparison.
Making a bold speech in Bruges in 1988, she argued that the financial reforms she had introduced since becoming Prime Minister in 1979 would be undermined if Britain adopted the European model.
She said: “It is ironic that just when those countries such as the Soviet Union, which have tried to run everything from the centre, are learning that success depends on dispersing power and decisions away from the centre, there are some in the Community who seem to want to move in the opposite direction.
“We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European superstate exercising a new dominance from Brussels.
“Certainly we want to see Europe more united and with a greater sense of common purpose.
“But it must be in a way which preserves the different traditions, parliamentary powers and sense of national pride in one’s own country: for these have been the source of Europe’s vitality through the centuries.”
It came after Jacques Delors, then European Commission President, urged Britain’s labour movement to embrace a “uniquely European model of society” and support a “platform of guaranteed social rights”.
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Mrs Thatcher added: “I want to see us work more closely on the things we can do better together than alone.
“Europe is stronger when we do so, whether it be in trade, in defence or in our relations with the rest of the world.
“But working more closely together does not require power to be centralised in Brussels or decisions to be taken by an appointed bureaucracy.”
Just weeks later, she described the bloc as “socialist” in her Conservative Party conference speech – marking a turning point that established a genuine Tory eurosceptic wing.
Mrs Thatcher was critical of Britain’s relationship with Europe long after leaving office, too.
She was furious about Sir John Major’s decision to sign the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, saying: “Our trust was not well-founded.
“We got our fingers burnt. The most silly thing to do when you get your fingers burnt is to bring forward a bigger and worse Act which is the equivalent of putting your head in the fire.”
Speaking months later in the House of Lords about Maastricht, she added: “I could never have signed this treaty.”