The Rt Hon. Baroness Thatcher LG, OM, FRS
The text of the speech delivered in Bruges by The Rt.
Hon. Mrs Margaret Thatcher, FRS, on 20th September 1988
It is impossible to overstate the importance of Margaret Thatcher's Bruges
Speech of September 20th 1988. Its effect was dramatic on the debate over
Britain's future relations with the fast accelerating process of European
The Prime Minister's speech was one of vision, clarity and foreboding. She
outlined a positive vision of a wider, decentralised and democratic Europe.
She attacked the Europe of Delors and in the process reinvented Euroscepticism
as an intellectually powerful and popular movement across the political
With chilling accuracy she predicted the stark choice facing Britain with
which we have wrestled since. Should Britain be part of a centralised,
unaccountable federal Europe or should we use our influence to help create a
Europe of independent, freely trading, cooperating nation states?
Margaret Thatcher opted for the latter choice and her vision was supported
by the British people. They have never wanted to become part of a European
Superstate and did not vote "Yes" to the Common Market in 1975 in order to
Despite the claims of its critics the Bruges speech was a positive vision
drawing strength from Europe's political and historical diversity. In her
vision of a Europe stretching across the continent, Margaret Thatcher pointed
to the countries of Eastern Europe which, as communism crumbled, were looking
west for an example of liberty, democracy, private enterprise and free trade.
How could Western Europe provide them with any model or inspiration when it
was so rapidly sliding towards very much the kind of undemocratic,
bureaucratic superstate that they were looking to escape from?
In fact the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe had occurred despite
not because of EC integration. Its inspiration derived from the winning
combination of free market economics and representative liberal democracy
which Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan personified. It was the AngloSaxon
model which proved to be the inspiration not the "Social model" of EC
consensus politics. Moreover, the myth that Britain's antifederalists were
backwardlooking, nationalistic, even xenophobic "little Englanders" was
dispelled by the speech. It attacked the EC from an internationalist
perspective, stressed that the EC should not be protectionist and emphasised
the wider responsibility to the Third World and to completing the Uruguay
Round of GATT.
Of course Margaret Thatcher combatively attacked the Europe envisaged by
Jacques Delors, the President of the European Commission. In a speech to the
European Parliament before the Bruges speech Delors had predicted that 80% of
decisions would be taken at European level in ten years time. His was an
inward-looking Europe of state-sponsored corporatism where decisions were
taken at supranational level and sovereignty transferred to Brussels.
Unelected Commissioners, Delors hoped, would enforce unitary policies across
Western Europe and in the process create a uniform European superpower to
rival the United States. Lip service was paid to democracy through the
machinations of the European Parliament which, in reality, was a tame tabby
cat without teeth or claws.
Margaret Thatcher's Europe was a Europe which included the countries of the
East, which left power in the hands of sovereign national parliaments and
which retained its strength through its diversity. She looked forward and
outwards to the new internationalist world while also showing respect for
Europe's history and traditions. Her vision was internationalist; the
federalist vision was supranationalist.
The speech had a major effect on informed opinion and helped fire those who
wanted to forge a different kind of Europe. Academics, politicians,
economists, journalists and other opinion formers were convinced by its logic
and consequently felt free to express their own disquiet with the bureaucratic
juggernaut that the European Community had become.
In February 1989 the Bruges Group was set up to campaign vigorously for the
goals outlined in the Bruges speech thus becoming the first Eurosceptical
organisation of the modern era. This reinvention of Euroscepticism enabled the
Bruges Group to attract considerable interest and publicity in the following
In a speech to the Bruges Group, Enoch Powell defined the men of Bruges as
"the people who had hoped, and hope still to see their country again an
independent selfgoverning nation." He further declared that "nothing will
ever be the same since 20 September 1988. It remains a fact, a historic fact,
made more historic by having come from one of the most astute politicians this
country has known in the years since the war, somebody apt at intuitively
appraising the mood of the people of this country."
Ten years on "Europe" is the most contentious domestic political issue. It
now transcends party politics so that cross party coalitions have emerged.
Both the major parties have been split over the issue. The initial cautious
reaction to the speech has been replaced by a positive yearning for its vision
of a future Europe. The archfederalist Sir Roy Denman revealed the
devastating effect the speech brought upon the British Establishment when he
admitted on "The Poisoned Chalice" (a BBC documentary on the history of
Britain's relationship with Europe) that the speech had made Euroscepticism
respectable and had unleashed a torrent of opposition against the federal
Such has been that torrent that Conrad Black (the proprietor of the Daily
Telegraph) recently stated in a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies,
"Since the European debate revived in earnest in the late 1980s, I have
noticed a persistent trend. Intellectually, Eurosceptics have won the argument
easily to the point where even the present Government, with its apparent
Europrediliction and massive majority, feels obliged to move with the utmost
The Bruges Speech and the activities of the Bruges Group have destroyed the
notion of the inevitability of federalist ideas. Our present position is one
of intellectual strength even though Britain's democratic and constitutional
future is still at stake. This is the challenge which the contemporary men of
Bruges will not shirk. Margaret Thatcher's seminal Bruges speech remains our
The text of the speech delivered in Bruges by The Rt.
Hon. Mrs Margaret Thatcher, FRS, on 20th September 1988
First, may I thank you for giving me the opportunity to return to Bruges -
and in very different circumstances from my last visit shortly after the
Zeebrugge ferry disaster, when Belgian courage and the devotion of your
doctors and nurses saved so many British lives.
Second, may I say what a pleasure it is to speak at the College of Europe
under the distinguished leadership of its Rector, Professor Lukaszewski. The
College plays a vital and increasingly important part in the life of the
Third, may I also thank you for inviting me to deliver my address in this
magnificent hall. What better place to speak of Europe's future than in a
building which so gloriously recalls the greatness that Europe had already
achieved over 600 years ago?
Your city of Bruges has many other historical associations for us in
Britain. Geoffrey Chaucer was a frequent visitor here. And the first book to
be printed in the English language was produced here in Bruges by William
Mr Chairman, you have invited me to speak on the subject of Britain and
Europe. Perhaps I should congratulate you on your courage. If you believe some
of the things said and written about my views on Europe, it must seem rather
like inviting Genghis Khan to speak on the virtues of peaceful
I want to start by disposing of some myths about my country, Britain, and
its relationship with Europe. And to do that I must say something about the
identity of Europe itself.
Europe is not the creation of the Treaty of Rome. Nor is the European idea
the property of any group or institution. We British are as much heirs to the
legacy of European culture as any other nation. Our links to the rest of
Europe, the continent of Europe, have been the dominant factor in our history.
For three hundred years we were part of the Roman Empire and our maps still
trace the straight lines of the roads the Romans built. Our ancestors - Celts,
Saxons and Danes - came from the continent.
Our nation was - in that favourite Community word "restructured" under
Norman and Angevin rule in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
This year we celebrate the three hundredth anniversary of the Glorious
Revolution in which the British crown passed to Prince William of Orange and
Queen Mary. Visit the great Churches and Cathedrals of Britain, read our
literature and listen to our language: all bear witness to the cultural riches
which we have drawn from Europe - and other Europeans from us.
We in Britain are rightly proud of the way in which, since Magna Carta in
1215, we have pioneered and developed representative institutions to stand as
bastions of freedom. And proud too of the way in which for centuries Britain
was a home for people from the rest of Europe who sought sanctuary from
But we know that without the European legacy of political ideas we could
not have achieved as much as we did. From classical and mediaeval thought we
have borrowed that concept of the rule of law which marks out a civilised
society from barbarism. And on that idea of Christendom - for long synonymous
with Europe - with its recognition of the unique and spiritual nature of the
individual, we still base our belief in personal liberty and other human
Too often the history of Europe is described as a series of interminable
wars and quarrels. Yet from our perspective today surely what strikes us most
is our common experience. For instance, the story of how Europeans explored
and colonised and - yes, without apology -civilised much of the world is an
extraordinary tale of talent, skill and courage.
We British have in a special way contributed to Europe. Over the centuries
we have fought to prevent Europe from falling under the dominance of a single
power. We have fought and we have died for her freedom. Only miles from here
in Belgium lie the bodies of 120,000 British soldiers who died in the First
World War. Had it not been for that willingness to fight and to die, Europe
would have been united long before now-but not in liberty, not in justice. It
was British support to resistance movements throughout the last War that
helped to keep alive the flame of liberty in so many countries until the day
Tomorrow, King Baudouin will attend a service in Brussels to commemorate
the many brave Belgians who gave their lives in service with the Royal Air
Force - a sacrifice which we shall never forget.
It was from our island fortress that the liberation of Europe itself was
mounted. And still today we stand together. Nearly 70,000 British servicemen
are stationed on the mainland of Europe.All these things alone are proof of
our commitment to Europe's future.
The European Community is one manifestation of that European identity. But
it is not the only one. We must never forget that East of the Iron Curtain
peoples who once enjoyed a full share of European culture, freedom and
identity have been cut off from their roots. We shall always look on Warsaw,
Prague and Budapest as great European cities.
Nor should we forget that European values have helped to make the United
States of America into the valiant defender of freedom which she has
This is no arid chronicle of obscure facts from the dustfilled libraries
of history. It is the record of nearly two thousand years of British
involvement in Europe, cooperation with Europe and contribution to Europe, a
contribution which today is as valid and as strong as ever. Yes, we have
looked also to wider horizons - as have others - and thank goodness for that,
because Europe never would have prospered and never will prosper as a
narrowminded, inwardlooking club.
The European Community belongs to all its members. It must reflect the
traditions and aspirations of all its members.
And let me be quite clear. Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated
existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe,
as part of the Community. That is not to say that our future lies only in
Europe. But nor does that of France or Spain or indeed any other member.
The Community is not an end in itself. Nor is it an institutional device to
be constantly modified according to the dictates of some abstract intellectual
concept. Nor must it be ossified by endless regulation.
The European Community is the practical means by which Europe can ensure
the future prosperity and security of its people in a world in which there are
many other powerful nations and groups of nations.
We Europeans cannot afford to waste our energies on internal disputes or
arcane institutional debates. They are no substitutes for effective
Europe has to be ready both to contribute in full measure to its own
security and to compete commercially and industrially, in a world in which
success goes to the countries which encourage individual initiative and
enterprise, rather than to those which attempt to diminish them.
This evening I want to set out some guiding principles for the future which
I believe will ensure that Europe does succeed, not just in economic and
defence terms but also in the quality of life and the influence of its
My first guiding principle is this: willing and active cooperation between
independent sovereign states is the best way to build a successful European
To try to suppress nationhood and concentrate power at the centre of a
European conglomerate would be highly damaging and would jeopardise the
objectives we seek to achieve.
Europe will be stronger precisely because it has France as France, Spain as
Spain, Britain as Britain, each with its own customs, traditions and identity.
It would be folly to try to fit them into some sort of identikit European
Some of the founding fathers of the Community thought that the United
States of America might be its model.
But the whole history of America is quite different from Europe. People
went there to get away from the intolerance and constraints of life in Europe.
They sought liberty and opportunity; and their strong sense of purpose has
over two centuries, helped create a new unity and pride in being American -
just as our pride lies in being British or Belgian or Dutch or German.
I am the first to say that on many great issues the countries of Europe
should try to speak with a single voice. 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
But working more closely together does not require power to be centralised
in Brussels or decisions to be taken by an appointed bureaucracy.
Indeed, 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, some
in the Community 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 reimposed 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
My second guiding principle is this: Community policies must tackle present
problems in a practical way, however difficult that may be. If we cannot
reform those Community policies which are patently wrong or ineffective and
which are rightly causing public disquiet, then we shall not get the public's
support for the Community's future development.
That is why the achievements of the European Council in Brussels last
February are so important.
It wasn't right that half the total Community Budget was being spent on
storing and disposing of surplus food. Now those stocks are being sharply
It was absolutely right to decide that agriculture's share of the budget
should be cut in order to free resources for other policies, such as helping
the less well off regions and training for jobs.
It was right too to introduce tighter budgetary discipline to enforce these
decisions and to bring total EC spending under better control.
Those who complained that the Community was spending so much time on
financial detail missed the point. You cannot build on unsound foundations,
financial or otherwise; and it was the fundamental reforms agreed last winter
which paved the way for the remarkable progress which we have since made on
the Single Market.
But we cannot rest on what we have achieved to date. For example, the task
of reforming the Common Agricultural Policy is far from complete. Certainly,
Europe needs a stable and efficient farming industry.
But the CAP has become unwieldy, inefficient and grossly expensive.
Production of unwanted surpluses safeguards neither the income nor the future
of farmers themselves.
We must continue to pursue policies which relate supply more closely to
market requirements, and which will reduce overproduction and limit costs.
Of course, we must protect the villages and rural areas which are such an
important part of our national life-but not by the instrument of agricultural
Tackling these problems requires political courage. The Community will only
damage itself in the eyes of its own people and the outside world, if that
courage is lacking.
My third guiding principle is the need for Community policies which
encourage enterprise. If Europe is to flourish and create the jobs of the
future, enterprise is the key.
The basic framework is there: the Treaty of Rome itself was intended as a
Charter for Economic Liberty. But that is not how it has always been read
still less applied.
The lesson of the economic history of Europe in the 1970s and 1980s is that
central planning and detailed control don't work, and that personal endeavour
and initiative do. That a State-controlled economy is a recipe for low
growth; and that free enterprise within a framework of law brings better
The aim of a Europe open to enterprise is the moving force behind the
creation of the Single European Market by 1992. By getting rid of barriers, by
making it possible for companies to operate on a Europewide scale, we can
best compete with the United States, Japan and the other new economic powers
emerging in Asia and elsewhere.
And that means action to free markets, action to widen choice, action to
reduce government intervention.
Our aim should not be more and more detailed regulation from the centre: it
should be to deregulate and to remove the constraints on trade.
Britain has been in the lead in opening its markets to others.
The City of London has long welcomed financial institutions from all over
the world, which is why it is the biggest and most successful financial centre
We have opened our market for telecommunications equipment, introduced
competition into the market for services and even into the network itself -
steps which others in Europe are only now beginning to face.
In air transport, we have taken the lead in liberalisation and seen the
benefits in cheaper fares and wider choice.
Our coastal shipping trade is open to the merchant navies of Europe. I wish
I could say the same of many other Community members.
Regarding monetary matters, let me say this. The key issue is not whether
there should be a European Central Bank. The immediate and practical
- to implement the Community's commitment to free movement of capital - in
Britain we have it; and to the abolition throughout the Community of the
exchange controls - in Britain we abolished them in 1979;
- to establish a genuinely free market in financial services, in banking,
- to make greater use of the ecu. Britain is this autumn issuing
ecudenominated Treasury bills, and hopes to see other Community governments
increasingly do the same.
These are the real requirements because they are what Community business
and industry need, if they are to compete effectively in the wider world. And
they are what the European consumer wants, for they will widen his choice and
lower his costs.
It is to such basic practical steps that the Community's attention should
When those have been achieved, and sustained over a period of time, we
shall be in a better position to judge the next moves.
It is the same with the frontiers between our countries. Of course we must
make it easier for goods to pass through frontiers. Of course we must make it
easier for our people to travel throughout the Community. But it is a matter
of plain commonsense that we cannot totally abolish frontier controls if we
are also to protect our citizens from crime and stop the movement of drugs, of
terrorists, and of illegal immigrants.
That was underlined graphically only three weeks ago, when one brave German
customs officer, doing his duty on the frontier between Holland and Germany
struck a major blow against the terrorists of the IRA.
And before I leave the subject of the Single Market, may I say that we
certainly do not need new regulations which raise the cost of employment and
make Europe's labour market less flexible and less competitive with overseas
If we are to have a European Company Statute, it should contain the minimum
regulations. And certainly we in Britain would fight attempts to introduce
collectivism and corporatism at the European level - although what people wish
to do in their own countries is a matter for them.
My fourth guiding principle is that Europe should not be protectionist. The
expansion of the world economy requires us to continue the process of removing
barriers to trade and to do so in the multilateral negotiations in the
It would be a betrayal if, while breaking down constraints on trade within
Europe, the Community were to erect greater external protection. We must
ensure that our approach to world trade is consistent with the liberalisation
we preach at home.
We have a responsibility to give a lead on this, a responsibility which is
particularly directed towards the less developed countries. They need not only
aid; more than anything they need improved trading opportunities if they are
to gain the dignity of growing economic strength and independence.
My last guiding principle concerns the most fundamental issue, the European
countries' role in defence. Europe must continue to maintain a sure defence
through NATO. There can be no question of relaxing our efforts even though it
means taking difficult decisions and meeting heavy costs.
It is to NATO that we owe the peace that has been maintained over 40 years.
The fact is things are going our way: the democratic model of a free
enterprise society has proved itself superior; freedom is on the offensive, a
peaceful offensive, the world over for the first time in my lifetime. We must
strive to maintain the United States' commitment to Europe's defence. That
means recognising the burden on their resources of the world role they
undertake, and their point that their Allies should play a full part in the
defence of freedom, particularly as Europe grows wealthier. Increasingly they
will look to Europe to play a part in outofarea defence, as we have recently
done in the Gulf.
NATO and the WEU have long recognised where the problems with Europe's
defences lie, and have pointed out the solutions. The time has come when we
must give substance to our declarations about a strong defence effort with
better value for money.
It is not an institutional problem. It is not a problem of drafting. It is
something at once simpler and more profound: it is a question of political
will and political courage, of convincing people in all our countries that we
cannot rely for ever on others for our defence, but that each member of the
Alliance must shoulder a fair share of the burden.
We must keep up public support for nuclear deterrence, remembering that
obsolete weapons do not deter; hence the need for modernisation.
We must meet the requirements for effective conventional defence in Europe
against Soviet forces which are constantly being modernised.
We should develop the WEU, not as an alternative to NATO. but as a means of
strengthening Europe's contribution to the common defence of the West.
Above all, at a time of change and uncertainty in the Soviet Union and
Eastern Europe, we must preserve Europe's unity and resolve, so that whatever
may happen our defence is sure. At the same time, we must negotiate on arms
control and keep the door wide open to cooperation on all the other issues
covered by the Helsinki Accords.
But let us never forget that our way of life, our vision, and all that we
hope to achieve is secured not by the rightness of our cause but by the
strength of our defence. On this we must never falter, never fail.
I believe it is not enough just to talk in general terms about a European
vision or ideal. If we believe in it, we must chart the way ahead and identify
the next steps. That is what I tried to do this evening.
This approach does not require new documents: they are all there, the North
Atlantic Treaty, the Revised Brussels Treaty, and the Treaty of Rome, texts
written by farsighted men, a remarkable Belgian - Paul Henri Spaak - among
However far we may want to go, the truth is that we can only get there one
step at a time.
What we need now is to take decisions on the next steps forward rather than
let ourselves be distracted by Utopian goals.
Utopia never comes, because we know we should not like it if it did.
Let Europe be a family of nations, understanding each other better
appreciating each other more, doing more together but relishing our national
identity no less than our common European endeavour.
Let us have a Europe which plays its full part in the wider world, which
looks outward not inward, and which preserves that Atlantic Community - that
Europe on both sides of the Atlantic - which is our noblest inheritance and
our greatest strength.
May I thank you for the privilege of delivering this lecture in this great
hall to this great College.