21st Jun 2021

EU leaders pay tribute to Thatcher's 'extraordinary legacy'

  • Thatcher was the first woman leader of a major European democracy (Photo:

Tributes from EU leaders have poured in for Margaret Thatcher, the UK's longest serving Prime Minister in the 20th century, who died on Monday (8 April) aged 87.

Known for her uncompromising approach at home and abroad, Thatcher was the first woman leader of a major European democracy.

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Although regarded as a heroine for eurosceptics in Britain and elsewhere for her opposition to the single currency and the expansion of EU powers, Thatcher was not always an opponent of European integration.

In opposition she criticised the Labour government's refusal to sign Britain up to the Exchange Rate Mechanism and called for European countries to work together on defence policy.

As Prime Minister, she was one of the drivers of the Single European Act in 1986 which paved the way for the creation of the EU's single market, believing that this would liberalise trade between European countries and promote free markets.

Thatcher's personal popularity was also high in eastern Europe because of her role in bringing the Cold War to an end and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, who built a strong working relationship with Thatcher described her as an "exceptional" person. "In the end, we were able to achieve mutual understanding, and this contributed to a change in the atmosphere between our country and the West and to the end of the Cold War."

In 1981, her "handbagging" tactics - a negotiating style likened to whacking people with a handbag - led to the successful negotiation of a British rebate from the EU's annual budget.

However, her 1988 speech at the College of Europe in Bruges marked a notably eurosceptic shift in tone.

"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 super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels," she said at the time.

She would later oppose plans by Jacques Delors, the socialist President of the European Commission, to move towards a federal system of EU lawmaking.

In later life she would also describe the single market as a mistake because of its increased use of qualified majority voting and removal of national vetoes.

European Council President Herman van Rompuy led tributes to the "Iron Lady," describing her as "a transformative force in the UK and equally important in shaping the European agenda."

In a statement, Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that Thatcher was "a circumspect yet engaged player in the European Union" who would be remembered for "her contributions to and her reserves about our common project."

In a reference to the Thatcher government's support for EU enlargement and the integration of countries from the former Soviet Union, he added that she was "a leading player in bringing into the European family the Central and Eastern European countries which were formerly behind the Iron Curtain."

For his part, Martin Schultz, the socialist President of the European Parliament, said that Thatcher had been a "committed European" in driving forward the single market.

"No matter whether one agrees with her policies or not, she showed that politicians still has the capacity to be a force for change," he added.

Martin Callanan, leader of the conservative ECR group, which includes the UK Tory MEPs, said that Thatcher had left an "extraordinary legacy" and, together with US President Ronald Reagan, "helped to transform the political map of Europe."

Meanwhile, current Prime Minister David Cameron cancelled planned visits to Paris and Berlin to discuss his plans to renegotiate the EU treaties, choosing instead to return to London from Madrid where he had been meeting with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Thatcher seeks alternatives to full EU membership

The time has come for Britain to seek alternatives to full membership of the European Union, Baroness Thatcher argues in her new book Statecraft. Lady Thatcher urges an incoming Conservative government to seek fundamental renegotiation of Britain’s terms of EU membership. "The objectives would be a withdrawal from the CAP, an end to our adherence to the common fisheries policy, withdrawal from all the entanglements of a common foreign and security policy and a reassertion of control of our trade policy," she argues in the book.

Thatcher said to have cancelled withdrawal speech

The “Iron Lady”, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was ready to call for Britain to leave the European Union and had set aside 16 days to launch a campaign timed for 25 March last year, writes the BBC and the Mail on Sunday. Only after intervention from the conservative leader William Hague plans were dropped. "Nonsense", says a spokesman of the Conservative party.

What separates Thatcher and Blair?

Boris Johnson, editor of The Spectator comments in the Daily Telegraph on the Blair-Thatcher clash Wednesday on the European reaction force.

What separates Thatcher and Blair is balls: she's got them, writes Boris Johnson.


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