Brussels and Mrs. Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher spoke about Europe mainly in terms of what she didn’t want: neither a “narrow-minded, inward-looking club” that is “ossified by endless regulation,” nor “an institutional device to be constantly modified according to the dictates of some abstract intellectual concept.”

And in a 1988 speech that resonates in Britain’s current debate over whether to stay in the European Union or pull out, Thatcher definitely didn’t want “power to be centralized in Brussels” or “a European superstate exercising a new dominance from Brussels.”

So much of what Thatcher didn’t want has become reality — Britain stayed out of the now crisis-hit euro, the EU budget was just scaled back, decision-making remains hostage to national vetoes — that her death yesterday left the Brussels authorities fumbling for something appropriate to say about her political legacy.

Britain’s first female prime minister was a “remarkable personality” and “important in shaping the European agenda,” said Herman Van Rompuy, a former Belgian government leader who is the first holder of the full-time job of managing EU summits.

European Commission President Jose Barroso recalled “both her contributions to and her reserves about our common project,” highlighting the former (her enthusiasm for the single market and enlargement) and passing in respectful silence over the latter.

Britain’s “special role” in today’s EU is thanks to her, Barroso said, presumably not referring to London’s support for the European fight against climate change.

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