Elizabeth II at the European Parliament in Strasbourg (1992) / Source European Parliament
To analyse. Hours of special broadcasts on European television channels, the flags of the European Commission at half mast, all the European leaders gathered in London… As the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II ends today, the The emotion that has crossed the whole continent questions the link that the sovereign maintained with European construction.
In February 1952, just a few months before the entry into force of the Treaty of Paris, which established the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), Queen Elizabeth II acceded to the throne. The one who witnessed the whole of European construction will also have punctuated it, albeit in a discreet way, by her various public interventions.
Europe, the “ideal of freedom” of Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II has always shown her attachment to the European project. Following the signing of the Treaties of Rome (establishing the European Communities) in 1957, the sovereign, on an official visit to France, described Europe as “the ideal of freedom”… Without being able to be a member, since its neighbor across the Channel maintained a veto on the entry of the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community.
A first turn took place fifteen years later, in May 1972, during his visit to Paris. President Georges Pompidou had just lifted the veto, thus calming Franco-British relations. It was enough for the British monarch to mention the “destiny of Europe [qui] flowed through London and Paris, as the Thames and the Seine flow there. Before adding: “I have no doubt that these two great cities, which are different in many respects but which are attached to the same values and share the same hopes, will always continue to exert their influence on the direction and character of European progress”. During her various official visits to the Old Continent (including five to France), she was never lacking in compliments to designate European construction.
Elizabeth II, European Head of State
It was undoubtedly in Strasbourg, in 1992, that Elizabeth II delivered her most significant speech on Europe. As the Treaty of Maastricht had just been signed, the word of the monarch, although theoretically politically neutral, was particularly awaited. Draped in “European blue”, the British monarch walked through the doors of the European Parliament (which was then still sitting in the Palais de l’Europe), before beginning her speech at the podium, quoting Churchill and Monnet.
Prepared in collaboration with the 10 Downing Street and the Foreign Office – the British Foreign Office – the speech was to indicate the course that the United Kingdom would take at the head of the Council of the European Union (at the time Council of the European Community) from July .
Welcoming “[l’]necessary balance that emerged [du traité] from Maastricht”Elizabeth II called for “strengthening the capacity of Europeans to act on a European basis” and underlined the importance of a “European response” to the major issues of the time. Among these issues was the enlargement of the European Union, on which the British monarch gave a very clear answer: “other countries are knocking on the door, you have to be confident and open this door”.
An implicit European commitment?
In this same speech, the Queen of England will go so far as to highlight the role of the European Parliament, “whose importance continues to grow”. She thus hinted at her support for a deeper form of supranationality, and therefore an evolution of the European Union: “I’m sure she needs to do more. I trust she will”.
the 10 Downing Street and the Foreign Office had initially provided for a passage recalling the importance of national parliaments and their sovereignty. However, against the advice of her advisers, the representative of the Crown decided to withdraw this passage, judging national parliamentary traditions “insignificant” in comparison to the “reconciliation and democracy” advocated by the European Union.
A discreet but transparent way of promoting the European Union to national sovereignty. This slight modification of the discourse revolted all the Eurosceptics in the United Kingdom, who accused him of overstepping his role as monarch.
The thorny issue of Brexit
When the United Kingdom votes on June 23, 2016 to leave the European Union, many political commentators try to guess the position of Elizabeth II. The eurosceptic tabloid The Sun thus claimed that the Queen would have told guests that the European Union had been heading for a few years “in the wrong direction”information quickly denied by Buckingham Palace.
On the other side, MEP Guy Verhofstadt was amused by the Queen’s outfit on June 22, 2017, at the opening of the Brexit debate in the British Parliament. Elizabeth II was then fully dressed in blue – just like during her speech in Strasbourg in 1992 – and wore yellow flowers on her hat. His outfit is probably the only political action. The MP saw it as a representation of the European flag, and therefore a sign of disapproval of Brexit, without anyone being able to confirm it.
However, it suffices to listen to the Queen’s speech during an official visit to Berlin in June 2015 to detect her opinion. As supporters of Remain and Leave clash in verbal battles in the United Kingdom, the sovereign utters these words: “During our lives, we have seen the worst but also the best on our continent. We know that division in Europe is dangerous and that we must guard against it, both in the west and in the east of our continent”. It is therefore difficult to believe that Queen Elizabeth II wanted Brexit.