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British Prime Minister Thatcher's Bruges Speech, September 1988

Speaker: Margaret Thatcher
Published September 20, 1988

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave this speech to the College of Europe in Bruges, on September 20, 1988. She discussed Britian's sovereignty and the emerging monetary and political union in Europe.


"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 coexistence!

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, Danes—came from the Continent.[fo 1]

Our nation was—in that favourite Community word—"restructured" under the 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 the year 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 tyranny.

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, to which the Rector referred—Christendom for long synonymous with Europe—with its recognition of the unique and spiritual nature of the individual, on that idea, we still base our belief in personal liberty and other human rights.

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.

But we British have in a very 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 of liberation.

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.

And 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.[fo 2]

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, people 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 become."

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