In, out, or half way? The European attitude in the speeches of British leaders


Abstract – It cannot be denied that Britain is normally seen as an awkward partner in EU affairs (George 1994), and in many ways the British have always been half-in: in the two-speed Europe slogan, Britain is seen as a slow traveller (Musolff 2004), as a member that makes slow progress, it if is at all on the European path. The purpose of this paper is to try and unveil, with evidence at hand, the sentiment of the British leaders with respect to the European Union. Interestingly, the current government includes both Conservatives and Lib-Dems leaders, and it is well known that the former have been, more often than not, against Europe whereas the latter are highly passionate about their pro-Europeanism. Interviews, statements and speeches proper are thus analysed and compared: first wordlists are generated, then keywords lists and finally key-clusters lists (Scott 2012), with the purpose of identifying "aboutgrams" (Warren 2010; Sinclair, Tognini Bonelli 2011), and see what the two governments have in common, but mostly what differentiates them with regard to the European Union, i.e. what is prioritized in one administration and was not in another, clearly signalling a change in priorities (Cheng 2004; Cheng et al. 2006; Cheng et al. 2009). The study is a diachronic analysis, in the attempt to see how previous discourses have been reinterpreted, given that forty years after joining the Union the British are still reluctant Europeans who still consider Europe "abroad", thus slowing the "ever-closer union" envisaged in the Treaty of Rome, and who still have been calling for referendums, even more so after the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

Keywords: European Union, UK, political speeches, opt out, aboutgrams.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v11p157



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