On May 6, 1994, the Channel Tunnel broke the splendid isolation of the United Kingdom, connecting it to the continent

On May 6, 1994, the Channel Tunnel broke the splendid isolation of the United Kingdom, connecting it to the continent
On May 6, 1994, the Channel Tunnel broke the splendid isolation of the United Kingdom, connecting it to the continent

On May 6, 1994, Queen Elizabeth II, radiant in her fuchsia outfit, and French President François Mitterrand inaugurated the Channel Tunnel, in Calais, in the north of France. An infrastructure project like no other, the cost of which had doubled between its design and completion, to the equivalent of 15 billion euros. This new land link has brought the United Kingdom closer to its continental neighbors and, creating historic promiscuity with its neighbors. The number of Belgians living on the other side of the North Sea has doubled, that of French people across the Channel has more than tripled (to 26,000 and 149,000 respectively according to the 2021 census). Enough to change the habits of the British, and make them less insular.

“It is clear that the tunnel helped create a more open and cosmopolitan society”explains sociologist Eve Darian-Smith, author of the book The Channel Tunnel and English identity in the new Europepublished in 1999. “The attitude of the English towards their neighbors, and particularly the French, has changed for the better. This is particularly true in London and Kent, the region closest to the French coast, where locals show a greater appreciation of food, wine, music, language, history and traditions French.”

President François Mitterrand (center) and Queen Elizabeth II of England (right) cut the symbolic ribbon at the Coquelles terminal, in Pas-de-Calais, during the inauguration of the Channel Tunnel , May 6, 1994. ©AFP/Archives

This development has materialized in a very visible way in London through the opening of businesses and restaurants with foreign flavors. “We could eat in tea rooms, fish and chip shops, bad Indian and Pakistani restaurants and British fast food restaurants, but there were few real restaurants and especially no foreigners, apart from a few unaffordable French people”, remembers George Lewis, a 67-year-old pure Londoner. For Serge Enderlin, a fifty-year-old who lived in London in the 1990s, “above all, this confirmed London as the European capital, the European New York, trendy and rich, far ahead of Paris, Berlin or Rome. But this development seems to have been limited to this city; the rest of the country has perhaps become even more Britishized.

An obvious economic rapprochement

The opening to Europe through the tunnel also questioned the identity of the British. Their islands now accessible by land, they no longer consider living in an impregnable citadel. “Well before the referendum, many English people were expressing concern about the so-called colonization of their island by the transnational entity that the European Union had become and the imposition of European legislation which would dilute their historical heritage”, testifies Eve Darian-Smith. One wonders if the tunnel did not play a role in British pro-Brexit sentiment and in the result of the 2016 referendum.

Beyond these cultural notions, the tunnel has enabled a strong economic rapprochement between the United Kingdom and continental Europe. This was also the main objective of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, at the origin of the project with François Mitterrand, and great promoter of the single European market, founded on January 1, 1993. The tunnel has indeed arrived at the right time named to become the tool for British integration into the European industrial system.

“The main flow in the tunnel remains between Germany and Great Britain, including the purchase of spare parts from German equipment manufacturers for British automobile factories, which operate on a ‘just in time’ basis, i.e. -say with few stocks”indicates Yann Leriche, the general director of Getlink, the parent company of Eurotunnel. “Fruit and vegetables from Spain and Portugal and flowers produced in the Netherlands also benefit from the speed provided by the tunnel compared to boats or ferries, which allows these products not to lose their value. ”

While in 1990 trade in goods between the United Kingdom and the European Economic Community amounted to 343 billion (in constant euros), trade with the twenty-seven reached 503 billion euros in 2023, i.e. a 50% increase.”

-

-

PREV A Sunday morning in the shared garden
NEXT Cancellation of fairs: “It poses a problem of social ties” for the FSU-SNUIPP of Bas-Rhin