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Reasons For Uk Hesitation In Joining Europe Politics Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Following a series of events the European Economic Community remained an institution inaccessible for the British government until 1973. At first this was so because Britain had refused to belong to a supranational institution. Eventually, after a change of policies, it saw its application vetoed on two occasions by the French President Charles de Gaulle. To understand fully Britain’s refusal to accept membership to the EEC a short overview of the European Community and Britain’s position vis-à-vis its relationship with Europe will be given. Thereafter, it will be explained why Britain decided to apply for membership as well as the reasons for de Gaulle to veto Britain’s accession in 1963, and again in 1969. It will be concluded that, unlike France, Britain had failed to realise the true potential of the European Community which caused it to not accept membership when it was offered back in the 1950s. It will also be stated that Charles de Gaulle’s dealings within the institution demonstrate the intergovernmentalist theory apropos the centrality of the state.

The European Economic Community was born out of the Treaties of Rome which were signed on March 25, 1957 in Campidoglio, Rome, and established in January 1958. At its inception it was comprised of the six continental European states – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – that had signed the Treaty of Paris on April 18, 1951 in order to establish the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Both organisations were the result of closer cooperation amongst European states in the aftermath of World War II. The ECSC for instance was created for it was deemed necessary to bind European nation-states – particularly France and Germany – within a supranational institution in order to avert another major conflict. Its aims were also to promote economic prosperity and the construction of a strong Europe capable of resisting the rise of communism (D. Dinan, 2008:21). From the commencement European integration had the full backing of the United States and to some extent the support of the United Kingdom too. Winston Churchill – who was a proponent of European integration before, during and after World War Two – made many speeches were he called for France and Germany to lead Europe.

Winston Churchill’s constant calls for a United States of Europe seemed to infer that he was pro-Europe. Pro-Europe he certainly was but in Europe he indeed was not. Churchill believed that Europe should be built on the American federalist model but that Britain could not be part of it. His country’s position with regards to Europe was made clear in an article published in the Saturday Evening Post in February 1930 in which he stated: “We have our own dreams… We are with Europe but not of it. We are linked but not compromised” (J. G. Plumpton, 1998 – emphasis added). In the aftermath of World War II Churchill reiterated his call for a united Europe during his most famous speech apropos what he called The tragedy of Europe. In his long discourse, delivered in Zurich on September 19, 1946, Churchill proclaimed: “We must build a kind of United States of Europe” (Quoted in B. F. Nelsen et al., 2003:8 – emphasis added). However the use of “we” did not imply that Britain would be an integral part of this new Europe but instead, as was expressed in his speech, it would merely be a friend and sponsor. For as much as Churchill loved singing the praise of a United States of Europe he could have never allowed his dearest country to become a member of a federalist organisation as this would have entailed a pooling of sovereignty. Churchill was not prepared to compromise Britain’s position as a global power; a position which could not be hindered by being linked to any kind of federalist organisations for “if Britain were to merge her identity in a federated Europe to the extent of foregoing an independent foreign and defence policy, she would no longer retain that sovereignty necessary to Commonwealth status” (C. E. Baumann, 1959:353). It was therefore predictable that Britain would decline to become a signatory member of the Treaty of Paris which it viewed as being too supranational.

Britain’s refusal to belong to a supranational institution had led Jean Monnet – one of the founding fathers of the ECSC – to proclaim: “There is one thing you British will never understand: an idea. And there is one thing you are supremely good at grasping: a hard fact. We will have to make Europe without you but then you will have to come in and join us” (G. Stuart, 2003). Monnet’s prediction was very accurate since in August 1961 Britain – along with Denmark, Ireland and Norway – applied to join the European Economic Community. But prior to this first membership application – which was vetoed in 1963 by de Gaulle – Britain fought long and hard to prevent the establishment of the EEC. The hostility between Britain and France began when the British government fell to reach an agreement at the Messina conference.

In June 1955 the “six” invited Britain to attend the Messina conference which was intended to revive European integration through the creation of a European Economic Community and a European Atomic Community. However, Britain withdrew its participation from further talks as it fell to direct the new project in the direction that suited it the most. Britain was opposed to the nature of the integration; it wished for the formation of a free trade area (P.Calvocoressi, 2001:249) while Germany wanted a common market that had been proposed by the Dutch government and France’s interests was for an atomic energy community as well as a common agricultural policy (N. Nugent, 2003:40). During the summer of 1958 Harold Macmillan, the new British Prime Minister, travelled to Paris to meet with Charles de Gaulle to whom he stated that: “The Common Market is the Continental System all over again. Britain cannot accept it. I beg you to give it up. Otherwise, we shall be embarking on a war which will doubtless be economic at first but which runs the risk of gradually spreading into other fields” (Quoted in B. F. Nelsen et al., 2003:41 – emphasis added). Britain fell to prevent the establishment of the EEC and therefore followed suit by forming a European Free Trade Area with Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland. EFTA, which was established through the Stockholm convention in September 1959, was Macmillan’s weapon – so to speak – against the newly formed European Community for he hoped that it would “increase pressure on the EEC to reopen negotiations for a free trade area (D. Dinan, 2004:91). Macmillan had hoped that he would have the backing of the United States but this fail to materialise for the US, which viewed the EEC has a more advantageous organisation, “disliked the idea of EFTA” (D. Dinan, 2004:91). To the dismay of Britain, EFTA fell to achieve its goal while on the contrary the EEC became a complete success (P. Calvocoressi, 2001:249).

Following the success of the EEC Britain could not afford to be left out; especially since the establishment of the EEC had “brought France, Germany, and the United States closer together on a range of economic issues and further alienated Britain (D. Dinan, 2004:93).The British Empire could no longer be relied on for it was breaking away from British rule and the US had always wished for Britain to enter the EEC for it felt that Britain would be able to influence the new organisation from within, hence the decision for Britain to change its policy regarding the EEC and apply for membership in August 1961 (J. W. Young et al., 2004:203). At first Charles de Gaulle was willing to consider Britain’s application but negotiations were to turn sour and in January 1963 Britain’s request to join the EEC was vetoed by de Gaulle. De Gaulle’s refusal to allow Britain to enter the EEC was based on his dislike of the American government, and as far as de Gaulle was concerned to allow Britain in the EEC would be allowing a country that he came to view as America’s Trojan horse (P. Calvocoressi, 2001:251). De Gaulle’s fear that Britain would jeopardize the CAP before it was fully implemented could be said to have been his main reason to not let the Britain enter the EEC for de Gaulle was persuaded that once Britain was in the CAP might not survive (D. Dinan, 2004:101). An opportunity to veto Britain’s application came in the form of a deal negotiated between Macmillan and President John F. Kennedy. In 1962 Macmillan agreed to the Nassau agreement which meant a commitment from Britain to purchase Polaris missiles from the United States. De Gaulle, who had refused the deal when it was offered to him (P. Calvocoressi, 2001:253), was then in a position to declare that Britain’s acceptance of the Nassau agreement proved that it favoured its relationship with the United States over Europe (J. W. Young et al., 2004:321) which of course was not compatible with its application for membership to the EEC, hence de Gaulle’s veto of Britain’s application in January 1963.

Despite the first veto, Britain reapplied for membership in 1967. By then, Harold Wilson – whom belonged to the Labour Party – had become the British Prime Minister and succeeded in convincing his country that, with regards to the British economy, it would be in Britain’s best interest to become member of the EEC (D. Dinan, 2004:109). The British economy was becoming dangerously critical and Wilson hoped to soften de Gaulle by pledging full acceptance of the CAP; however Wilson’s hopes were short lived for de Gaulle found the pretext that Britain could not join the EEC because the state of its economy could pose a risk to the EEC and thus forcing Britain to put its application on hold (D. Dinan, 2004:110-111). However, in 1969 Britain’s accession to the EEC seemed to have become favourable again when de Gaulle appeared predisposed to review Britain’s application. De Gaulle’s meeting with the British Ambassador Christopher Soames indicated his willingness to embrace Britain’s application; but following what seems to be a misunderstanding a diplomatic row erupted for de Gaulle came to completely mistrust the British government when it was believed that “France was offering Britain a place in a European directory of major states in return for the suppression of the EEC and perhaps Nato too” (P. Calvocoressi, 2001:254). Nonetheless, Britain would not be defeated for it gained another chance to enter the EEC when de Gaulle left the French government in 1969 to be succeeded by George Pompidou who then became the new French President. Pompidou’s policy differed from those of de Gaulle which greatly facilitated further European integration. To begin with, in December 1969 Pompidou convened a meeting in The Hague and by January 1972 Britain, Denmark and Ireland had signed treaties that allowed them to become fully pledged members of the EEC in January 1973 (P. Calvocoressi, 2001:254). It should be noted that just as de Gaulle had prior motives to veto Britain’s application to the EEC on two occasions – namely the CAP and his dislike of the US with who Britain enjoyed a special relationship – so did Pompidou. Pompidou hoped that “Britain’s membership would be a counterweight to growing German influence in the EEC” (J. W. Young et al., 2004:322) and thus felt that an enlargement of the EEC would prove favourable for France.

In conclusion it can be said that Britain’s attachment to its sovereignty, as well as its empire and special relationship with the United States, had caused it to “miss the boat” – so to speak – on the opportunity to become part of the EEC from its inception. Because Britain was so focused on its dislike of any kind of supranational institutions it failed to realise that the EEC actually did leave room for manoeuvre. The flexibility of the EEC was seen in the manner Charles de Gaulle used the organisation to achieve the goals he had set for his country. This demonstrates the intergovernmentalist theory that the state remains the primary actor and as stated by Moravcsik: “National governments are able to take initiatives and reach bargains in Council negotiations with relatively little constraint” (Quoted in B. Rosamond, 2000:138).


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