De Gaulle’s veto to British accession to EEC

Charles de Gaulle, the French president successfully vetoed Britain’s accession to the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1963 and 1967. In this research paper I wish to look at some of the reasons and experiences, which influenced de Gaulle in his decision. But before enlisting the causes let us see why was then a need for a unified Europe.

As early as the 19th century significant thinkers of their times, such as Kant, Rousseau, Victor Hugo had their concepts on the degree and nature of union and association European national states were to form in order to ensure economic, political union. After World War I the necessity for some type of European integration to reorganise the European political map became evident.

Three facts that led nations towards integration:
1. First, the countries of Europe realised their relative weakness. The war had been a drain on both the Allies and the Axes budget and they couldn’t do without the American Recovery programs to get their economies going (Marshall Plan). The European hegemony in the world had also come to an end leaving two superpowers in the spotlight, the USA and Russian and the coming of a Cold War.
2. Second, any confrontation among European states was believed to be prevented by any means. Basically it was the question of finding the best possible method to make peace between France and Germany.
3. Third, a desire among Europeans to establish a “freer, fairer and more prosperous continent”.

Winston Churchill, the former British Prime Minister, in his Zurich speech in 1946 called for a union of the European states, which was considered the first step towards European integration: “It is to recreate the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe … The first step in the recreation of European Family must be a partnership between France and Germany.” Even the United States government was convinced that barriers to free trade had been largely responsible for the international tensions that led to the outbreak of World War II. Moreover the adoption of a free trade policy became a basic condition for any country to receive American economic aid.

In 1949 two institutions were established: the great Western military alliance formed together with the USA, that was the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (the NATO) and the Council of Europe, which meant another major step forward.
A very influential push in the process of foundation of the European Community was given by the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman’s declaration. He suggested that France, Germany and any other European country interested pooling their coal and steel resources: “the pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe.”

After the failure of the European Defence Community (EDC) which existed between 1950 and 1954 the integration process went on with the Treaty of Paris that was signed in April 1951 establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) by six countries: France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Low Countries and Luxembourg. It seemed to be evident that economic integration was the only practical way toward a political union that would be achieved in the long run.

The Six met in a conference in Messina in 1955 where they reached such agreements which meant a definitive step in the European construction: in 1957 they signed the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).

When the Six established their first major association leading to closer integration, that is ECSE, Britain kept his distance, didn’t join the institution as he felt it wouldn’t bring any benefit compared to its transatlantic and Commonwealth relations. The absence of the United Kingdom constituted a main political problem for the EEC, for which the following reasons can give an explanation:
? The commercial, political and sentimental bonds with the former colonies that were integrated in the Commonwealth were very important for the British.
? The British were against a customs union, though the British government defended the establishment of a free trade area, where internal customs were abolished but the national governments could maintain their competences to enact their own tariffs in case of third countries.
? Britain also opposed the idea of a project whose aim was to give up the sovereignty of national states and surrender to supranational European institutions.

The OEEC countries with the leadership of Great Britain in January 1960, who didn’t belong to EEC, formed an alternative association, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which remained solely at the level of economic cooperation.
However, Britain soon discovered that the newly formed association of the Six (EEC) was more successful economically than the EFTA and decided to apply for membership.
Britain’s first application happened under the premiership of Harold McMillan, who was in favour of joining the EEC. The negotiations started in 1961 and a provisional agreement was reached in July 1962. However, Britain’s membership was vetoed by the French president, de Gaulle, in January 1963. The official explanation for his veto was that Britain was not European in thinking, that is he couldn’t break away form the Commonwealth and accept the terms of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

His unfavourable decision could have been shaped by his relationship with Winston Churchill. At first there was mutual esteem between the two of them based on a different perception of the other, which was due to their culture and their respective situations. Churchill was familiar with French history and had great admiration for it while de Gaulle’s education didn’t incline him towards friendship with the British. Nonetheless, he acknowledged Churchill’s great political and diplomatic experience. The relationship between them had been on a even keel until 1941 when a number of external factors and in particular the entry of the USA into war created tension on their relationship.
De Gaulle became extremely sensitive to any Allied interference, especially in France’s colonial empire. The entry of the USA as a powerful ally into World War II also worsened the situation in that that president Roosevelt continued considering France a defeated nation and looking upon de Gaulle as an arrogant, dangerous, blundering adventurer who in no way represented the French. Even Churchill was unable to make Roosevelt change his opinion of de Gaulle and resigned himself to following his political guidelines at the expense of a a closer alliance of Free France and event at the cost of his friendship with the General. In his memoir “ The call of Honour (1955) de Gaulle wrote about this situation that…

”Churchill had made for himself a rule to do nothing important except in agreement with Roosevelt. Though he felt …the awkwardness of Washington’s methods, though he found it hard to bear the condition of subordination in which United States aid placed the British Empire…, Churchill had decided … to bow to the imperious necessity of the American alliance.”

Disagreements began to emerge between them especially after two incidents, which ere provide by Allied landing on French soil on both occasions de Gaulle/French were not informed nor included in the operations. These occasional disagreements could also have added to the factors, which influenced him in his negative attitude towards British accession.

In may 1943 in a top secret telegram to his ministers from Washington, Churchill said about de Gaulle that “”he hates England and has left a trail of Anglophobia behind him everywhere”
When vetoing Britain’s entry, de Gaulle said that Britain was not European minded enough to break away from the Commonwealth and accept CAP. The other reason included Britain’s close relationship with the US in terms of defence and fear of increasing American influence in case of British interference with European affairs.

As for de Gaulle’s ideas of a union, he wished for a Europe without the United States, outside a transatlantic framework. He also had great power aspiration, a concept of a triumvirate (US, GB,F) with nuclear weapons, which idea however wasn’t favoured by the US.
When first declining Britain’s request to be member of the EEC, de Gaulle refused this idea of “Atlantic” Europe.

Britain’s second application occurred when Harold Wilson was the Prime Minister. He said in 1966 that now Britain was ready to apply for EEC membership in case certain British interests were secured. The next year saw the beginning of negotiations, however de Gaulle used his veto right again. The official explanation was that Britain was not strong economically and needed to improve before its acceptance but he actually feared the American influence would be felt in European matters.

Only after de Gaulle’s resignation because of home affairs opened up the possibility for Britain to join the EEC, which occurred in 1973.