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De Gaulles Role In Shaping European Integration

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 5498 words Published: 28th Apr 2017

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There were many important figures which contributed to the development of European Integration. However, it was Charles de Gaulle who stole the scene in the 1950s and the 1960s. This paper attempts to analyze de Gaulle’s paradoxical policy as he became a main promoter of European Integration, after being its main opponent before 1958. De Gaulle’s promotion of the CAP Policy, the Fouchet Plan, his opportunist foreign policy, the two vetoes de Gaulle imposed of Britain’s applications to join the EEC and the Empty Chair Crisis are all given importance in this assignment as without doubt they are the main characteristics of the period.

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The French President sought to use the newly established EEC to help him achieve a number of objectives which he had long craved for. Placing France at the head of cultural developments in European civilisation was certainly one of de Gaulle’s aims. The General also wanted to maintain allies for French defence and to develop a strong French economy in a European setting. However, without doubt the President’s prime objective was to leverage French power globally by building a European Organization of Nation States that would look to France as its natural leader. This was indeed de Gaulle’s ‘certain idea of Europe [1] ‘

The Fouchet Plan was an attempt to create an intergovernmental organization for foreign and security cooperation on the political foundation of the EEC. De Gaulle was so concerned that France maintained its leadership in Europe that he twice vetoed Britain’s application for membership [2] .

The mid-1960s were characterized by the Empty Chair Crisis as the French President withdrew French representation from the Council of Ministers, plunging European Integration in its worst crisis ever. The 1966 Luxemburg Compromise which followed this crisis was a clear promotion of intergovernmentalism as de Gaulle was totally against supranationalism in the EEC [3] .

Therefore, the General’s certain ideas of Europe were to preserve French Sovereignty, to suppress the sovereignty of Germany – a nation which de Gaulle never fully trusted – and most important of all was to use Europe to boost French Power internationally. To ensure that his vision of full French strength came into being, the French President depended upon independence from the U.S and Britain and also upon their security guarantees against Germany and sometimes even against the USSR. This was the only way to create an effective Europe which could provide a balance between America and Russia [4] .

Early Policy

During the Second World War de Gaulle’s view of the future was dominated by his determination to restore France to great power status, and to strengthen her system of government as a means to that end [5] . As early as 1940s the General attempted to balance between the U.S and Russia without committing himself to either. For de Gaulle nothing mattered more than for the French to see themselves and to be perceived by others as acting of their own free will. In fact he regarded the humiliation of 1940 only as a temporary setback to be overcome by stern and uncompromising leadership [6] .

De Gaulle’s greatest strength lay in the fact that although his relations with the Americans and the British were ambiguous, his conservative politics were much more acceptable to the wartime allies than those of activists within the resistance movements (namely the Communists). The General practically decolonized France and by 1958 he had established an important principle that France’s future lay in Europe. De Gaulle himself stated that ‘France is not really herself unless in the front ranks. France cannot be France without greatness [7] .’ Charles de Gaulle would seek this greatness by promoting greater European Integration. ‘I have had a certain idea of France,’ the General said once. It was this idea which he sought to extend to the whole of Europe and therefore it is no wonder that de Gaulle’s European policy tend to centre on the nature of his distinctive geopolitical ideas [8] .

However, de Gaulle was not always in favour of greater European integration. He had dismissed the Schuman Plan as a hodge-podge inadequate to the task of uniting Europe. The General had even rejected the EDC which he believed would result in the demise of the French Army and the revival of the German one. Initially de Gaulle had even denounced the Rome Treaty of 1957 for the EEC as he regarded it an unacceptable surrender of French Sovereignty. It was only with the creation of the 5th Republic (de Gaulle being its first President) that the General accepted the EEC – after great insistence by to do this by the Socialists and Christian Democrats that had joined his government [9] .

De Gaulle was very concerned with the defence of his country during this period. With the possibility of German rearmament imminent in the 1950s the General even went to the extent of asserting that France ‘is always Russia’s ally in the event of a German threat [10] .’ De Gaulle sought specific guarantees against German Revival: he refused to authorize a central German Government; in the economic aspect he influenced the low limit placed on her steel production and in the territorial aspect he promoted the special regime for the Ruhr and the attachment of the Saar to the French Economy [11] . De Gaulle never fully trusted Germany; in fact it was only the Korean War which led the General to explicitly accept the unity (not rearmament) of West Germany.

The General saw France as potentially a major power and a leader of European affairs. He supported the idea of a European Union but not at the expense of national sovereignty and not on equal basis – he wanted France to dominate [12] . In fact Henry Kissinger points out that ‘what de Gaulle had in mind was a Europe organized along the lines of Bismarck’s Germany, that is, unified on the basis of states, one which France would play the dominant role, with the same function that Prussia had had inside Imperial Germany [13] .’

The French President’s main goal was the construction of an autonomous European foreign and military policy which would be an alternative to U.S efforts to strengthen NATO. Creating a ‘Multilateral Force’ was also a target. In fact central to his vision was French attainment of a nuclear capability. De Gaulle believed that nuclear weapons and classical diplomacy would make France a power to be reckoned with – it was this which later on led to the Fouchet Plan. The General is said to have placed great weight on an independent European foreign policy under the leadership of France, particularly in the area of national defence, as a means to balance the superpowers and control Germany [14] .

Acceptance of the EEC

As an outgrowth of the Second World War, for General De Gaulle, as a politician, the most fundamental principle was, without doubt, nationalism. His policies, statements and political direction clearly show that common international efforts were all an offshoot of national interest. Even though De Gaulle was aware that to realise his “certain idea of France”, there was a need of European unity, he was extremely sceptical of all structures proposed, outwardly against the EDC, and even distrustful of the EEC itself. De Gaulle’s extreme reluctance and hesitation from approving such communities was due to fearing for French sovereignty, which he had so valiantly fought for during the Second World War.

Apart from nationalism, another tenant in De Gaulle’s France was independence of political direction from the superpowers. [15] However he also knew that individually, European countries could not stand up to the Cold War belligerents, least of all militarily; De Gaulle thought of the unification of Western Europe beneath the fatherly wing of France itself. Still bitter from the quick defeat at the hands of the Germans, and the elitist attitude of the rest of the Allies, De Gaulle was under the disillusionment of French “grandeur” [16] , that France should still be considered a world power herself, and thus he felt that it was natural that France would not only be a part of this Western European enterprise, but rather, it’s leader, which would serve, most of all, the purpose of getting France back into world politics, as well as maintaining direct control over the re-emerging German state. This was also apparent in De Gaulle’s rejection of the Western European Union (WEU), saying that it was an “Anglo-Saxon plot relegating France to a non-global role in minor European organisations” [17] 

This goes to show that the political direction De Gaulle tended to take was never premeditated or pre-influenced. His nationalistic attitude would make him being highly adaptable according to the worldwide political developments. He was, in essence, a practitioner of real politick with methods and ideals similar to Bismarck, who was himself the main driving force in asserting Prussian dominance in central Europe and asserting Germany as a new world power.

A very significant change in French and hence, European politics was when De Gaulle let go of the idea of Franco-British cooperation as the heart of European integration. The United Kingdom was one of the powers who not only looked down upon France during the post war talks, but also helped out in reestablishment and rearmament of West Germany, to the dismay of France; Britain had also made it clear that she would rather stick with the Americans, rather than associate itself with continental Europe – this was not even surprising considering Britain’s past relations with the European mainland. Instead, De Gaulle looked over to the new state of West Germany; with whom he believed he could create an effective Europe, whilst at the same time having a degree of control over his Eastern neighbour. [18] 

Charles De Gaulle maintained the same stance towards the European Economic Community which he held over the European Defence Community. “He denounced the Rome Treaty of 1957 for the EEC as an unacceptable surrender of French Sovereignty” [19] Not only that, but even public opinion was against the EEC, especially considering the situation in France’s agrarian economy with a very worrying surplus. France’s agricultural sector would not benefit out of the EEC considering that the member states of the Benelux and Italy weren’t just not a potential market, but even strong competitors to a major French industry which was in itself already in serious trouble. [20] 

As De Gaulle managed to ascertain again a position in power, he could finally start to put in practice his projected political direction. However, by mid 1958, De Gaulle signed the agreement to join the European Economic Community, going directly against what he had said a year earlier.

With the establishment of the 5th French Republic, De Gaulle took upon the presidency and his government was populated by Christian Democrats and Socialists who were largely pro-EEC, and whilst it could be said that De Gaulle had to yield to their opinions, his very assertive political personality suggests otherwise. Vanke, on the other hand, provides the arguments of Maurice Couve de Murville, a fellow French politician and diplomat, which might have been quite a significant factor in De Gaulle’s change in policy. [21] 

Couve determined that French economy in the common market established by the EEC would make a significant leap in competitiveness, and some prominent industries would be able to expand their horizons into European markets, establishing a foothold in world economy. The EEC would bring about modernisation to the ailing French economic situation. De Gaulle took a liking to this proposal with the idea of an influential and powerful French economy projected worldwide, which would very much sustain his vision of France as a greater power.

With his increasing distrust in the United Kingdom, De Gaulle was also content with the participating countries in the EEC. The five continental countries which would be flanking France would be the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and West Germany and these, according to De Gaulle’s calculations, could be effectively led by France. The exclusion of Britain presented a bigger opportunity for France to take on the leading role in a compact but closely-knit organisation; together with the cooperation of Germany which would at the same time be, politically, at an arm’s reach. By this time the General had long discarded the idea of a European union with Paris and London at the core, but now looked upon the former enemies in Bonn to aid him in his quest for a third way, free from the influence of either the United States of America or the USSR. De Gaulle, even though confident in the German chancellor, still feared for a German uprising and the EEC presented itself as an opportunity for further control over West Germany, even though, this by now, was a fairly subtle notion. Following three successive large scale wars against Germany in less than a century, France could not help being too cautious, and De Gaulle, prolonged this policy and put in effort to “anchor Germany in the West” [22] through the EEC.

Economically, the EEC would prove successful, not just for France, but for the entire European community as a whole, leading other countries, including Britain herself, wanting to join up with the system which was revitalising the economy of Western Europe. De Gaulle showed that his politics could change and adapt according to the development of the international situation, and used European unity as leverage for French opportunistic gain.

The Fouchet Plan

For Charles de Gaulle to realise the previously mentioned “certain idea of France”, and subsequently his vision of European integration, he could not simply stand passive as the EEC, which was still far from what he had originally envisioned in his Europe, progressed at its own pace. De Gaulle still yearned for more developments on the basis of political unity, economy, culture, and, especially when considering the tensions of the Cold War, a union for defence. [23] 

Ever so convinced that the future of European rise to former glory could be brought about by Franco-German unity, the general tried to seduce West Germany into acknowledging his proposals of closer intergovernmental political union basing legitimacy primarily on referenda and national parliaments, which would essentially work towards the betterment of what he thought of as shortcomings in the EEC and NATO. These ‘shortcomings’ included the threat of supranationalism, dependence on the United States for defence as well as the drive by certain political forces to include Britain in the EEC, which would in essence halt any possibilities of French dominance. De Gaulle was, by then, ready to sign such a treaty with just West Germany if the other four governments declined to his proposals, clearly showing faith in Adenauer’s political direction, and confirming his confidence towards West Germany.

In February 1961, De Gaulle presented his ideas to the six, with positive reactions by most, whilst the sceptical still accepted the invitation to hear his proposal. Whilst it faced opposition from the beginning, particularly by the Dutch, a committee was formed underneath the French diplomat: Christian Fouchet, from whom the commission derived its name.

As Britain’s accession into Europe was backed by most of the six, to De Gaulle’s dismay, the Fouchet Plan, which encompassed De Gaulle’s vision on Europe, was brought forward. The plan was faithful to what the General had planned in it superseding both the EEC and NATO. This proved to be one of the arguments against such a plan, forwarded by the Netherlands and Belgium, wary of “Gaullist ambitions for French dominance in Europe, particularly in view of the close relationship de Gaulle was establishing with Adenauer” [24] . Brussels and The Hague particularly wanted the mentioning of NATO, considering the Plan had quite a few clauses regarded defence, as well as advocating British co-operation. [25] De Gaulle still held a certain animosity towards Britain; as such a country in Europe would foil his idea of France as standing above the rest of Europe, and would have possibly stained the European independent political direction, as he would in the future call it the Trojan horse of the United States of America.

Despite the “reservations” made by the Dutch, especially out of fear of French hegemony in continental Europe, the Fouchet plan adopted more ideas placed forward by the opposition, including NATO in the picture, amongst other amendments. [26] However, De Gaulle’s assertive and obstinate nature produced a new draft treaty in January 1962, unmaking the concessions and changes put into place after months of discussion. De Gaulle went back to his backup plan, by pushing towards bilateral treaties with Italy and West Germany, but the opposition of the low lands left the Fouchet Plan all but forgotten, even in Bonn and Rome.

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An indirect successor to the Fouchet Plan was the Treaty of Friendship signed on the 22nd of January 1963 between France and West Germany. It brought into being some of the pillars De Gaulle pushed forward in the Fouchet plan: those of defence, foreign policy, education and culture. This treaty would “provide in the future a solid core of cooperation” [27] which would start to significantly, though not wholly, erode at the previous post war scepticism France held towards Germany. It was however perceived to having downgraded European efforts of collaboration and integration, and the Italian Prime-Minister, Amintore Fanfani went on to say that this Treaty of Friendship was “harmful to the Common Market, harmful to the progress of European unity, and harmful to the internal equilibrium of NATO”. [28] 

The failure of the De Gaulle in establishing his long-term ideals with the Fouchet Plan spurned increased determination for cooperation between the regional powers of France and West Germany, and to an extent, destroyed a column which held De Gaulle’s possibility of French domination of a European Union. The smaller states of Europe stood their ground against French political clout, even further weakening French disposition and exposing French disillusionment in thinking that it could easily control the small states. The obstinate De Gaulle however, would consider this an assertion for him to be even more vigilant against British accession into Europe if he ever wanted to come to dominate such an organisation. [29] 

The Common Agricultural Policy

The Common Agricultural Policy, which is more commonly known as CAP, is a system of subsidies which are granted by the European Union to help farmers throughout the member states of the EU. Today, it represents around 47% of the entire EU budget. Nevertheless, this figure is expected to decrease to around 32% by 2013 [30] .

In 1957, following the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the six signatories agreed that agriculture should a common focus point, requiring the attention of all the member states of the then European Economic Community. This could only be achieved if policies regarding the agricultural sector were common between the signatories. This point proved to be the basis between the Six’s agreement to formulate the CAP. By 1962, the main aims of the CAP were:

Market unity between the signatories of the Treaty of Rome,

Community preference between the member states,

Financial solidarity between the members of the community.

The CAP is commonly seen as an agreement between Germany and France, which at that time was seen as a fundamental step in erasing the possibilities of any future conflict between the two former enemies. Through this agreement, the French market gained access to German industry, and in return, the German industries were to help financially, as well as materially the French farmers [31] .

De Gaulle was supportive of the idea of a CAP between the member states of the EEC. In this way, he was certain that he would ensure support in the rural parts of France, seemingly at the detriment of his German counterpart. De Gaulle wanted to help the French farmers which had lost many of their possessions and land during the German occupation of France. Military manoeuvres by the Germans had resulted in large areas of land to become unproductive and difficult to work. De Gaulle hoped that the CAP would aid the French farmers to reclaim this land in a drive for greater prosperity which would help the economic growth of France, which was desperately needed to improve the French Economy which was exhausted by the Algerian War [32] .

In fact, De Gaulle’s advisor reported that his major argument for the need of a CAP was that “the French industry cannot afford to subsidize agriculture alone” [33] . General De Gaulle disregarded other issues in 1958 and only concentrated on the CAP Policy. He commented that if he were designing the Treaty of Rome he “would have done things differently”, an obvious reference to the lack of any clear agricultural plan [34] . In his memoirs, the General only makes reference to this policy, ignoring any other issues which were raised, such as the influence of liberalism on the market.

The initial objectives were laid out already under Article 33 of the Treaty of Rome, but only came into effect in 1964. The CAP served to cement Franco-German relations, it ensured that there would be no shortage of food as there had been in the immediate post-war years, a common price for most essential food, amongst them cereals, milk, sugar, fruit, vegetables and tobacco, it also encouraged a high level of production [35] .

However, this policy contained effects which acted towards the detriment of small farming communities outside the Six Member States. The price of food rose steadily in the early 1960’s, and surpluses which could not be consumed within the EEC were ‘dumped’ upon other markets, to the detriment of local producers [36] .

This led to de Gaulle having further arguments with the British and their American allies. Although he had previously referred to the American “hegemony” before in his speeches, he agreed that “we are both agricultural producers” [37] . De Gaulle’s antipathy towards the British and their close relationship with the USA and his repeated attempts to harass any British attempt to join the EEC arose out of pure Gaullist principles, aimed at keeping the Americans out of Europe. The General disliked the trade policy applied between Great Britain and the USA. Already in the closing days of the Fourth Republic, French officials were conspiring to obstruct any FTA negotiations with Britain. Nevertheless, the major difference between the Fourth Republic and de Gaulle was the strategy that they adopted to achieve their ends. Immense support for de Gaulle led him to take drastic steps which his predecessors could not have taken. He devaluated the French Franc by 20%, liberalized trade and granted emergency subsidies to ailing sectors [38] .

Nevertheless, the major opposition for the creation of a CAP came from the German side. The Germans wanted to protect their farming industry, even though Germany had traditionally always been an industrialized state. This opposition led de Gaulle to threaten that he would leave the EC if the Germans did not accept his policy. “There will be no Common Market without a CAP”, he declared to his Cabinet. “France is European as long as she is agricultural” [39] .

De Gaulle linked the German approval to the CAP to the French approval for the GATT negotiations and the Anti-Trust Policy. The Erhard-led government in Western Germany was not in an economically advantageous decision to stand up to De Gaulle’s menacing claims to destroy the EC. De Gaulle claimed that France was in a position to withstand any pressure from EFTA. The Germans could not claim such a position as the division of the nation had an immense negative effect on Germany.

Even more worrying to the other members of the EC were de Gaulle’s threats to withdraw the French military presence in Berlin, and shift French allegiance from the West towards the Soviet Union [40] . Given the popularity of the Communist Party in France, this threat was truly worrying given the uneasy relations between the West and the Soviet Union in the post-war years. This threat was never carried out by the French.

Nevertheless, the willingness of de Gaulle and his successor Georges Pompidou to constrain French international sovereignty to facilitate the creation of the CAP portrayed a gesture of goodwill to the rest of the members of the EC [41] . Finally, a compromise was reached between the French and the Germans and the CAP entered successfully into being.

The first revision of the CAP came shortly after its beginning throughout the Mansholt Plan [42] . In an effort to prevent the draining of resources into small farming communities, Sicco Mansholt, the European Commissioner for Agriculture in 1968 proposed that small farms had to be removed in order to make way for more efficient farming facilities. This Plan was criticized as being a form of “collectivization” which was used by Stalin in the USSR, which led to the displacement and death of millions. The aim of this plan was interpreted by the French government as a method to make 5 million French farmers to give up farming and migrate to the cities to look for work there, similar to what had happened during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. However, faced with scepticism and contempt by the French government and a hostile reaction by the farming community this plan was abandoned, and only a minimal fraction of it was carried out by the EC.

Reform of the CAP only started to apply recently, as in 1992 new directives proposed by Ray MacSharry, the European Commissioner for Agriculture, were accepted by all the parties involved. Subsidies decreased considerably for products such as beef and cereals, and more reductions are expected to come into effect in future years. This plan is expected to run until 2013. Nevertheless, the problems which are attributed to the CAP are still far off from being solved [43] .

Charles de Gaulle and the United Kingdom

Charles de Gaulle had a tense relationship with the United Kingdom. This was mainly due to the fact that he did not like the UK’s close relationship with the United States of America. He wanted an integrated Europe but free from the influences of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or the United States.

In this section, a closer look will be taken at Britain’s two attempts to apply to be members of the European Economic Community and why French President Charles de Gaulle blocked them.

Up to 1961, the British government showed little enthusiasm to join the EEC. In July 1961, the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan began to change policy and


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