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Keeping your Friends Close: British Foreign Policy and the Nordic Economic Community, 1968–1972

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2016

Department of Political Science and Contemporary History, University of Turku, Publicum, Assistentinkatu 7, FI-20014 Turku, Finland;


The Nordic Economic Community (Nordek) was a short-lived and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to strengthen cooperation between the four Nordic states. While the importance of the project to Britain has often been overlooked, this article suggests that Whitehall took considerable interest from the start. It demonstrates how, although officially neutral, London sought first to mitigate the effects of Nordek, then to undermine its establishment and, finally, in the wake of Nordek's collapse, to guard against its re-emergence. The aim throughout was to protect three central tenets of British foreign policy: EFTA unity in light of the second veto, Britain's own application for EEC membership and a cohesive Western Europe militarily integrated in NATO. However, the article highlights the absence of a coherent strategy towards tentative Nordic integration and the mixed success this brought, the interdependency of Anglo-Nordic relations in the pursuit and success of British foreign policy goals and the relative decline of the Britain's influence in the Nordic region.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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1 ‘16th Congress, Minutes of the Second Meeting, 17 Feb. 1968’, in Council, Nordic, Nordiska Rådet: 16:e sessionen i Oslo 1968 (Stockholm: Nordic Council, 1968), 62Google Scholar. By way of definition, ‘Scandinavia’ here means Denmark, Norway and Sweden, while ‘Nordic’ is these three countries plus Finland but not Iceland. Iceland was always more sceptical about international cooperation; it did not join EFTA until 1970 and was never more than an observer to the Nordek negotiations. On Iceland's exclusion see Guðmundur Jónsson, ‘On the Sidelines: Iceland and the Nordek Negotiations, 1968–72’, in Hecker-Stampehl, Jan, ed., Between Nordic Ideology, Economic Interests and Political Reality (Helsinki: Finnish Society of Science and Letters, 2009), 159–68.Google Scholar

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3 Denmark, Norway and Sweden were among the seven original signatories of EFTA's founding treaty, the Stockholm Convention, which was penned on 4 January 1960. Finland joined EFTA as an associate member through the FINEFTA agreement signed on 27 March 1961.

4 Foreign Staff, ‘Denmark seeks EFTA move on agriculture’, Financial Times, 1 May 1968, 5. See also Curzon, Victoria, The Essentials of Economic Integration: Lessons of EFTA Experience (London: Macmillan, 1974), 174–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Thorsten Borring Olesen and Poul Villaume, I Blokopbygningens Tegn 1945–1972 (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2005), 505–9.

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6 Nordic Economic Community derives from the Swedish Nordiskt ekonomiskt gemenskap. While the project did not adopt the name ‘Nordek’ until the beginning of 1969, to avoid confusion I refer to it as such throughout.

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11 The best route into this aspect of Nordek available in the English language is probably Hecker-Stampehl, Between; and Sonne, Lasse, Nordek: A Plan for Increased Nordic Economic Co-operation and Integration (Helsinki: Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters, 2007).Google Scholar

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45 Wright telegram, tel. no. 154, 25 Apr. 1968, TNA, FCO 9/349.

46 White to Robinson, 29 Jan. 1969, TNA, FCO 30/257.

47 FO to Brussels, tel. no. 178, 26 Jan. 1968, TNA, FCO 30/125.

48 Brussels to FO, tel. no. 34, 28 Jan. 1968, TNA, FCO 30/129. See also Pine, Harold Wilson, 29.

49 O'Neill note, 15 Jan. 1968, and Melville to O'Neill, 7 Feb. 1968, both TNA, FCO 30/32.

50 Barrett telegram, tel. no. 119, 3 May 1968, TNA, FCO 9/349.

51 East to Brown, 23 Feb. 1968, TNA, FCO 9/349.

52 Killick to Robinson, 18 Aug. 1969, TNA, FCO 30/259.

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55 O'Neill to Gore-Booth, 15 Jan. 1968, TNA, FCO 30/32.

56 Author's correspondence with Tom McNally, 25 Jan. 2013.

57 Geoffrey Smith, ‘A Nordic customs union possible’, The Times, 5 Nov. 1968, 11.

58 Brown to Crosland, 3 Jan. 1968, Crosland to Brown, 5 Jan. 1968 and Stockholm telegram, tel. no. 58, 2 Feb. 1968, all TNA, PREM 13/2111.

59 Chalfont to Brown, 11 Jan. 1968, TNA, PREM 13/2110.

60 Ross to Hancock, 24 Jan. 1968, TNA, FCO 30/32.

61 Wright to Hancock, 1 Feb. 1968, TNA, FCO 30/32.

62 Palliser to Holland, 30 Apr. 1968, TNA, PREM 13/2112.

63 Holland to Palliser, 30 Apr. 1968, TNA, PREM 13/2112.

64 ‘Why be subordinate to Great Britain?’, Aftenposten, 28 Sept. 1968, transcript of article in TNA, FCO 30/257.

65 Melville to Hancock, 7 Feb. 1968, TNA, FCO 30/32.

66 Hancock to Wright, 5 Feb. 1968, and Ross to Hancock, 7 Feb. 1968, both TNA, FCO 30/32.

67 Wright to Hancock, 1 Feb. 1968, Ross to Hancock, 7 Feb. 1968, Hancock to Wright, 5 Feb. 1968, and Melville to Hancock, 7 Feb. 1968, all TNA, FCO 30/32.

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71 Champion to Lloyd, 13 May 1968, TNA, FCO 95/55.

72 Lloyd to Champion, 20 Jun. 1968, TNA, FCO 95/55.

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77 Wright to Stewart, 10 Jan. 1969, TNA, FCO 30/257.

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80 Summary Record of Council Meeting, 13 Mar. 1969, and Hancock to Robinson, 18 Mar. 1969, both TNA, FCO 30/258.

81 See, among others, Bossuat, Gerrard, ‘De Gaulle et la second candidature britannique aux Communautés Européennes’, in Loth, Wilfried, ed., Crises and Compromises: The European Project, 1963–1969 (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2001), 511–38Google Scholar; Pine, Harold Wilson, ch. 6

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103 Thorpe to Morland, 15 Feb. 1971, and Morland to Browning, 16 Feb. 1971, both TNA, FCO 30/695.

104 Stark telegram, tel. no. 19, 19 Sept. 1972, TNA, FCO 30/1555.

105 Cable to Brimlow, 4 Mar. 1971, TNA, FCO 41/819.

106 Peck to Bridges, 22 Dec. 1971, and Bridges to Beck, 6 Jan. 1972, both TNA, FCO 41/988.

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109 Stark telegram, tel. no. 19, 19 Sept. 1972, TNA, FCO 30/1555.

110 Report by Tom McNally, ID/1971-72/39: Further Developments in European Security, undated, National Executive Committee Minutes, 23 Feb. 1972, Labour Party Archives, Manchester.

111 Stark telegram, tel. no. 19, 19 Sept. 1972, TNA, FCO 30/1555.

112 Robinson to Franklin, 30 May 1972, Brief for Prime Minister's Visit to Copenhagen, 5 Jun. 1972, and transcripts of Heath's speeches in Copenhagen, 8–9 Jun. 1972, all TNA, FCO 30/1464.

113 Stark to Robinson, 11 Oct. 1972, TNA, FCO 30/1556.

114 Selby to Douglas-Home, 4 Oct. 1972, TNA, FCO 30/1556.

115 Stark telegram, tel. no. 19, 19 Sept. 1972, and Crossley note, 27 Sept. 1972, both TNA, FCO 30/1555.

116 FCO telegram, tel. no. 770, 27 Oct. 1972, TNA, FCO 30/1557.

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