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De Gaulle's Race to the Bottom: The Netherlands, France and the Interwoven Problems of British EEC Membership and European Political Union, 1958–1963


Why did de Gaulle veto the United Kingdom's accession to the European Economic Community in 1963? This article addresses the interlinked struggles over British accession and European political union in the early 1960s. The focus is on the crucially conflicting relations between de Gaulle and the Netherlands, his main opponent on both issues. Who won the Franco-Dutch battle and why? This article assesses these questions on the basis of new multi-archival material and highlights a hitherto largely unnoticed rhetorical battle, which explains the course of events and reveals a previously largely unnoticed logic behind de Gaulle's manoeuvring in the intertwined negotiations over European political union, the Common Agricultural Policy and the UK membership bid.

La course vers le bas de de Gaulle: les Pays-Bas, la France et les problèmes liés de l'adhésion de la Grande-Bretagne à la CEE et l'Union Politique Européenne (1958–1963)

Pourquoi est-ce que de Gaulle ‘a opposé son veto’ à l'adhésion de la Grande-Bretagne à la CEE en 1963? Cet article aborde les conflits liés à l'adhésion britannique et l'UPE au début des années 1960. L'accent est mis sur les relations conflictuelles et cruciales entre de Gaulle et les Pays-Bas, son adversaire principal sur les deux questions. Qui a gagné cette bataille franco-néerlandaise et pourquoi? Cet article mesure la portée de ces questions en se fondant sur des recherches dans des fonds d'archives divers; il souligne l'importance d'une bataille rhétorique, jusqu'ici méconnue, qui explique le déroulement des événements. Ainsi l'auteur révèle une logique largement inconnue derrière les manœuvres de de Gaulle dans les négociations autour de l'UPE, la Politique agricole commune et la tentative d'adhésion britannique.

De Gaulles Abwärts-Wettlauf: Die Niederlande, Frankreich und die zusammenhängenden Probleme der britischen EWG-Mitgliedschaft und der Europäischen Politischen Union (1958–1963)

Weshalb legte de Gaulle 1963 sein Veto gegen den britischen Beitritt zur EWG ein? Dieser Artikel behandelt die damit zusammenhängenden Machtkämpfe um den britischen Beitritt und die EPU zu Beginn der 1960er Jahre. Der Fokus liegt auf den entscheidenden und konfliktträchtigen Beziehungen zwischen Frankreich und dessen gröβtem Widersacher, die Niederlande, gerichtet. Wer gewann diesen französisch-niederländischen Machtkampf und weshalb? Der Autor beantwortet diese Fragen mit Hilfe von neuem Material aus diversen Archiven. Er analysiert eine bisher kaum bemerkte rhetorische Schlacht, welche nicht nur den Prozess, sondern auch eine bisher unbekannte Logik hinter de Gaulles Schachzügen in den zusammenhängenden Verhandlungen über die EPU, die Gemeinsame Agrarpolitik und die britische Mitgliedschaft, erklärt.

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1 Couve de Murville Maurice, Une politique etrangère 1958–1969 (Paris: Plon, 1971), 412.

2 Peyrefitte Alain, C'etait De Gaulle (Paris: Fayard, 1994), I, 351.

3 Scholarly discussions have focused on the traditionalist–revisionist debate centred on the question whether the underlying causes of de Gaulle's European policy were primarily of a geopolitical or a commercial–economic nature.

4 Geopolitical explanations largely follow de Gaulle's own suggestion that the US–British nuclear deal reached at Nassau a few weeks earlier had been decisive for his veto. During the press conference de Gaulle added a second Non to the American proposal of the Multilateral Force (MLF), the linchpin of President John Kennedy's Grand Design for ‘Atlantic partnership’ and closely connected to the Nassau agreement. For recent reassertions of this ‘Nassau argument’ in the historiography, see, e.g., Bange Oliver, The EEC Crisis of 1963 (Houndmills: Macmillan, 2000), and Bozo Frédéric, Two Strategies for Europe: De Gaulle, the United States and the Atlantic Alliance (Boston, MA: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), 93. Against the ‘Nassau argument’: Kaiser Wolfram, Using Europe, Abusing the Europeans (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1996), 193.

5 National Archives, London (NA), FO371/169122, ‘Why Did De Gaulle Do It?’, unsigned, undated, and Caccia, 3 April 1963.

6 Revisionists mainly point to the structural commercial–economic interests of the French (agricultural sector) as the real cause of the veto. According to these accounts the veto was part of a carefully planned strategy to safeguard the CAP. During the press conference, de Gaulle deemed CAP ‘essential’ for France. Moreover, with the essentials of the CAP secure since January 1962, the general could easily put the onus on London. See Vaïsse Maurice, ‘De Gaulle and the British “Application” to Join the Common Market’, in Wilkes George, ed., Britain's Failure to Enter the European Community 1961–63 (London: Frank Cass, 1997), 65. For an extensive exposition of the leading revisionist claim see Andrew Moravcsik, ‘De Gaulle between Grain and Grandeur: The Political Economy of French EC Policy, 1958–1970’ (parts I and II), Journal of Cold War Studies, 2, 2 and 3 (2000), 3–43 and 4–68, and Moravcsik, The Choice for Europe (London: UCL Press, 1998), 176–97. For critical reviews of Moravcsik's explanation, see Parsons Craig, A Certain Idea of Europe (Cornell University Press, 2003), 128; Lieshout Robert H. et al. , ‘De Gaulle, Moravcsik and The Choice for Europe’, Journal of Cold War Studies, 6, 4 (2004), 89139. Insightful on the CAP is Ludlow N. Piers, ‘The Making of the CAP: Towards a Historical Analysis of the EU's First Major Policy’, Contemporary European History, 14, 3 (2005), 347–71.

7 The British membership bid had merely been a decision to establish whether satisfactory (agricultural) terms for joining could be negotiated. London's dubious position had aroused suspicious irritation in the Community institutions. See Beloff Nora, The General Says No (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963); Young Hugo, This Blessed Plot: Britain and Europe from Churchill to Blair (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1998), 99145.

8 The issue linkage is addressed explicitly in Parsons, Idea, 117–43; Moravcsik, ‘Grain’, and idem, Choice, 176–97; Bange, Crisis, 25–29; Gabriele Clemens, ‘“A delicate matter”. Großbritannien und die Fouchet-Verhandlungen 1960–1962’, Journal of European Integration History, 11, 1 (2005), 103–24.

9 Georges-Henri Soutou, ‘Le général De Gaulle et le plan Fouchet’, and Françoise de La Serre, ‘De Gaulle et la candidature britannique aux communautés européennes’, both in Institut Charles de Gaulle, De Gaulle en son siècle, vol. 5 (Paris: Plon, 1992), 126–43 and 192–202.

10 Illustrative is that in many aspects two 1967 publications and an account of a close adviser to de Gaulle's are still the leading works: Silj Alessandro, Europe's Political Puzzle: A Study of the Fouchet Negotiations and the 1963 Veto (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967); Jouve Edmond, Le général de Gaulle et la construction de l'Europe (Paris: Librairie général de droit et de jurisprudence, 1967); and Maillard Pierre, De Gaulle und Deutschland (Bonn: Bouvier, 1991), 213–54. Cf. Lieshout et al., ‘Moravcsik’, 99–100; Bange, Crisis, 25–9; Anjo G. Harryvan, ‘In Pursuit of Influence. Aspects of the Netherlands's European Policy during the Formative Years of the EEC, 1952–1973’, Ph.D. thesis, EUI, Florence, 2007, 138 f.

11 See Voorhoeve Joris, Peace, Profits and Principles: A Study of Dutch Foreign Policy (Leyden: Martinus Nijhoff, 1985), 169; Silj, Puzzle, 64.

12 Next to Vanke's article (see note 13), the following works deal (partly) with the Dutch position regarding enlargement and/or Fouchet on the basis of archival research: Ludlow N. Piers, ‘Too Close a Friend? The Netherlands and the First British Application to the EEC, 1961–1963’, in Ashton Nigel and Hellema Duco, eds., Anglo-Dutch Relations since 1780 (Amsterdam University Press, 2001), 223–39; Bernard Bouwman, ‘The British Dimension of Dutch European Policy (1950–1963)’, D. Phil thesis, Oxford University, 1995, 223–62; Harryvan, ‘Pursuit’, 137–62; Nijenhuis Hans, ‘De Nederlandse tactiek in de onderhandelingen over een Europese politieke unie (1960–1962)’, Internationale Spectator, 41 (1987), 41–9.

13 Vanke Jeffrey, ‘An Impossible Union: Dutch Objections to the Fouchet Plan’, Cold War History, 2, (2001), 95112.

14 Soutou, ‘Le général’, 126–43; Soutou Georges-Henri, L'Alliande incertaine. Les rapports politico-stratégiques franco-allemands 1954–1996 (Paris: Fayard, 1996), 149201.

15 Vanke, ‘Impossible’, 108–9.

16 See, for instance, Maillard, De Gaulle, 240.

17 Vanke, ‘Impossible’, 69.

18 Voorhoeve, Peace, 169. A recent study of the Dutch European policy during the early 1960s has shown that the hostile Dutch position regarding Fouchet contrasted sharply with the close Franco-Dutch co-operation in the CAP and the Franco-Dutch agreement concerning the problem of decolonisation (Stol Bart, ‘Nieuw licht op de Nederlands-Franse relatie. Mythe van de antithese’, Internationale Spectator, 60 (2006), 646–49).

19 Ludlow, Too Close.

20 Department of State Publications, Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1958–60, vol. 7 (2) (Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1993), 78–80 and cf. 150.

21 Parsons, Idea, 122–3, 130.

22 The first stage towards a common tariff and the second tariff reduction, both scheduled for 1 January 1962, would be brought forward to July 1960.

23 Cited in Sebastian Reyn, ‘Atlantis Lost: The American Experience with de Gaulle (1958–1969)’, Ph.D. thesis, Leiden University, 2007), 351, n. 150.

24 Ludlow, Too Close, 230; cf. Voorhoeve, Peace, 162–63, 191–92; Harryvan, ‘Pursuit’, 141, 157.

25 Cited in van Merriënboer Johan, Mansholt (Amsterdam: Boom, 2006), 234; cf. Archive of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Hague (BZ), 1965–74, 16196, de Koster to MP, 12 Dec. 1967.

26 Dutch National Archives, The Hague (DNA), 2.05.118, 30162, Kymmell to de Vos, 8 Dec. 1961; Luns Joseph, ‘Ik herinner mij . . .’. Memoirs (Leyden: Sijthoff, 1971), 182.

27 The Dutch deemed the French proposals to be acceptable, but only when three preconditions were met: (i) acceleration had to be extended and linked to substantial progress towards the CAP, (ii) the 20 per cent tariff cut had to apply for both EEC and OEEC members; and (iii) the final common tariff had to be cut by 20 per cent as well.

28 Parsons, Idea, 131; Ludlow, ‘CAP’, 368.

29 Cf. DNA, 2.05.118, 30162, de Vos to Luns, 29 Nov. 1961.

30 Kohnstamm Max, De Europese dagboeken van Max Kohnstamm (Amsterdam: Boom, 2008), 109 f.; van Merriënboer Johan, Mansholt (Amsterdam: Boom, 2006), 235.

31 Cited in Vanke, ‘Impossible’, 97.

32 Lappenküper Ulrich, Die deutsch-französischen Beziehungen 1949–1963, vol. 2 (Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 2001), 1455–57.

33 DNA, 2.05.118, 30162, de Vos to Luns, 29 Nov. 1961, 5–6; cf. Harryvan, ‘Pursuit’, 145 and 156.

34 Soutou, L'Alliance, 151–52.

35 Peyrefitte, C'etait, 1, 61.

36 Soutou, L'Alliance, 188.

37 DNA, 2.05.118, 1391, Beyen 379 and 429, 16 Sept. and 20 Oct. 1960, cf. Beyen 397 and 477, 30 Sept. and 18 Nov. 1960.

38 de Gaulle Charles, Lettres, Notes et Carnets (LNC), (Paris: Plon, 1985), VIII, 382–3.

39 DNA, 2.05.118, 1391, Beyen 470 and 477, 15 and 18 Nov. 1960.

40 Peyrefitte, C'etait, 1, 62.

41 DNA, 2.05.118, 1391, Beyen 477 and 471, 18 and 16 Nov. 1960; and 30156, Linthorst Homan to van Houten, 19 Sept. 1960.

42 The note was meant to be a confidential counsel, but had accidentally been leaked by Peyrefitte's secretary to the French liberal group in the European Parliament (Peyrefitte, C'etait, 70). Two years later, in September 1962, members of the Socialist faction in the European Assembly, to the shock of many, quoted from it (Bange, Crisis, 25; cf. Miriam Camps, Britain and the European Community 1955–1963 (Princeton University Press, 1964), 500). On 7 February 1963, the Belgian daily La Dernière Heure published the memorandum, which was considered shockingly revealing on the cynical essence of Gaullist European policies and the general's veto in particular.

43 Jouve, Le Général, 2, 489.

44 Cf. DNA, 2.05.118, 1391, Beyen 471, 16 Nov. 1960.

45 DNA, 2.05.118, 1391, Beyen 379, 16 Sept. 1960.

46 De Gaulle, LNC, VIII, 399.

47 Lüthy Herbert, France against Herself (New York: Praeger, 1955), 283 f.

48 Pisani Edgard, Le Général Indivis (Paris: Albin Michel, 1974), 64.

49 Parsons, Idea, 142.

50 DNA, 2.05.118, 1391, Beyen 429, 20 Oct. 1960.

51 DNA, 2.05.118, 30157, van Houten to Sassen, 15 Feb. 1963.

52 DNA, 2.05.118, 1391, Beyen 477, 18 Nov. 1960.

53 Cf. DNA, 2.05.118, 30162, de Vos to Luns, 29 Nov. 1961, 2.

54 In Bonn, Adenauer was caught in the middle of three factions: (i) The ‘federalist’ entourage of former state secretary and now commission president Walter Hallstein, (ii) the ‘Francophiles’ of the Auswärtige Amt, and (iii) the overactive Erhard lobby, still feverishly promoting FTA in order to merge EEC and EFTA (cf. Lappenküper, Beziehungen, 1480–1542).

55 Kusterer Hermann, Der Kanzler und der General (Stuttgart: Neske, 1995), 139 f.; Soutou, ‘Le general’, 129.

56 De Gaulle, LNC, VIII, 396–9.

57 Lappenküper, Beziehungen, 1523.

58 Ibid. (emphasis added).

59 Soutou, L'Alliance, 153 and 171–3. To be sure, de Gaulle appeared to have toyed with the idea radically to revise the EEC (Jouve, Général, 1, 202–3; Christiane Rimbaud, Pinay (Paris: Perrin, 1990), 365), but already in 1958 he had decided to accept it more or less as it stood; ‘after all the EEC did exist’ (DNA, 2.05.118, 1391, Beyen 477 and 379, 18 Nov. and 16 Sept. 1960; Parsons, Idea, 126.)

60 De Gaulle, LNC, VIII, 398–9; cf. Jouve, Le Général, 2, 399; DNA, 2.05.118, 1391, Beyen 471, 16 Nov. 1960.

61 DNA, 2.05.118, 1391, Beyen 413, 470 and 477, 12 Oct. and 15 and 18 Nov. 1960.

62 See de Gaulle, LNC, VIII, 396–7; Maillard, De Gaulle, 182–210. Follow-ups: de Gaulle LNC, IX (Paris: Plon, 1986), 54–55, 163 and 221–2.

63 DNA, 2.05.118, 1391, Beyen 414, 12 Oct. 1960; Lappenküper, Beziehungen, 1529–30.

64 De Gaulle, LNC, VIII, 401.

65 DNA, 652, 153, Notulen van de Ministerraad (MR), 27 Jan. and 3 Feb. 1961; cf. 154, MR, 17 Feb. 1961.

66 Cf. DNA, 652, 153, MR, 20 Jan. and 3 Feb. 1961, and 155, 30 Mar. 1961, and 156, 14 and 17 Apr. 1961.

67 By making pro-Community concessions to the Germans – by substituting the word ‘confederation’ with ‘organised co-operation’ and by excluding the topic of defence from the original French plan (Soutou, L'Alliance, 177), and by French support for Florence as the seat of the future European University and an Italian candidacy for the vacancy of Secretary General of NATO.

68 DNA, 652, 155, MR, 7 Apr. 1961

69 Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, Documents Diplomatiques Français (DDF), 1961, vol. 1 (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1997), 168–177.

70 Cf. DNA, 652, 154, MR, 17 Feb. 1961.

71 DDF, 1961, 1, 192–93.

72 DNA, 2.05.118, 30154, van Houten to S., 7, 21 and 25 Sept. 1959.

73 DNA, 652, fiche 153, MR, 20 Jan. and 3 Feb. 1961; Lappenküper, Beziehungen, 1510 and 1526.

74 Cf. DNA, 2.05.118, 30154, van Houten to S., 12 Nov. 1959, 2.

75 Yet, anticipating support from Bonn, the British formulated the precondition that agricultural goods had to be excluded from a common tariff. NA, CAB/129/104, Memorandum by the Lord Privy Seal, 3 March 1961; see N. Piers Ludlow, Dealing with Britain (Cambridge University Press, 1997), 186–7.

76 DNA, 652, 154, MR, 3 March 1961.

77 Eric Roll, Crowded Hours (London and Boston, MA: Faber & Faber, 1985), 110; DNA, 652, 156, MR, 14 April 1961.

78 DNA, 2.05.118, 30162, Kymmell to de Vos, 8 Dec. 1961.

79 See DNA, 652, 156, MR, 14 April 1961.

80 DNA, 2.05.118, 30156, Fock to van Houten, 10 April 1961.

81 DNA, 652, fiche 156, MR, 17 April 1961.

82 DNA, 652, fiche 156, MR, 21 and 28 April 1961; de Vos now only desired preparatory WEU meetings on questions regarding NATO.

83 DNA, 652, 156, MR, 28 April 1961.

84 DNA, 2.05.118, 1392, Beyen 346, 28 June 1961.

85 See Soutou, ‘Le general’, 135; Nijenhuis, ‘tactiek’, 45.

86 DDF, 1961, 1, 618–24, here 620 and 622. Adenauer would reconfirm his preparedness to strike a Franco-German deal on EPU during a conversation with de Gaulle on 15 July 1962 – during the chancellor's official visit to France. See Osterheld Horst, ‘Ich gehe nicht leichten Herzens’. Adenauers letzte Kanzlerjahre (Mainz: Grünewald, 1986), 132; and Soutou, ‘Le général’, 142.

87 DDF, 1961, 2 (1998), 105–25.

88 Soutou, ‘Le général’, 135. Fouchet 1 foresaw an irrevocable (confederal) co-operation aiming at a common European foreign and defence policy, as well as close co-operation in the field of culture. Central to the draft treaty were summit meetings at the level of the leaders of government (every four months) and regular council meetings at the level of ministers of foreign affairs. Furthermore, these new institutions were to be backed up by a ‘political commission’ of high-level representatives of the ministers of foreign affairs. Crucially, the draft treaty contained a revision clause (after three years), which would enable strengthening the institutional features of the political co-operation.

89 Lappenküper, Beziehungen, 1568 and 1573.

90 NA, PREM11/4013, FO to Tokyo, and Tokyo to FO, 23 and 27 Oct. 1959; FRUS, 1958–60, 7(2), 21 and 47–49.

91 Lundestad Geir, ‘Empire’ by Integration: The United States and European Integration 1945–1997 (Oxford University Press, 1998), 5895; Rostow Walt W., ‘Kennedy's View of Monnet and Vice Versa’, in Brinkley Douglas and Griffiths Richard T., eds., John F. Kennedy and Europe (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999), 284–5; Winand Pascaline, Eisenhower, Kennedy and the United States of Europe (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993), 139 f.

92 Roll, Crowded, 110; Reyn, Atlantis, 363

93 Jacques van Helmont, unpublished diary, in Private Archive Max Kohnstamm (Fenffe, Belgium), 149.

94 DNA, 2.05.118, 30162, de Vos to Luns, 29 Nov. 1961.

95 DNA, 2.05.118, 30162, de Vos to Luns, 2 Dec. 1961, 4.

96 Ibid., 6–8.

97 De Gaulle, LNC, IX, 174; DDF, 1961, 2, 703–8.

98 The commodity regulations for the most important products were established, Community bodies – under intergovernmental guidance – would manage the separate product markets and a European fund would allow for the management of import levies, price supports, and structural reforms (Parsons, Idea, 137; cf. Ludlow, ‘CAP’).

99 According to the head of the European Department within the Quai d'Orsay, Jean-Marie Soutou, ‘Fouchet 2’ might have been the product of a miscommunication between Couve and his advisers, who wrongly believed that their minister had already approved of de Gaulle's editing of the draft treaty. However, Couve appeared to have been as unpleasantly surprised as were the Quai and Christian Fouchet. They all realised that these last minute and unilateral changes in the draft treaty would be unacceptable for France's EEC partners (Soutou, ‘Le général’, 136–7, and L'Alliance, 192; cf. Maillard, De Gaulle, 250).

100 Soutou, L'Alliance, 190–1.

101 Osterheld, ‘Ich’, 97.

102 Soutou, ‘Le général’, 139–40, and L'Alliance, 199.

103 Coolsaet Rik, België en zijn buitenlandse politiek 1830–1990 (Leuven: Van Halewyck), 433. For Spaak's (personal) motivation see Dumoulin Michel, Spaak (Brussels: Racine, 1999), 650–1.

104 For the complete speech of Heath see Camps, Britain, 525–30.

105 Nijenhuis, ‘tactiek’, 48–9.

106 DDF, 1962, 1 (1998), 433–4; Soutou, ‘Le général’, 141.

107 Peyrefitte, C'était, 1, 151; cf. note 86.

108 Osterheld, ‘Ich’, 123; Vanke, ‘Impossible’, 108. To be sure, de Gaulle's uncompromising anti-Soviet hard line in the Berlin crisis had decisively contributed to his credibility as the most reliable Western partner in the eyes of Adenauer.

109 According to the highest levels in Washington the unexpectedness of the veto lay rather in the fact that de Gaulle had managed to strengthen his power-political position, instead of being assassinated or outmanoeuvred over the issue of Algeria in the preceding months. See Sorensen Theodore C., Kennedy (Old Saybrook: Konecky & Konecky, 1965), 571.

110 Cf. BZ, 1965–74, Sous-chef DGES to DGES, 9 Aug. 1967.

111 Vanke, ‘Impossible’.

The author wishes to thank the Duitsland Instituut Amsterdam, Laurien Crump, Hanns Jürgen Küsters, Bob Lieshout, David Snyder, Bart Stol and three anonymous referees. All translations of quotations from untranslated sources are by the author.

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