Monday, June 14, 2021

De Gaulle, England and the EU

 Back to regular programming.

One of the reasons why I've been harping on about De Gaulle recently is because, after re-examining his life, I'm of the conclusion that his "philosophy" may offer a way forward for the "right". But the man needs to be heard, and that's difficult in Anglo-Saxon culture because he has been the victim of much calumny. One of the reasons why I have put up the last few posts is to show that a lot of the charges against him are false.  I wish to "rehabilitate" him with regard to the Anglosphere, if only so that people will start to engage his ideas. So I thought I'd tackle the last great misconception of him, and that was his treatment of the English with regard to their entry into the EU.

Most contemporary accounts of this episode in De Gaulle's life paint his refusal as being the product of spite and an attempt at revenge for the humiliation he suffered as dependent ally of the British.  Indeed, Jackson's account of the saga is totally devoid of the context in which his decisions were made and furthers the "mainstream" narrative. The reality is, of course, far more complex and far more interesting. 

I would recommend to those who can be bothered, this excellent lecture on the subject by Professor Vernon Bogdanor of Gresham College. The .pdf of the lecture can be found here. For those who can't be interested  here's a brief executive summary:

1) At the time of the formation of the Common Market, the UK was invited to join. It thought the thing a bit of a joke and refused.

2) Once the Common Market was formed it's economic and political success surprised the UK. Suddenly, the Common market was becoming the dominant power in Europe and by failing to join it, the UK was unable to influence it.

3) Charles de Gaulle becomes President of France.

4) England then reverted back to it's traditional policy of opposing the dominant power in Europe. It primarily aimed to do this by forming the European Free Trade Association. The aim of this organisation was to "dilute" the EU and thereby weaken it. The UK actually threatened the Common Market with sanctions if it did not trade with it.

5) When this failed, the UK then applied for membership, but it did not want to join under the same criteria of membership as the other states. It wanted a special membership which would privilege it in the EU.

6) De Gaulle--and the other nations-- said No. Firstly, because membership rules were the same for everyone, no exceptions. Secondly, the real sticking point was the Common Agricultural Policy. Britain's economy was incompatible with it. Britain's economy had to change but it was impossible for it to do so at the time. De Gaulle, said that when the economy changed it would be welcome to come in.

7) The Empty Chair Crisis happens. This was huge event which set the formation of the modern "supranational" EU. De Gaulle recognised that it was both a tactical victory and a strategic defeat of the concept of a "Europe des Patries".

8) Britain applies again to join the EU. Its economy hasn't changed but the political climate of the other EU countries has. They--with the exception of Gaullist France--become keen on the notion of a "supranational" EU.  De Gaulle objects in an attempt to stop the change in the EU character.

9) De Gaulle in an attempt to stop the subversion from within the EU, invites the British to secret exploratory talks with regard to entering the EU under "looser" terms. The British use the oportunity to exploit this offer by announcing this confidential request to the rest of the EU.

10) Charles de Gaulle dies.

This clip from the series, Yes Minister is very close to the truth of things.

The bottom line is that De Gaulle's objection to the British membership of the EU was not based on personal animus but on a realistic understanding of the incompatibility between the UK and the EU.

He received a lot of abuse for his position, especially by the English and the Americans, but history has proven him right:

While de Gaulle might today feel warranted in his skepticism with regards to the British vote, he might also find himself sympathizing with the nationalist sentiments that have gained ground following the referendum. While de Gaulle questioned the UK’s passion for European integration, his idea of a united Europe did not exactly match some of the motivations that have been driving the EU’s integration process. For de Gaulle, a united Europe should be a Europe des patries—a Europe of states—in which each member retained its fundamental sovereignty. If that were today’s EU, perhaps Brexit would never have caught on.