An examination of British policy with regard to European Unity during the period 1945 to 1949: Why did Britain did Britain diverge from the emerging European Community and was it justified in doing so? British policy towards Europe has been described as half-hearted and even compared to "haphazard meanderings" (Dell, 1995: 69) since 1948. In many ways British policy was unclear and confusing during the immediate post war period. During 1946 and 1947 Britain appeared to be a strong advocate of European unity; indeed it was a leader of Western Europe and generally assumed that Britain would continue to play such a role.
It was Churchill who's request for "a kind of United States of Europe" during his 1946 speech in Zurich, whom not only sent out a positive message regarding union within Europe but was also one of the founding father's of the concept. During this time "Britain was regarded as the leader of Western Europe" (Croft, 1988: 617). Britain had come out of the war relatively unscathed and was considered the strongest European nation during this time. Having attained wartime prestige and maintained political strength Britain had "placed herself in the vanguard of the movement to achieve European Unity".
Newman potently displays her assets: "She could have played a determining role in shaping the institutional form of a new community" and "others would have followed her" (Newman, 1996: 6). In-spite of this, British Policy was however, to take a significant leap away from European unity. From mid 1948 Britain began to put up resistance against proposals for a Council of Europe in 1949 and rejected notions of pooled economic sovereignty proposed by the OEEC.
These years are of great importance as they set in motion the culminating events in 1951 when Robert Schuman's plans for a free market coal and steel industry were rejected out right. Thus its is evident that Britain had shifted it's position of power in Europe utterly. Not only had Britain lost an opportunity to lead Europe, but following the Schuman doctrine "their place in future political developments" (Croft, 1988: 617). Thus is outlined the general sequence of events regarding British policy and its reaction to conceptions of European Unity.
This period of policy was so important as it shaped and molded British/European relations to come. Indeed, abstaining from Europe during these years cited, had the considerable ramification of a belated entry to the European Economic Community; A community that Britain would not join until 1973 under the governance of Edward Heath. This was a delayed entry that was to cost Britain the loss of potentially significant economic gain. The consequences of Britain's decision to opt out of European unity plans were extensive; hindsight tells us this. However what the essay seeks to underpin is the events, reasons and justification behind Britain's decision to `go it alone' and seek a future without partaking in a broad European union. Outline: a) The first half of the essay will delineate British policy towards
European Unity. This will be answered initially with reference to the years of 1945 to mid 1948. This period will be cited to highlight that Britain has not always been in opposition to Western European integration. Following this British foreign policy from the period of mid 1948 to 1949 will be delineated and discussed. This was when notions of Britain as an `awkward partner' emerged and the point from which Britain diverged from the European union ideal.
The essay will refer to events leading up to the creation of a Council of Europe and the OEEC. These progressions will be cited as evidence of an increasingly isolationist British stance with regard to European Unity. In such fashion this phase of the essay will outline the extent to which the concept of `unity' was rejected and abstained from. b) Having outlined and discussed events of the post war period, the reasons behind British policy can next be established. This will form this main part of the essay. The extent to which the 1945-1951 Labour government's anti-European Unification stance was warranted will be viewed and the major explanations of an isolationist British policy, outlined.
The essay will refer to Labour's socialist principles and commitments, the relationship with the Commonwealth, and the argument that Britain still viewed its self as on of the `Big Three' pillars of global power. These facets will be cited as the prime reasons for British policy during these years. The Labour government will be criticized with regard to its decision to abstain from Europe. The extent to which British policy was justified and right to adopt an increasingly peripheral and obtrusive role with regard to policy on economic and political European integration will be assessed. a)1945-1947: Britain's immediate post war foreign policy
The driving force at the heart of Britain's foreign policy during this period was the Cold War. Britain feared the encroachment of communism into central Europe and as Pilkington (2001) notes there was reason for this fear. An outbreak of civil war in Greece, the Berlin blockade as well as the coup d'etat against Jan Masaryk in Czechoslovakia and the upsurge of communist parties in Italy could all be cited as evidence of an impending Soviet and communist threat to the West (Pilkington, 2001).
In light of the Soviet threat Britain sought "European states to provide collective security against the preponderance of power possessed by the Soviet Union" (Croft, 1988: 619). For Bevin and Churchill alike Europe needed to form union in order to quash Soviet menace and overt Europe from the threat of a third and this time atomic World War. British policy was stern; "Europe must unite or perish" (Attlee, date in Shlaim, 1978). Thus it is evident that for Britain "union was fundamentally a Cold War concept" (Croft, 1988: 619). Only in unity could Western Europe "stem the further encroachment of a soviet tide" (Croft, 1988: 620) and it is to this end that British policy was targeted (Croft, 1988).
The first step towards the building of a Western Union Bloc was evident on 4 March 1947 when the Anglo-French treaty of Dunkirk was signed. Alliance between Britain and France was established and ensured that each country would help the other out if needed. By pooling common resources the two powerhouse nations of Europe could create stability. More over France was protected from the prospect of a German offensive.
Following these developments manifested the signing of the Brussels treaty in March 1948. The treaty was born from debates in the House of Commons and thus was the brainchild of an assertive, pro-active British policy that was shaping the way for the future of Europe. The treaty of Brussels brought together countries of Britain, France, The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg in mutual consolidation over an unstable Europe. Such are the origins of European Unity and Britain's central part in it (Pilkington, 1995).
Economic suability was seen as a fundamental pre-requisite for staving off the Soviet threat. In March 1947 Britain sought America's financial aid and political endorsement of its peacekeeping aims. Truman pledged full support, which manifested in the proposal of the Marshal plan; a plan aimed initially at securing economic stability in the eight non-communist European nations in order that the 'communist creep' would be stemmed. As Newman notes the "US involvement … was essential to both for the economic recovery and security of Europe" (Newman, 1997: 9). The fact that Britain had brought about US involvement therefore further highlights the notion that Britain was playing a decisive role in the 'building' of Europe.
The government too was decisive in signing such protective and stabilizing mechanisms as the OEEC and the North Atlantic Treaty. Both of which further pooled together Western Union and US commitments for stability and security (Pilkington, 2001). The evidence thus far supports Newman's claim that Britain had placed herself "in the vanguard of the movement to achieve European unity" (Newman, 1997: 6). This was the nature of British policy during this immediate post war period. Having thus far taken charge it was generally assumed that the United Kingdom would grasp the opportunity to play a continued domineering roll in an increasingly unified Europe.
This was not to be the case. With regard to the pro-active nature of British foreign policy at this time, one important consideration must be taken into account. Croft notes that "it is important to distinguish between two types of British policy: objectives that the government wanted to achieve, and the interests it wanted to protect" (Croft, 1988: 618). Croft argues that Britain was 'leading' Europe at a time when it was in its own interests to do so. British policy had been devised primarily for the threats to its own security and stability and largely ignored the fears of France with respect to Germany.
Where Europe had seen Britain endeavor to partake an active continental role Britain had in fact done so as a means to an end: to attain it's own military and economic security through union. It is therefore worth considering the point that Britain had adopted a strong position in European policy primarily for it's own benefit and giving only second precedence to the continent as a whole. In Crofts opinion, leading capabilities displayed by Britain were driven by fundamentally national rather than continental interests (Croft, 1988).
Barker (1983) too resides upon this point. Signing the Brussels treaty and supporting Western union, during this time frame, was for Britain devised as a "sprat to catch a whale… A devise to lure the Americans into giving Western Europe backing in the face of a Soviet threat" (Barker, 1983: 127). Thus, as is further exemplified, Britain had sought unity only when it was in tandem with it's own needs. In this case, as Barker (1983) notes, Britain displayed an initial willingness for European unity but only with ulterior, selfish motives.
The US had sought Europe to unite (a wish latterly to be implemented Truman's Marshal plan) and thus Britain was able to entice the US into taking a further lead in British national safety one it was seen to be intergrating (Barker, 1983). Mid 1948-1949: British policy with regard to events of the proposed Council of Europe and fedralist implications of the OEEC The years of 1948 to 1949 wrought immense changes in Britain's European stance and policy within Europe. British foreign policy became increasingly divergent to that of its continental counterparts. Mid 1948 many European nations, most notably France, sought to evolve the European union that had been established, into European unity; A system of pooled sovereignty, closer economic integration and federalist organization.
Britain whose vision of European was one of more of a finite, intergovernmental system of operation opposed and eventually abdicated from the movement. While Europe sought unity, for Bevin (British Foreign Secretary) a relationship of European nations should be one more of 'brotherhood' comprising of loose connections rather than the rigid systems that were to be proposed. With this fundamental rift in mind, by January 1949 the United Kingdom was loosing "the leadership of Europe, and the British were widely regarded as being responsible for undermining the movement towards
European unity" (Croft, 1988: 626). The council of Europe Britain's altercations with Europe will first be considered with regard to plans for a Council of Europe. On May 1948 delegates from sixteen European states attended a congress in The Hague. Here was voiced by the majority of nations, a desire to establish a federal based European parliament. Negotiations during the latter half of 1948 led to the conception of a Council of Europe. Its official objectives were for generating "greater unity between its members for the purpose of safe guarding … common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress" (Watkins, 1992 in Pilkington, 2001: 8).
The British foreign office was vehemently opposed to the creation of a federal European parliament. It was only after extensive talks that Britain attained a compromise for the Council comprising both French federalist aspirations and the British intergovernmental approach. A statute was signed on May 1949 by ten governments including a somewhat reluctant British government. Although Britain did finally sign the treaty for Melissen and Zeeman the damage to EU relations had already begun. "Bevin's grand vision of Western Union had narrowed as a result of the experience" and Europe increasingly viewed Britain as an obstacle in the way of federalism (Melissen and Zeeman, 1987).
This is where the first clear distinction evolved between the loose conception of `Union' that Britain had endorsed in earlier years (in mind of the Soviet Union) and a `Unity' that the majority of Western European countries were now seeking. With the creation of European Council it is evident that Europe had began to move in a very new, supranational direction; a direction fundamentally different to that of Britain whose calls for limited integration became increasingly ostracized.