Explain why Britain did not join either the ECSC or the EEC in the 1950s but then changed its mind about Europe in the early 1960s The ECSC or European Coal and Steel Community was funded in 1952 it was born out of the Marshall plan and was aimed to coordinate the American aid among the west European countries involved in the Marshall plan. In 1955 the sic ECSC powers met in Rome and agreed the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Community (Euratom) both bodies came into existence at the beginning of 1956 and started to function in 1959.
The six countries involved agreed to eliminate tariffs between themselves, to establish a single tariff within 12 to 15 years , eliminate quotas , ensure mobility of labour and capital , ban anti-competitive cartels and abolish subsidies which failed to conform with their general liberalising policies. Within the EEC the six amongst other things also agreed to create a council of ministers who would begin by each exercising a power of individual veto but would later take effective decisions by a qualified majority of 12 votes out of 17 each minister having a number of votes determined in accordance with the economic weight of his country.
In 1955 Britain missed the chance to join the EEC and having it tailor-made for her requirements and in fact did not even send an observer to the Messina Conference where the plans of the six took final shape. Britain saw itself still as one of the three great powers together with the USA and USSR and she never thought that Europe , grateful to her for saving it from Nazi oppression, would never go the whole way towards a customs union and supranational institutions on its own. But Britain anyway did distrust the association with foreigners and had never felt herself to be part of Europe by virtue of her position as an offshore island.
She wished to retain her close trading and sentimental links with Commonwealth countries. Britain argued that the EEC was a bureaucracy and not a democracy therefore an irresponsible form of government and the EEC was also devoted to free competition as opposed to planning and that entry into it meant abandoning national planning, not for international planning but for "laissez – faire". In case of an entry by the British the parliament would also have to renounce its control over vital aspects of British public businesses .
Over all was the EEC an inward looking , Eurocentric organisation with un-British traditions such as multi-party government and Roman-Dutch law in which British civil servants would be at a disadvantage. But trade within the rest of Europe was nevertheless important for Britain so instead of joining the EEC Britain tried to set up an alternative organisation as a counterweight hence in 1959 the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) was funded. The other members were Norway , Sweden , Denmark , Austria , Portugal and Switzerland.
This organisation required fewer obligations than the EEC. However trade figures in 1959 showed that the EFTA was not very successful with just half of the population of the EEC. And in the same time the six decided to accelerate their reductions in internal custom duties , which threatened more sever damage to British exports. As Britain examined the situation it was doubtful that a "bridge" between the six and the EFTA was possible. The transport costs with the commonwealth did rise as well hence many adjusted their trade accordingly.
Britain realised that she was no longer in the first division of world powers which was proved by Macmillan's failure to mediate between the USA an USSR in 1960 in the aftermath of the U2 incident and she also realised that a partnership in Europe might be preferable to dependence upon the USA. In addition did the strength of Commonwealth identity fade away as it grew in size and changed in colour with Asian and African former colonies such as Nigeria and Malaya joining the white former settler colonies of Canada, Australia , New Zealand and South Africa.
Anyway the EEC appeared to be a great success and Britain's economy was weakened further and furthermore. So Britain began to have second thoughts about the EEC and eventually decided to make all efforts to join the other six countries and to enter the common market. Thus in August 1961 the Commons , with only twenty-two Conservative abstentions , approved Britain's application to join the EEC. Edward Heath then engaged in negotiations in Brussels until January 1963 when the French President de Gaulle unexpectedly vetoed the British application.