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The Role of De Gaulle in the Integration Process

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Saved by nadine
on February 22, 2009 at 5:26:07 pm


“Charles De Gaulle: The impact of one historical figure and his opposition towards Supranationalism on the process of European Integration”


Who was Charles De Gaulle??


"What's the point of Europe? It must serve to prevent domination either by the Americans or the Russians."

General De Gaulle to Alain Peyrefitte, 1962 (Source: Online Dictionary of the EU)

In 1958, De Gaulle founded the French Fifth Republic, the fifth Republican constitution of France, and served as its first President and President of France until 1968. The beginning of the new Republic could be described as a period of hopes and a vision for a new independent France, with a revitalized economy, a strong nuclear arsenal and no need for alliances with neither Britain nor America.  

The plans for an independent Foreign Policy declared France the 4th state to acquire a nuclear arsenal and to detonate an atomic bomb without US assistance, which they did in the Algerian desert. Considering that Britain’s nuclear programme was closely related to the US, De Gaulle declared France the third big independent nuclear power.

 De Gaulle had also plans for the French military, specifically the creation of a force de frappe, a military involving of air forces, navy and land forces capable of protecting France without NATO assistance.

He shared a similar vision concerning Europe. He planned on creating a strong European Confederation that would overcome any dependence and any need for links with the United States or the Soviet Union, a “Free Europe”, a Europe “From the Atlantic to the Urals”. (Charles-De-Gaulle.org)  

Why is it then that history sometimes refers to him as one of the EU villains whose “anachronistic championing of the nation-state destroyed the European Community’s development in the 1960’s and stunted its institutional growth until the Single European Act of 1986 and the Maastricht Treaty of 1992?” (Dinan: 39)

There were cases where De Gaulle’s opposition to Supranationalism and to the United States caused crises to the European Community and impacted the integration process. For ten years, the entire European Community and its future were based on one man and one man’s ideas. The role of De Gaulle was determinative for Europe.

Britain’s Application Vetoed twice:  Reasons

1)      France was in a weak position where it could perhaps not tolerate any rivalry from Britain concerning the European Community’s leadership.

2)      Realpolitik

3)      Britain’s ties with the Commonwealth

4)      Britain’s special relationship with the United States, a country De Gaulle personally despised

5)      Predilection for free trade (which threatened the Common Agricultural Policy) and ran counter to French mercantilism.

De Gaulle obviously had reason to believe that the Community and Britain would not be a perfect match for each other at the time, and thus rejected British application for membership twice, in 1963 and 1967. Despite the obvious negativity of the approach, allowing Britain into the Community in the early 1960’s would possibly thwart the Common Agricultural Policy, undermine the economic integration and turn the customs union into a broad free trade area. 

De Gaulle regarded the Community as a “European Europe” and Britain’s relationship with the US would jeopardise that.

The Fouchet Plan (1961-1962)

-Through this plan De Gaulle pursued the “Union of States” he envisioned

-The idea was for the six member states of the European Community to form a new intergovernmental organization which would coordinate foreign and defence policy.

-After a series of bilateral meetings France held with its partners of the EC during the summer and fall of 1960, they all held a summit meeting in France during February the 10th and 11th of 1961 where it was decided that the discussions on the plan would continue under the chairmanship of Denmark’s French Ambassador, Christian Fouchet.

-During a summit in Bonn on July the 18th 1961, the leaders of the European Community requested from Fouchet to draft “proposals on the means of giving the union of their peoples a statutory character” (Encyclopaedia of the EU. Desmon Dinan)

-Fouchet submitted a design for a confederation of European States by the end of 1961, one aiming for a common foreign policy and a common defence policy as well as for cooperation on matters of culture, education and science.

-The institutional framework outlines in the design included a Ministerial Council, a Commission of senior Foreign Ministry Officials and a Consultative Assembly of Delegated National Parliamentarians.

-The leaders of every member states apart from German Chancellor Konrad Adenaur did not show the necessary enthusiasm over the Fouchet Plan and De Gaulle’s motivation were questioned by Dutch Foreign Minister Josef Luns

-The difficulty the member states encounter over efforts to reach an agreement caused Josef Luns concerns over the future of the European Community as well as the reaction the United States would have and the role Britain would have, if any, in the Community.

-The Fouchet Plan collapsed after all, since a serious of disharmonic meetings in the beginning of 1962 left little room for agreement and implementation.

 De Gaulle, Supranationalism and the Empty Chair Crisis

-De Gaulle’s hostility towards Supranationalism became most obvious in 1965, with what became the Empty Chair Crisis.

-The Crisis was based on a disagreement over the Commission’s proposal to fund the Common Agricultural Policy over the period between the expiration of the initial financial regulation in July 1965 and the end of the Community’s transitional period in 1970. (Dinan: 49)

-Once the CAP begun operating, funding would come from levies on agricultural imports into the Community, supplemented by duties on industrial imports. These would together constitute the Community’s own recourses. (Dinan: 49)

-What the Commission proposed was for the Community to acquire its own resources at the time, thus implying that member states give up their national duties at the time over a complex financial system over which both Commission  and Parliament would have great power. The plan not only clashed with De Gaulle’s interest in a secure financial regulation for the CAP, it went far beyond anything he would ever accept and caused great antagonism in the relationship between the French government and the bureaucratic Commission.

-Robert Marjolin, a Commission member, urged his colleagues not to persist with the CAP proposals and risk jeopardizing the Commission’s Golden Rule. (Not to take any actions likely to encounter an outright veto by a member state that would have left no room for negotiation)  (Dinan: 49) Walter Hallstein, however, began announcing all proposals to the Parliament in Strasbourg instead of the Council in Brussels.

- As the hostility between France and the Commission became worse with Hallstein’s actions, the French Foreign Minister warned that “our partners are indulging in wishful thinking by putting forward proposals which they know France will not accept.”  (Dinan: 49)

- In a meeting between De Gaulle and Chancellor Ludwig Erhard, in the beginning of June 1965 the crisis failed to be dissolved and member states acted on France’s proposal that the CAP should be funded by national contributions, thus avoiding the controversial question of the Commission’s own resources, without showing any alert on the deadline, which was June 30.

-On June 28, France chaired the Council meeting, where French Foreign Minister stated that CAP funding would occur only after July 1st. The discussions failed to properly begin even by midnight on June 30, two hours after which the meeting broke up. The French government’s representative later announced France’s departure of the Council and all its committees.

-Facing an empty French Chair, there was not much the Community could do. At the same time, De Gaulle announced that another issue between France and the Community was the forthcoming introduction of Qualified Majority Voting in the Council, due to be implemented on January 1966, while he favoured and insisted on unanimity.

-After Council meeting on which participants declared their commitment to the supranational conditions of the treaty while others were concerned over being outvoted, they stated willingness to compromise on the Commission’s earlier proposals while offering France the opportunity to return to the Council and negotiate.  Which came with the Luxemburg Compromise.


 De Gaulle, Walter Hallstein and the Luxemburg Compromise

-De Gaulle’s independence caused to become a difficult colleague in European Counsels, especially when Walter Hallstein was Commission President and pursued full European Integration.

-The first meeting of the two men was in the early days of the Fouchet Plan in 1960, where De Gaulle attempted to amend the Treaty of Rome, reduce the power of the Commission and pass authority to the National Parliamentarians.  He sharpened his proposals aiming to weaken the Ministerial Council, putting an end to the supremacy of the EC Law and at the same time suggested revising any arrangements concerning European Defence in order to sideline the UK and USA.

-De Gaulle’s initiatives collapsed, the Community paralysed and fierce intriguing leaded its atmosphere. Subsequently, France threatened to depart from the Community by boycotting meetings and blocking the extension of QMV.

-The Luxemburg Compromise, in 1966 finally resolved this crisis. It was an agreement to disagree over majority voting while maintaining the principle of majority voting. It acknowledged that “when very important issues are at stake, discussions must be continued until unanimous agreement is reached”. (Dinan/ encyclopaedia)

-The Luxemburg Compromise attempted to demonstrate that each member state was responsible of acknowledging the other’s national interests and increased their reluctance to call a vote in the Council even when no vital interests were at jeopardy. 

-The result was that decision making in Brussels visually ground to a half until the 1980’s when a huge legislative logjam finally convinced member states to move towards QMV.


1)      “When issues very important to one or more member countries are at stake, the members of the Council will try, within a reasonable time, to reach solutions which can be adopted by all members of the Council, while respecting their mutual interests and those by the Community.”

2)      “The French delegation considers that, when very important issues are at stake, discussions must be continued until unanimous agreement is reached.”

3)      “The six delegations note that there is a divergence of views on what should be done in the event of a failure to reach complete agreement.”

4)      “However, they consider that this divergence does not prevent the Community’s work being resumed in accordance with the normal procedure.”

(Dinan: 51)



-De Gaulle’s early days in the EC proved devotion on helping the Community strengthen and cooperate.

-He however kept it small by restricting it on what he liked to call “Little Europe of the Six”, based on the Franco-German core. His resentment towards Supranationalism, on top of that, caused a severe damage on the Community’s development.

-De Gaulle’s decade met a lot of changes in Europe and the Community.  By its end, Germany had grown economically and had become politically assertive, while France had no longer any political or economic power.

-De Gaulle’s successor, Georges Pompidou, pursued a balance of power by finally permitting Britain as well as Denmark entry in the EU and thus performing the European Community’s First Enlargement. Only after De Gaulle retired did the Community begin to recover again.


1)Dinan, D : Ever Closer Union, an Introduction to European Integration, 2005, Palgrave McMillan

2)Dinan, D. : Encyclopaedia of the European Union, 2000, Palgrave McMillan

3)De Gaulle and Europe: http://www.charles-de-gaulle.org/article.php3?id_article=178

4)Dictionary of the EU: http://www.euro-know.org/europages/dictionary/d.html

5)Nugent, N.: The Government and Politics of the European Union, 1988, Palgrave McMillan

6)Sir Nicoll, N., Salmon, T. C., Understanding the European Union, 2001, Pearson Education



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