The Six Become Twenty-Eight
The political stalemate in Europe was to continue for a further 4 years until 1967 when a British Labour government made a renewed application to join the Community. By December 1969 all six governments, including France, were committed to British membership. Negotiations over the Treaty began in 1972 and by January 1972 it had been agreed that on 1 January the following year Britain, Denmark and Ireland would become members of the European Economic Community. The EEC formally became the European Union (EU) in 1993 with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. The number of member countries that have subsequently acceded to the EU has now reached 28, of which 18 participate in a monetary union sharing the euro as their legal tender. Through the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the EU plays a role in external relations and defence; it also maintains permanent diplomatic missions throughout the world and represents itself at the United Nations, the WTO, the G8, and the G-20. With the signing of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 this enlarged interstate organisation has substantially restructured its administrative/executive apparatus with the creation of a new single legal entity, a permanent President of the European Council.
Arguably, however, the most important change that has taken place within the EEC/EU was the accession of the UK. As de Gaulle had foreseen, it effectively transformed the Community from an expanding instrument of mutually beneficial political and economic integration — which some hoped would permit a future United States of Europe to become a Third Force in international affairs — into a crisis-ridden adversarial institution. For the British government, the political aspirations of the EEC were a potential threat to the ‘balance of power’ in Europe, one that had to be neutralised. The solution was a simple one: join the six and convert the EEC into a bureaucratic market place where the contending sovereign national interests of European agriculture, fisheries and industry could be defended. British awkwardness within the Councils of the EEC is not, therefore, simply a matter of driving the best possible bargain for British interests; it is, rather, the continuation of British foreign policy by other means, a ‘wonderfully unconscious tradition’ which was cogently described by Winston Churchill at a meeting of Conservative members of Parliament in March 1936:
For 400 years the foreign policy of England has been to oppose the strongest, most aggressive, most dominating power on the Continent, and particularly to prevent the Low Countries from falling into the hands of such a power. Viewed in the light of history these four centuries of consistent purpose amid so many changes of names and facts, of circumstances and conditions, must rank as one of the most remarkable episodes that the records of any race, nation, state or people can show. Moreover, on all occasions England took the more difficult course. Faced with Philip II of Spain, by Louis XIV under William III or Marlborough, against Napoleon, against Wilhelm II of Germany, it would have been easy — and must have been very tempting — to join with the stronger and share the fruits of his conquest. However, we always took the harder course, joined with the less strong powers, made a combination among them, and thus defeated and frustrated the continental military tyrant whoever he was, whatever nation he led. Thus we preserved the liberties of Europe, protected the growth of its vivacious and varied society, and emerged after four terrible struggles with an ever-growing fame and widening Empire and with the Low Countries safely protected in their independence. Here is the wonderful unconscious tradition of British foreign policy.