Towards an ever closer union? The US-UK special relationship until the UK´s final accession to European Community 1973

A potential area of conflict

Seminar Paper, 2006

19 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1. Introduction: The “special relationship” between the UK and the US

2. The early developments after the 2nd World War
2.1 British Foreign Policy after 2nd World war

3. From the establishment of the EEC respectively Messina Conference until the first application of UK

4. The first application of UK to join the European Communities

5. The difficulties to become a Member State: the second and third application of UK to join European Community and the final accession

6. Conclusion

7. List of Abbreviations in Alphabetical Order

8. List of References


Whenever speaking of the “special relationship” in an international context, the warm political and diplomatic relations between the United States and Great Britain are meant.[1] Although some people might argue that the true Special Relationship exits between Canada and the US, this term is exclusively used to refer to the close Anglo-American relations routed in historical, cultural, economic and ideological ties and first mentioned by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during his famous Fulton speech also addressing communism and the Iron Curtain. To say it with the words of John Baylis, a luminary in this field: Britain and the US have “same instincts and traditions, and we share the same heritage of law and custom, philosophy and pragmatic Weltanschauung (...)”.[2] Relations after 2nd world war expanded also to the field of military and intelligence and economy with the US being largest investor in UK economy and vice versa, but also personal relationships were important, e.g. for the time span covered in this paper the good understanding between Harold Macmillan and John F. Kennedy.[3] The term special relationship implicitly emphasizing the warmth and cordiality of the relationship was used to describe Anglo-American relations that also gone through times of war and conflict as well as peace and close cooperation.[4]

During the years 1939-1945 the partnership became really close reaching a new level of intimacy covering a wide spectrum of fields so that even terms like “exceptional”, “unique” or “different from the ordinary” can be applied.[5] Afterwards all nations that were enemies in 2nd world war were concerned to create an international system of alliances in order to prevent that such thing will ever happen again. It changed the way the British and Americans, the former allies, were conceived and how they tried to find their role in the world system. In Europe, there were early attempts to co-operate that led later to the creation of the European Communities what later evolved into European Union. However, Britain stayed outside this system until its accession in 1973 - a time, when the European Community was not longer economically that success story, and many people are blaming the special relationship to be the reason for this. Therefore it will be now explained what happened until the accession and what drove the Anglo-American Relations in order to prove that the special relationship was a factor out of many but was not the decisive element that prevented Britain from becoming a member in the European Communities though French representatives especially de Gaulle used this as the explanation to veto against the first and second application of Great Britain to access European Communities.

2. The early developments after the 2nd World War

After winning the war against Germany, the alliance of Britain, US and SU broke away early , in 1946, when Churchill speaks at Fulton of an iron curtain, that divides the states of Eastern Europe with a communist form of government from the states of the Western sphere. However it became clear that the USA will emerge as a dominant state in capitalist world having strongest economy and greatest military potential. In the early times after the war until the late 50s, when Marshall Plan was in force giving 17 billion US $ to Western Europe, the leadership of US was unchallenged. The foundation of the NATO 1949 marked the formal commitment of American troops defending Western Europe. This had a price[6]: all should be constituted in the American Way of multilateral world free trade and an international monetary system based on the Dollar. Because of Britain’s approach towards foreign policy, early proposals of French government for a custom union were rejected with Britain thinking that problems of Europe were global problems rejecting an exclusive trading block. Later it was mainly rejected because they perceived a growing threat for Western Europe by SU and therefore wanted more to assure the commitment of US defending Europe. Moreover, French proposing a European Community with the sentiments in France that wanted the US to stay more outside in European affairs represented by the idea of third force between SU and US what convinced British policy-makers that they must oppose the formation of this sort of a regional grouping in favour of an unchallenged US leadership what the US ironically supported 1947 believing that a unified West European bloc can better protect itself against communism.[7] However it was not only Britain’s fault that the attempt to form a European Defence Community (EDC) 1950 by René Pleven failed, but also and finally France with the lacking ratification of French National Assembly. Defence was on increasing importance that day because of Korean War. Therefore, the Britain concentrated on the creation of the Western European Union within the NATO, the major forum for defence, what remained the greatest achievement but without a significant development of European institutions not used for European discussions. The concept of Western Union prepared in advance at Brussels Pact of March 1948 was seen as a demonstration that European states try to help themselves in the struggle against communism and was perceived as an essential condition for American involvement in the North Atlantic Pact. At about that time Britain decided not to be in favour of a 3rd power grouping but of a close relationship with the US as a cold estimate.[8]

The Shuman Plan, the basis for the creation of the ECSC, however deeply offended the British in May 1950 because French announced this to US Secretary of State Dean Acheson that had later a meeting with Bevin and did not say anything leading to the suspicion of British that France don’t want the British inside and that US perhaps move away from Britain in the formulation of plans of Western Europe.[9] Furthermore, British became even more annoyed because French wanted them to accept the principle of supranationalism which was impossible because Britain was the country always emphasizing national sovereignty. This became a major feature of British approach towards European unity -the term the British really feared- GB always wanting to know what precisely this means. During the 40s the British already uttered that they would want a union only on an intergovernmental level what could be seen during the foundation of the OEEC 1948 when they thumped on an intergovernmental structure as well as during the foundation of Council of Europe 1949 when not giving it an own power structure.[10]

2.1 British Foreign Policy after 2nd world war

The British approach to foreign policy was a realist one taking into account national self-interest which entailed in fact their legacy of their role as dominant in international system of 19th century and its status as imperial power. It still wanted to contribute to maintenance of world order and therefore, it could not afford to concentrate only on European affairs when feeling threatened by continental European states. Britain with its elites suffering from an “illusion of grandeur” continued to formulate its foreign policy in global terms whereas other European states still had to recover from the effects of 2nd world war.[11] Even in that early stage the prevention of a further withdrawal of US into isolation and the relationship to US as a whole became major preoccupation of British foreign policy in order to counteract the influence of the USSR. Playing a leading role in Europe would reinforce British influence with US, and the close relationship with the US itself was regarded as strengthening Britain’s position on the European Continent. In general, this view was accepted by US – they believed that Britain to be their leading ally is in their interest, there were only some disagreement amongst American officials over the question whether the special nature of this relationship should be acknowledged or not as for some the attempt to emphasise the partnership would undermine relations with other West European states.[12] However: first the US, than Commonwealth and only 3rd Europe were the priorities of early British foreign policy. When the US supported movements for the West Europe unity and the foundation of European Economic Community with Britain as a member state, it was seen by British as a sign that US still needs guidance in conducting international affairs. “So, despite the support of the United states for British participation in the European Communities, the maintenance of the belief in a special Atlantic relationship acted as a psychological barrier to Britain’s policy-makers seeing the need for such participation.”[13] Also the relationship to Commonwealth worked against British seeing itself as a participant in European Communities because Britain didn’t see the need as it was also the main trading partner at that time.


[1] See wikipedia “Special Relationship”.

[2] Baylis, John: Anglo-American Defence Relations. Page XVII.

[3] See wikipedia “Special Relationship”.

[4] See wikipedia “Anlgo-American relations”.

[5] See Baylis, John: American Defence Relations. Page XVI f.

[6] See Brown, George: An Awkward Partner. Page 7.

[7] See Brown, George: An Awkward Partner. Page 17.

[8] See Baylis, John: Anglo-American Relations since 1939. Page 38f.

[9] See Brown, George: An Awkward Partner. Page 20.

[10] See Volle, Angelika: Großbritannien und der europäische Einigungsprozeß. Page 1ff.

[11] See Brown, George: An Awkward Partner. Page 13f.

[12] See Baylis, John: Anglo-American Relations since 1939. Page 38f.

[13] See Brown, George: An Awkward Partner. Page 15.

Excerpt out of 19 pages


Towards an ever closer union? The US-UK special relationship until the UK´s final accession to European Community 1973
A potential area of conflict
University of Economics, Prague  (Institut für Sozialwissenschaften)
US-UK Special Relationship
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Towards, US-UK, UK´s, European, Community, US-UK, Special, Relationship
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B.A. Julia Scheffler (Author), 2006, Towards an ever closer union? The US-UK special relationship until the UK´s final accession to European Community 1973, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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