Britain on the edge of Europe - British–European relationships between 1945-58. The attempts to create a European community and Britain´s attitude towards it

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar), 2003

22 Seiten, Note: 3+




1. Great Britain and Europe between 1945 – 1955
1.1 Great Britain’s attitude towards Europe in the Post-war period
1.2 The concept of `Three Circles´
1.3 The Schuman Plan

2. Great Britain and the Six, 1955-58
2.1 The Messina talks
2.2 The MAC-report on the Question about pro and cons of joining the community
2.3 Economic arguments
2.4 Political arguments
2.5 `Plan G´ and its failure

3. Franco-British relationships

4. Britain isolated – analysis of their decisions




Never before it seemed so necessary for European countries to demonstrate strong company than after World War II. Some countries immediately started to meet and talk about what could be done to prevent Europe for wars like the one that just ended.

The idea of forming a federation with one government as head was not new. Even in earlier stages in history countries tried to unify Europe. At that time the means of reaching the aim were invasion and elimination. The war led by Hitler was the last attempt to reach uniformity by force.

The smaller European countries started to talk about integration and about forming a customers union as a first step.

Great Britain, still a leading power in world trade and politics, did not feel as a part of Europe.

Politics after World War II to 1958 were mainly dominated by the relationship between Great Britain and continental Europe. Mainly the Six wanted an integration of Western Europe. Britain did not feel comfortable with the idea of being part of a union and did not want to join the other states. They did not cooperate; contrariwise, they worked against the efforts of the other states. Great Britain jammed the attempts to form close mergers, so the formation of the European Economic Community and the concept of a common market was hard to get through by the other European countries.

The aim of this paper is to give an overview about the processes of forming economic and political institutions and the attitude of Great Britain to the Continent between 1945 and 1958.

The attempt is made to give reasons for Britain’s attitude and its decision against a common market. The most important events during this period will be researched and evaluated. However, this is just an approach; it is not possible to give any detailed aspects why Britain and the Continent could not work together.

1. Great Britain and Europe between 1945 – 1955

1.1 Great Britain’s attitude towards Europe in the Post-war period

After the end of World War II Great Britain - in contrast to the Western European countries - saw no real need for a better cooperation between the European states. Therefore the British government showed little enthusiasm for a European unity.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Winston Churchill played an important role in developing a united Europe. In his speech in Zurich in September 1946 Churchill was calling for a “United States of Europe”.[1] His initiative led to a reconciliation of Germany and France, which was the fundament of starting to talk about forming a union.

In 1947 the ambitions led to the creation of an International Committee for a united Europe. But Churchill wanted a kind of informal cooperation and a constricted integration of the European states. Consequential Great Britain observed the events on the continent but did not participate in any talks. To express solidarity and goodwill Churchill started the United European Movement in May 1947. He led a group which became known as the “unionists”, his opponent Spinelli led the European Federalists. In talks about European integration both groups argued about political, geographical and cultural advantages and disadvantages of a union. They could not agree and at the Congress of Europe held in the Hague in May 1948 their difficulties emerged. Both groups agreed on the need of an international organisation with a parliamentary body. For Churchill and the unionists this was just a debating assembly with no rights to rule the countries in the whole. But this was exactly what the federalists wanted. They wanted a parliamentary body and its task should be to design a constitution for the United States of Europe.[2] In the end the Council of Europe turned out to be no driving force concerning European integration.

Meanwhile, caring for their own economic and political interests Great Britain showed respect and goodwill. Because of their pacts with the United States and the Commonwealth the British government was not interested in getting involved in other European projects. They did not even feel as full-European. Since 1930 when Churchill said in an article about the Briand-Plan: “We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not compromised. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed (…). We belong to no single continent, but to all”.[3], their opinion did not change much. Instead of working hand in hand with their continental colleagues the British Government under Churchill started to attack the Policy of European leaders and denounced it as “not enough European”. Great Britain blocked the attempts of the continental states to form a close union. Their pretended reason for not wanting a customs union was of their world wide duties. When the United States offered a solution by developing the Marshall-Plan, the important economic problems seemed to be solved. But Great Britain’s strong political role in the OEEC[4] (as administrative body) made it impossible to make this plan a step stone for integration.

Till 1955 the integration of Western Europe seemed to remain static. Even the 1949 established Council of Europe could not arrange the different attempts of the states to melt them together. The enemy was among them. Great Britain never wanted an economic and political integration and did everything to get in the way when a solution seemed to be close.

1.2 The concept of `Three Circles´

After World War II Britain did no longer have its status of a leading power. But the British were far from accepting this. They tried to claim special status especially in Europe.

To demonstrate the role of Great Britain, its exceptional position, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin developed a special system, the so-called “policy of three circles”. Anthony Notting, former sub secretary in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs abstracted the British role as follows: “The position of Britain is (…) quite unique, for we are part, and an essential part, of (…) the three great unities of the world…”.[5]

According to this Britain was to be in a special position in this system of three overlapping circles representing the United States, the British Commonwealth and Empire and Europe. This system should show the essential economic and political role of Great Britain in each of these parts of the circle.

The strong believe of the British in its power made them incautious. After World War II a lot of things changed and Britain did not want to see the signs. First everything seemed to stay as it was. Because the European states had problems with their trade the Commonwealth and the British colonies still played a big role inside the “circle”. Their external importance grew. Although the Commonwealth took up to 50% of Britain’s exports till 1950, their external importance sank. Now the Western European countries had recovered and started a rebound. The world trade was no longer a matter of the British and the in 1947 concluded agreement of a General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was a step stone for the revitalisation of the world trade. Now the Commonwealth states had to react and they did it by uncoupling their trade from Britain to descry a new delivery area. So the trade inside the Commonwealth sank and Britain had to search for new partners. Because the West European market grew Britain’s only chance to keep up with them was cooperation. Britain lost its role as an economic power by not being able to form a political and economic unity out of the Commonwealth. So the importance of the Commonwealth for Great Britain sank from being partners in world trade to just being a part of the Kingdom.

Another factor that influenced the “policy of three circles” might have been the membership of Britain in the EEC[6]. Such a pact meant to be a part of Western Europe and to be willing to work close together with the Six. But to focus on closer cooperation with the continent meant to neglect the other two partners, the Commonwealth and the United States. Officials of the Foreign Office saw that risk and warned against it. However, the relationship with the Commonwealth started to change anyway. And the United States always wanted a united Europe, so the MAC-report emphasised that British should not fear to lose a powerful partner but trust them. Finally the USA saw the entry of the British into the Union as the right decision.

1.3 The Schuman Plan

In May 1950 Schuman, the Foreign Minister of France, presented a plan as a first step to a European Integration. He wanted “the whole of Franco-German coal and steel production under a common High Authority, within the framework of an organization open to the participation of the other countries of Europe”.[7] This was not the first attempt to reach European integration by forming a union. During the war Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands formed a customs union which was meant to be the first step for a full integration of the economies of these three countries later on. In 1948 the so-called Benelux union came into effect.

Apparently the first real attempts of reaching integration were made by economic pacts between the countries. The Schuman plan envisioned an economic coalition, too. The French political leader proposed the federation of the coal and steel industries of Germany and France. Franco-German relationships have not been very well and Schuman hoped that an union would be the first step for a reconciliation of both countries and a step to European integration, “[…] from which may grow a wider and deeper community between countries”.[8] Other countries, including Britain, were invited to join the talks about forming a union. But the same as usual when European leaders tried to do more happened – Britain declined to participate.


[1] Dinan, Desmond. Ever Closer Union? – An Introduction to the European Community. Basingstoke and

London: Macmillan, 1994, p. 12

[2] Ebd., p. 13

[3] Kaiser, Wolfram. Großbritannien und die Europäische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft 1955-1961: von Messina

nach Canossa. Berlin: Akademie Verlag GmbH, 1996, S. 25

[4] OEEC: Organisation for European Economic Cooperation

[5] Kaiser 1996, p. 21

[6] EEC: European Economic Community

[7] Dinan, Desmond. Ever Closer Union? – An Introduction to the European Community. Basingstoke and

London: Macmillan, 1994, p. 9

[8] Ebd., p. 416

Ende der Leseprobe aus 22 Seiten


Britain on the edge of Europe - British–European relationships between 1945-58. The attempts to create a European community and Britain´s attitude towards it
Universität Rostock  (Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
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Britain, Europe, British–European, European, Britain´s, Hauptseminar
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Sina Bröcker (Autor:in), 2003, Britain on the edge of Europe - British–European relationships between 1945-58. The attempts to create a European community and Britain´s attitude towards it, München, GRIN Verlag,


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