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President Charles de Gaulle:

Le Grand "Non": Britain's Proposed Entry Into The Common Market,  May 16, 1967

French Statement, May 16, 1967


. . . the Common Market is a sort of prodigy. To introduce into it now new and massive elements, into the midst of those that have been fit together with such difficulty, would obviously be to jeopardize the whole and the details and to raise the problem of an entirely different undertaking. All the more that if the Six have been able to build this famous edifice it is because it concerned a group of continental countries, immediate neighbors to each other, doubtless offering differences of size, but complementary in their economic structure. Moreover, the Six form through their territory a compact geographic and strategic unit. It must be added that despite, perhaps because of their great battles of the past-I am naturally speaking of France and Germany - they now find themselves inclined to support one another mutually rather than to oppose one another. Finally, aware of the potential of their material resources and their human values, all desire either aloud or in whispers that their unit constitute one day an element that might provide a balance to any power in the world.

Compared with the motives that led the Six to organize their unit, we understand for what reasons, why Britain-who is not continental, who remains, because of the Commonwealth and because she is an island, committed far beyond the seas, who is tied to the United States by all kinds of special agreements-did not merge into a Community with set dimensions and strict rules. While this Community was taking shape, Britain therefore first refused to participate in It and even took toward it a hostile attitude as if she saw in It an economic and political threat. Then she tried to negotiate in order to join the Community, but in such conditions that the latter would have been suffocated by this membership. The attempt having failed, the British Government then asserted that it no longer wanted to enter the Community and set about strengthening its ties with the Commonwealth and with other European countries grouped around it in a free-trade area. Yet, apparently now adopting a new state of mind, Britain declares she is ready to subscribe to the Rome Treaty, even though she is asking exceptional and prolonged delays and, as regards her, that basic changes be made in the Treaty's implementation. At the same time, she acknowledges that in order to arrive there, it will be necessary to surmount obstacles that the great perceptiveness and profound experience of her Prime Minister have qualified as formidable.

This is true, for instance, of the agricultural regulations. We know that they tend to have the countries of the Community nourish themselves on what they produce and to compensate, by what is called "financial levies," for all the advantages that each could have in importing less expensive produce from elsewhere. Now, Britain nourishes herself, to a great extent, on food-stuffs bought inexpensively throughout the world and, particularly, in the Commonwealth. If she submits to the rules of the Six, then her balance of payments will be crushed by "levies" and, on the other hand, she would then be forced to raise the price of her food to the price level adopted by the continental countries, consequently to increase the wages of her workers and, thereby, to sell her goods all the more at a higher price and with more difficulty. It is clear that she cannot do this. But, if she enters the Community without being really subjected to the agricultural system of the Six, this system will thereby collapse, completely upsetting the equilibrium of the Common Market and removing for France one of the main reasons she can have for participating in it.

Another basic difficulty arises from the fact that, among the Six, it is a rule that capital circulates freely to promote expansion, but that in Britain-if she were allowed to enter-it is forbidden for capital to leave so as to limit the balance-of-payments deficit, a deficit that, despite praiseworthy efforts and some recent progress, still remains threatening. How can this problem be solved? For it would be for the British an excessive risk to eliminate the sluice-gates which, in Britain, block the movement of money to the outside and, for the Europeans, it would be unthinkable to take into the organization a partner which, in this respect, would find itself isolated in such a costly regime,

Also, how can it not be seen that the very situation of the pound sterling prevents the Common Market from incorporating Britain. The very fact that the organization of the Six is entirely freeing their mutual trade necessarily implies that the currency of the member countries has a constant relative value and that, if it happened that one of them were disturbed, the Community would ensure its recovery. But this is possible only due to the well-established soundness of the mark, the lira, the florin, the Belgian franc and the French franc. Now, without despairing of seeing the pound hold its own, for a long time we would not be assured that it will succeed. . . . Monetary parity and solidarity are the essential conditions of the Common Market and assuredly could not be extended to our neighbors across the Channel, unless the pound appears, one day, in a new situation and such that its future value appears assured; unless it also frees itself of the character of reserve currency; unless, finally, the burden of Great Britain's deficitary balances within the sterling area disappear. When and how will this happen?

What is true, at this very moment, from the economic standpoint, would also be true, eventually, from the political standpoint. The idea, the hope which, from the beginning, led the Six continental countries to unite, tended without any doubt toward the formation of a unit which would be European in all respects, and, because of this would become capable not only of carrying its own weight in production and trade, but also of acting one day politically by itself and for itself toward anyone. Considering the special relations that tic the British to America, with the advantage and also the dependence that results for them; considering the existence of the Commonwealth and their preferential relations with it; considering the special commitment that they still have in various parts of the world and which, basically, distinguishes them from the continentals, we see that the policy of the latter, as soon as they have one, would undoubtedly concur, in certain cases, with the policy of the former. But we cannot see how both policies could merge, unless the British assumed again, particularly as regards defense, complete command of themselves, or else if the continentals renounced forever a European Europe.


In truth, it really seems that the change in the situation of the British in relation to the Six, once we would be ready by common consent to proceed with it, might consist of a choice between three issues.

Either recognize that, as things stand at present, their entry into the Common Market, with all the exceptions that it would not fail to be accompanied by, with the irruption of entirely new facts, new both in nature and in quantity, that would necessarily result from this entry, with the participation of several other States that would certainly be its corollary, would amount to necessitating the building of an entirely new edifice, scrapping nearly all of that which has just been built. What, then, would we end tip with if not, perhaps, the creation of a free-trade area of Western Europe, pending that of the Atlantic area, which would deprive our continent of any real personality?

Or, establish, between the Community on the one band, and Britain and some States of the "little" free-trade area on the other, a system of association, such as the one provided for in the Treaty of Rome and which could, without creating an upheaval, multiply and facilitate the economic relations between the contracting parties.

Or else, lastly, before changing what exists, wait until a certain internal and external evolution, of which Great Britain seems already to be showing signs, is eventually completed, that is to say, until that great people which is endowed with tremendous ability and courage has itself accomplished first and for its part the necessary profound economic and political transformation so that it can join with the Six continental countries. I really believe that this is the desire of many people, who are anxious to see the emergence of a Europe corresponding to its natural dimensions and who have great admiration and true friendship for Britain. If, one day, she were to come to this point, how warmly France would welcome this historic conversion.


Remarks, made by President Charles de Gaulle at his fifteenth press conference on May 16, 1967, were made available through the courtesy of the French Press and Information Service, New York.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, July 1998

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