The government’s efforts to join the EEC in the years 1961 to 1973 were largely due to Britain’s decline as a world power

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Preview of The government’s efforts to join the EEC in the years 1961 to 1973 were largely due to Britain’s decline as a world power

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The government's efforts to join the EEC in the years 1961 to 1973 were largely due to Britain's
decline as a world power. After the comfort of the post-war period, Britain's decolonisation, her
dwindling `special relationship' with the USA and the consequences of the crisis in the Middle East
shocked the government into a realisation that Britain needed to join the EEC. However throughout
the period, Britain's economic instability and the success of EEC itself also significantly influenced the
decision to join a union with Europe.
The withdrawal of the US from the international system and Britain's failure to maintain the world
order, particularly in the Middle East, brought a major preoccupation of British foreign policy and
interest in the EEC. The special relationship with the US was based on the belief that the Americans
would need guidance on how to conduct themselves in international affairs, and so this special
Atlantic relationship acted as a psychological barrier to Britain's policy-makers seeing the need for
participation to European Unity. However with the 1957 devaluation, the subsequent inflation and
balance of payments crises, and the humiliating retreat from Suez, America was unwilling to maintain
such a previously strong relationship with a weakening Britain. The US was bound to soon make the
`Six' the primary partner of her Atlantic policies, and so Britain realised that perhaps joining the EEC
would be necessary. Eisenhower's pressure on Britain exposed her financial weakness and raised
doubts about the future success of the Anglo-American relationship, so therefore Britain had to seek
a new source of support to maintain her role on the international political stage.
Leadership of the Commonwealth allowed Britain to speak with a louder voice in international affairs
than could other European states, but with its decreasing membership by 1960, the EEC seemed like
the way back to possibility of world power.
During the early 1950s Britain still maintained a strong imperial role so a full commitment to an
economic union was difficult, but by 1957, once the `winds of change' had started blowing through
Britain, the government soon realised the need for a partnership with Europe. Macmillan's decision
to decolonise and give countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Cyprus independence during this period,
was fuelled by the acknowledgement that the Empire was too expensive and it was an out-dated
institution. However the Commonwealth had both economic and political importance for Britain, so
decolonisation resulted in considerable loss of foreign trade markets: British exports to the
Commonwealth had fallen to 43 per cent of total exports by 1957. Entry to the EEC would boost
Britain's industrial production with the easy access to a large-scale export market and compensate
for loss of power in the Commonwealth.
Middle East
The Suez crisis heightened Britain's position as a declining power in the world and showed that Britain
could be successfully defied, so the need for Britain to reassert herself was manifested in the three
applications to the EEC during the 1960s and early 70s. The crisis in the Middle East meant the
government recognised the danger of pursing an imperialist strategy, and so Britain's foreign policy
underwent a fundamental reassessment. Britain's withdrawal had been a failure of political will and
this led parties to consider a closer union with Europe, which would ensure Britain never stood alone
again. During the years after de Gaulle's first veto in 1963, Britain became weak to her needs under
the pressure of the financial crisis and so consequently abandoned the `East of Suez' defence role
due to expenses. This was a clear sample of the declining significance of Britain in world politics so
when Wilson's renewed the application to the EEC in 1967, he hoped to secure a way in to the
increasingly successful Europe.
Economic Instability

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Britain's decline as world power seemed to parallel the increasing economic instability emerging
during the 1960s, and so it is very likely that the government's decisions to join the EEC were also for
key economic reasons.
By 1957 the economy was encountering serious problems centred mainly on international payments
and the pound sterling. Although British rates of economic growth were extremely high by historical
standards in those times, the other European states were performing better.…read more


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