STOCKHOLM – In 1963, French President Charles de Gaulle stunned the United Kingdom by rejecting its application to join the European Economic Community, the predecessor of the European Union. The logic behind de Gaulle’s famous “non” was simple: Britain was not sufficiently European.
“England in effect is insular, she is maritime, she is linked through her exchanges, her markets, her supply lines to the most diverse and often the most distant countries,” explained de Gaulle. “It is possible that one day England might manage to transform herself sufficiently to become part of the European community…. In this case…France would raise no obstacle.”
De Gaulle’s veto held for as long as he lived; it was not until 1973, under his successor Georges Pompidou, that France lifted its objections to British membership. In the more than 40 years since, the UK has played a major role in shaping the course of European integration, while transforming itself from a “sick man of Europe” into one of the world’s most competitive economies.
Few today remember that it was UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, despite her vocal euroskepticism, who restarted Europe’s integration process after a decade in which it had stagnated. Thatcher’s ally, Arthur Cockfield, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, led the push for a truly integrated market for goods, services, people, and capital – an effort that ultimately led to the creation of the EU Single Market in 1992. Thatcher even broke the old Gaullist dictum that each EU member must hold a national veto on all decisions, paving the way for majority voting.