Assess the Claim That Political Factors Were the Main Reasons Why British Attitude to Europe Changed During the Period from 1945-1963

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1955 saw the start of the Western European Union and talks began at Messina about a European Economic Community, the EEC. Britain maintained a strong opinion when referring to Europe and the EEC. This being scepticism, Britain didn’t take these plans very seriously. Such feelings were clearly displayed, when Britain didn’t even send an Ambassador to the Messina Conference. Instead, in keeping with their, thus far sceptical approach, only an observer was sent on the British behalf, rather than Foreign Sectary of State Harold MacMillan. Britain’s feelings hadn’t changed by 1957 when the Treaty of Rome, which created the EEC, which was signed by the six. Italy, France, Western Germany and the Benelux countries, but not by Britain.

There are many reasons why Britain had such a negative and sceptical attitude towards Europe. The main reason being European organisations such as the EEC and EDC. The motivation for Britain’s decline of the EEC, was because Britain politicians didn’t want British national sovereignty to be challenged. Britain was simply opposed to any supranational organisation. (Meaning “above the nation,” where nations, like Britain, give some national sovereignty, power, to European institutions.) The first possible supranational organisation was the EDC, European Defence committee. This was proposed by the French, along with the Schuman Plan, which led to establishment of the European Coal and Steal Community, ECSC. These were in a similar fashion to the Pleven Plan, which was a French solution to possible threat from Germany.

Above links directly to another reason why Britain was sceptical and not very interested by Europe. This being, that they didn’t share the same anxieties. The French felt threatened by the possibility of Germany becoming one of the strongest states in Europe, due to their great industry. France felt that Germany couldn’t be trusted with such a position, and instead need to be contained. They felt they could do this through the EEC. This was the least of Britain’s worries, and didn’t act as an incentive. Actually, Britain, along with America felt that it was essential for the recovery of Europe, that German economy be integrated with that of Europe. This led to the British opposing the French’s plans to “contain” Germany, and British Foreign Sectary Ernest Bevin dubbed the plans as naïve and undermining of the recently formed NATO.

What’s more, Britain simply questioned the viability of European integrations, and due to Britain’s overestimation of their own economic strengths, and not wanting to threaten, their already strained Anglo-American relationship, Britain just stayed out of any real involvement of Europe.

However, by 1963 attitudes had changed towards Europe. Britain had realised that they had “missed the bus” in Europe by not joining the EEC. It was argued that Britain threw away their opportunity to take leadership of Europe, which was affectively there for the taking after the devastation of the Second World War. But why the change in attitude? Many claim that it was mainly due to political reasons. Although, others believe that there are many different factors that played a role in changing British attitudes towards Europe. To fully understand Britain’s change of heart and to come to a logical conclusion, about what the main factor was, one has to analyse all the possible reasons, and compare them all to each other.

Economics played a definite part in changing Britain’s attitudes towards Europe. The late 1940’s showed the British economy to be in a significantly better position that its European neighbours. Britain’s exports in 1947 totalled more than all of “the six’s” did combined. This was due to Britain’s extensive trade with the whole world. Many British people believed that Britain had more to lose than to gain from committing itself economical to Europe, whose future economic success was unsure. Unfortunately, British economic dominance was...
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