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Was the Macmillan government’s decision to apply for membership of the European Communities the product of Britain’s declining global status?

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  1. Introduction
  2. Why Britain rejected involvement in the 1957 Treaty of Rome
    1. The Suez crisis of 1956
    2. The narrow relationship with America
    3. The breaking of the British Empire
  3. The growing isolation of Britain
  4. The decline of Commonwealth relations and accentuating decolonisation
  5. The shift in the British reaction
  6. The concept of sovereignty
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

The fear that Britain would become, as Labour's post-war Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin put it ?just another European country? , was one of the main reasons to explain the British refusal to join a European supranational organisation. The Attlee government was indeed in favour of cooperation amongst Western European countries but did not want to be one of them . The view of the Foreign Office was that ?Great Britain must be viewed as a world power of the second rank and not merely as a unit as a federated Europe? . In fact, in 1945, Britain was in a mood of triumph. It had won the war and was relatively intact. It was the only European country to have successfully defied Hitler for more than five years. It considered itself a great power, the centre of a Commonwealth and Empire covering one-fifth of the globe, and an equal of the Soviet Union and the United States of America. The British media even proudly referred to the United Kingdom as one of the Big Three and this was confirmed by Article 23 of the United Nations Charter which named Britain as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. This led to a kind of disdain for any special relations with other European countries. The foundation for what would become the European Union was then laid without the UK. However, just four years after its rejection of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, the Macmillan government advanced its first application for membership to the European Economic Community (EEC). There were economic, political and security reasons for explaining this change in policy. The common denominator in these causes can be regarded as linked with a certain decline of Britain's power in each of these spheres. But to what extent can we speak of Britain's declining global status? What other reasons can be found?

[...] In this essay, I shall argue that the application for membership is the result of Britain becoming aware of her declining global status having started with WWII. I will also consider other reasons such as the success of the European Communities, questions of domestic politics and political strategy or even the change in the view about sovereignty. This essay has been divided into three parts. Firstly, I will deal with the political aspect, focusing on the Suez Crisis which had crucial significance on the erosion of relations with the Commonwealth and the USA. [...]


[...] Bibliography Lord Beloff, Britain and European Union: Dialogue of the deaf, (London: Macmillan Press, 1996), chapter 4. Roy Denman, Missed Chances: Britain and Europe in the Twentieth Century, (London: Cassell Publishers, 1997), chapters Anthony Forster and Alasdair Blair, The Making of Britain's European Foreign Policy, (London: Pearson Education, 2002), Part I. Anthony Forster, Euroscepticism in contemporary British politics opposition to Europe in the British conservative and labour parties since 1945, (London: Routledge, 2002), chapter 2. Andrew Geddes, The European Union and British Politics, (New York: Palgrave, 2004), chapter 4. [...]


[...] Britain's first application for EEC membership in 1961 under Macmillan was regarded as the central means of increasing the nation's economic wealth and performance and did not therefore accept that its interests were wholly linked to Europe. Membership of the European Community was not seen as an alternative for Britain's relationships with the USA and the Empire, but rather as a way of further bolstering these links[27] and thus of recovering a more prestigious status. The British position was thus a complex one, with the economic necessity of joining the Common Market paralleled by the ongoing and complicated relationship with the USA[28]. [...]

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