British Accession to the EEC

On midnight 1st January 1973, the Union Jack flag was raised at the Headquarters of the European Community in Brussels. This marked the official accession of Britain as a member state. It was the first round of enlargement of the Community which saw Britain, Ireland and Denmark to become member states. Britain’s road to accession however had been arduous and began under Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1961 but it was under Edward Heath’s premiership in which accession finally occurred.

Heath was Prime Minister from 1970 to 1974 and was one of the strongest pro-European Prime Ministers since 1945. More importantly by 1970 Charles De Gaulle’s death in November 1970 meant France’s President was then Georges Pompidou. De Gaulle had been a traditional obstacle for Britain, having vetoed the two previous attempts by Britain to join the Community (1961 and 1967).  De Gaulle had envisaged the Community being a ‘third force’ that would rival the USSR and the United States. He believed that if Britain became a member of the Community they would be a ‘US Trojan horse’ in the Community. Thus De Gaulle’s death did play a large for Britain’s acceptance into the Community.

Negotiations between ‘the six’ and Britain were slow to progress in 1970, and Heath wanted more impetus from Britain and the Community to secure British accession. Christopher Soames, the British Ambassador to Paris, met regularly with French officials and in February 1971 it was agreed that a summit should take place to between France and Britain to ensure that all major aspects of negotiations were discussed at length. At this summit Pompidou primarily wanted to know if Britain was genuinely willing to break from its passed traditions built on the relationship with the United States and the Commonwealth for Britain’s future. Heath could be the only post-war Prime Minister to have said yes.

Pompidou was also forced into being more open to idea of enlargement. By 1970 the Community’s growth had begun to slow – while in France Pompidou was forced to devalue the French Franc. This meant Pompidou was under pressure in France, while the Benelux states (Luxembourg, Holland, and Belgium) wanted Britain to be part of the Community which put added pressure on Pompidou.

The largest concern for Britain in negotiations the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). France was the largest benefactor of the CAP – whereby the CAP did not benefit Britain. Moreover, due to Britain’s reliance on non-EEC trade for agriculture (namely the Commonwealth) Britain would be the second largest net contributor to the Community budget.  Which was a large price for entry thus Heath and Geoffrey Rippon – who was put in charge of EEC negotiations – wanted to limit the amount Britain’s contribution. Thus they proposed the creation of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) which would allow Britain to offset their budget contribution. This would not be created until 1975 as the OPEC oil crisis in 1973 hampered the global economy. Thus regarding this Britain accepted the CAP with the caveat that efforts would be made to establish the ERDF.

The second matter was regarding the Common Fisheries Policy. This was a large concern as between the applicants of Denmark, Norway, Britain and Ireland their fisheries were double that of the six combined. This was one of the reasons why Norway did not join in 1973. While Britain in these negotiations fought hard to maintain exclusivity of their fishing borders. Britain eventually ceded to the Community on this matter but managed to maintain a 12 mile exclusive radius for their fishermen.

Lastly, the Community had wanted to begin the establishment of monetary union and a single currency. This culminated in 1970 with the Werner report – a report written by the Prime Minister of Luxembourg Pierre Werner. The report stated:


“Considerations of a psychological and political order militate in favour of the adoption of a single currency, which would guarantee the irreversibility of the undertaking”[1]

This report illustrates the origins of the Euro, and Eurozone. By doing so it dismisses the argument raised in Britain that they did not foresee the manner in which the Community intended to develop. It was clear from this that the Community was going to be more nations linked through trade. Moreover, Heath was supportive of this, Harold Wilson’s Labour government (1964-70) did not object to it.

These were some of the larger issues that had to be addressed for accession, and it should be noted that there many more concerns. Nevertheless Heath’s willingness more so than any Prime Minister since 1945 to be committed wholeheartedly to the Community was vital for British accession. This coupled with Pompidou replacing De Gaulle, meant that Britain alongside Ireland and Denmark became members of the Community in 1973, what would later be known as the year of Europe.

[1] Werner Report, 8th October 1970, p.26