The Treaty of Rome 60th Anniversary


Tomorrow marks the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, a historic moment in the history of European Union. The Treaty of Rome created a European Economic Community (EEC) establishing a customs union. This meant the removal of internal barriers between the signatories, and an agreed tariff from third countries. The treaty proposed that the internal barriers be removed over a 12 year transitional period. There were six nations to sign this Treaty which included Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Italy and Luxembourg, commonly known as the ‘the six’. It was ‘determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe’.[1]

Moreover it created a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which meant a free market of agricultural products between the six signatories. It ensured protectionist policies that ensured a sufficient amount of revenue to European farmers. It avoided competition from third countries products by guaranteeing agricultural prices. This was vital to France’s interest despite it absorbing a large amount of the Community budget. This also remained untouched by future Treaty reforms such as the Single European Act or the Maastricht Treaty. It was also a sticking point for Britain as Britain imported agricultural goods from the Commonwealth.  The EEC established the institutions of the Community many of which still remain today. This included a Council of Ministers (Legislative), a European Commission (Executive), a European Assembly (later Parliament), and a European Court of Justice (Judicial).

Britain having not been at the Treaty of Rome was of great significance, with many commentators believing that Britain had ‘missed the boat’ by not attending the Messina conference in June 1955 where an initial agreement was made regarding an EEC. By doing so and entering the EEC 16 years later it can be argued that Britain received an unsatisfactory deal on membership because they were unable to shape the EEC from the outset.

Britain had not signed the Treaty of Rome for a number of reasons, firstly Britain was already part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Western European Union (WEU) between these two institutions Britain’s needs regarding defence had already been met. This was after all in a Cold War World and for the British public the idea of European integration was focused on defence. Moreover, the ‘six’ particularly France had previously purposed several ideas of European integration ideas including a European Defence Community (EDC) put forward by French President Rene Pleven in 1950 which failed. Moreover, even prior to the Suez Canal Crisis in 1956 French President Guy Mollet had suggested to Prime Minister Anthony Eden the possibility of an Anglo-French union with a common citizenship.  This was however, a period in time of the Fourth French Republic, which was very unstable politically. Thus on this backdrop many in Britain did feel that the Treaty of Rome was a substantial development. Some in the Conservative Party even felt that Britain would be able to join the EEC with relative ease if the need ever arose.

For Britain the Treaty of Rome came at a very traumatic time as the Suez Canal Crisis proved to be humiliating on an international stage. Britain more so than France was criticized   heavily for the intervention in Egypt, despite this being a joint effort and an initial French plan. Regardless, with the resignation of Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan becoming Prime Minister, Britain was reassessing its position in the World and Macmillan geared his efforts on repairing the Anglo-American relationship. Macmillan however, was somewhat concerned with Britain’s future as it pertained to the Commonwealth. Thus after the Treaty of Rome, Macmillan purposed a Free Trade Area with Germany and France, which the two rejected in favour for the EEC.

Integration as a whole in this period was in a Cold War World. The majority of attempts made to integrate were supported by the US as they wished for Europe to be a self-sufficient block against the threat of the Soviet Union. However, for Europe and particularly Britain integration went as far as ensuring the US remained committed to Europe and did not retreat into isolationism.

The significance of the Treaty of Rome is great as it laid the foundations for the European Union. Britain not attending was vital as Britain could not shape the Community. The six instead built a European Community centred on a German-Franco relationship as its cornerstone, laying the foundations for British Euroscepticism.