Journal of Cold War Studies 2.3 (2000) 69-73
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Comment on Moravcsik
Adetailed commentary on Andrew Moravcsik's article would probably end up being even longer than his essay. With much regret (but life is too short) I will therefore concentrate on essentials and leave aside many of the questions raised by Moravcsik in the last pages of his article.
He has made a major contribution to our understanding of both de Gaulle's statecraft and France's European policy under the General by proving that an exclusively geopolitical interpretation minimizes or even neglects the importance of economic considerations. De Gaulle devoted a very large amount of his time, his speeches, and his press conferences to economic affairs (far more than did the journalists who commented on his acts and words). Economic issues mattered greatly to him, but not, as Moravcsik sometimes suggests, because he had to use them to obtain public support. The referendums, which were all held for that purpose, never dealt with economic or social affairs. The presidential election of 1965 came precisely at a moment when he had deliberately antagonized the farmers' organizations by his high-handed tactics in Brussels.
Economics mattered because de Gaulle was a relentless modernizer, and because he believed, rightly, that economic modernization was essential for France's grandeur. It was part and parcel of his overall geopolitical design. The military may have been the "backbone" of the "skeleton," but economic strength was the ribcage (it may be time to stop that metaphor). De Gaulle's view of the world was a highly agonistic one, and he saw economic competition as a crucial component of the endless contest of states. Economic modernization thus was a means of the highest importance to the goals of power, grandeur, and activism, set by a modern mercantilist (by which I mean a leader who was pragmatic enough to believe in state intervention whenever necessary, and in free markets and competition whenever these could help [End Page 72] the modernization of a country deemed incorrigibly archaic by many observers in the 1940s and 1950s; a man who saw the virtues of shock therapy such as the opening of borders and understood the deadening effects of industrial protectionism; a man for whom wealth was power, and power and activism in world affairs were the coins of grandeur).
De Gaulle and his prime minister, Michel Debré, whose reformist zeal and administrative imagination Moravcsik dismisses or ignores, understood that, for France's influence abroad as well as for its transformation at home, a common European agricultural policy would be a crucial enterprise--indeed, one for which the politicians of the Fourth Republic who had signed the Treaty of Rome had failed to push sufficiently hard. De Gaulle may have disdained discussions of the price of wheat but assuredly not the production of wheat for export and domination of the European market. The subsidies to the favorite farm organization of the Fifth Republic, the Fédération Nationale des Syndicats d'Exploitants Agricoles (FNSEA), were quite different from the subsidies the Fourth Republic had wasted in its attempt to keep alive thoroughly unproductive and uncompetitive traditional farmers. The merit of the agricultural policies set up by Debré at home and by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was to give France an agricultural force de frappe comparable to West Germany's industrial might and to "free" the great majority of French farmers for jobs in industry and the services. A much smaller rural population was far more productive than the traditional France paysanne. De Gaulle did not have to reverse his preferences, as Moravcsik would have us believe.
An economic reading of de Gaulle's European policy is overdue, and Moravcsik provides us with much scholarship. But it is partly wrong-headed and quite incomplete. What is wrong is the glide from an economic interpretation to an interpretation in terms of economic pressure groups. He asserts, but nowhere proves, that de Gaulle's agricultural policy in the European Economic Community (EEC) was a response to, or aimed at satisfying, the demands "of...