Journal of Cold War Studies 2.3 (2000) 77-80
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A Comment on the Article by Andrew Moravcsik
Alan S. Milward
In view of the almost unanimous rejection of Andrew Moravcsik's interpretation by all scholars who have so far written about Charles de Gaulle's foreign policy, it seems almost unfair to record my reservations here. Let me say first, therefore, that in regard to the main policy case on which the article turns, the crisis of the "empty chair" at Brussels in 1965-1966, I entirely agree with Moravcsik's view. De Gaulle's government stood ready to break the supranational structure of the European Economic Community (EEC) if no final agreement on the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) were reached. Because a final agreement depended fundamentally and inescapably on a lowering of domestic grain prices in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), we may surely conclude that the geopolitical aim of binding the FRG to the West did not override considerations of France's economic welfare or of its president's chances of reelection. The Dutch government, as its records make plain, understood this to be the case and drew up contingency plans to cope with France's withdrawal from the Common Market. 1 The pattern of events also strongly suggests that the desire to strip the Common Market of its supranational machinery was a lesser priority. The Commission responded to the proclamation of the "empty chair" by conceding most of de Gaulle's demands almost at once. It was the West German government, riddled with internal discord, that prolonged the crisis. In the Luxembourg Compromise that ended it, de Gaulle settled for even more of a face-saving compromise than Moravcsik implies. Although we can not yet be certain, the evidence suggests that the use of qualified majority voting as a way of reaching decisions in the Council of Ministers actually increased immediately after the Compromise. [End Page 77]
Moravcsik's argument on this question is reinforced if we consider the constitution and presidential electoral procedures of the Fifth Republic, which concentrated the agricultural vote rather than leaving it dispersed across almost all political parties. It was a riskier business for de Gaulle not to court the farmers than it had been for the centrist coalition that signed the Treaty of Rome with only a promise, perhaps unfulfillable, to the same sector. Given the rapidly diminishing importance of the agricultural sector compared particularly to the rapidly increasing contribution of the much larger manufacturing sector, this strengthens Moravcsik's arguments, and my own, about what makes modern states tick. Surely no one in the United States, thinking about U.S. international commercial policy, would react in astonishment to the efforts made by France, which was then the world's fourth or fifth biggest industrial economy, to fight so hard for its grain, meat, and dairy exports. Nor would anyone be surprised that French leaders responded so smartly to so concentrated a pressure group as the farmers.
With regard to the second policy case that Moravcsik discusses, the exclusion of the United Kingdom from the European Communities, the issues were more complicated and probably not without geopolitical considerations on de Gaulle's side. The crucial question is how much weight de Gaulle placed on these considerations in relation to the economic ones. I was unable to answer this question before reading Moravcsik and am still unable to answer it after reading his article, which excessively simplifies the argument. On the basis of the British records, all of which are fully open to consultation, it is possible to hold differing views about how far the British government had accepted the full terms of the Common Agricultural Policy settlement achieved by the Six in December and January 1961-1962.
As far as domestic agriculture is concerned, the British government had accepted the CAP. It had even convinced itself that the financial costs of entry that were directly linked to the CAP through the proposed frontier levies on agricultural produce would be less than they were...