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Journal of Cold War Studies 2.3 (2000) 101-116

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De Gaulle, Moravcsik, and Europe

Marc Trachtenberg

In "De Gaulle Between Grain and Grandeur," Andrew Moravcsik challenges the conventional interpretation of Charles de Gaulle's policy on European integration. Practically everyone who has written on the subject, he points out, explains de Gaulle's policy in primarily geopolitical terms, but Moravcsik disagrees. De Gaulle's policy toward the European Economic Community (EEC), he argues, was rooted in more mundane considerations: Economic interests, especially French agricultural interests, were fundamental, and de Gaulle's distinct geopolitical vision played a "secondary, largely insignificant, role." 1 If true, this would be a very important finding for reasons Moravcsik makes clear toward the end of his article. But is his central thesis correct?

My own assumption before I read this article was that de Gaulle's basic political vision had to be connected to his policy on the EEC. One of de Gaulle's fundamental goals was to create a "European Europe"--that is, a Europe with a political personality of its own, independent of the United States. I simply assumed that this goal must have had a lot to do with his policy on the EEC, and that de Gaulle took it for granted that the EEC was a base on which a European political union would eventually be built. But this, of course, was just an assumption--it did not derive from careful study of the empirical evidence--and Moravcsik is perfectly correct to insist that the validity of that interpretation (and of his counterinterpretation) turns on the adequacy of the evidence supporting it.

So I want to get at the issue of whether his thesis here is valid by examining his argument in light of the evidence, especially the evidence he himself presents. Fortunately, the structure of that argument is wonderfully clear: [End Page 101] Moravcsik does not leave you in any doubt as to where he stands on an issue, and it is very easy to see how he goes about proving his points. The discussion here, therefore, will be quite similar in structure to Moravcsik's own article, although I will change the order slightly. I will deal first with the section on "Accepting and Completing the Customs Union," then with the sections on the Fouchet Plan and the "empty chair" crisis, and finally with the section on British membership in the EEC.

Moravcsik's first case has to do with de Gaulle's decision to support the EEC. This policy, he argues, was not rooted in a grand geopolitical vision; instead, the policy is to be explained essentially in terms of French commercial, and above all, agricultural, interests. In fact, he says, if de Gaulle's geopolitical vision had been the central determinant of policy, he would not have accepted the Common Market: The supranational philosophy reflected in the Rome Treaties cut against the grain of his basic nationalistic approach to foreign policy. The fact that the Fifth Republic, like the Fourth, embraced the EEC thus suggests that geopolitics was not central and that instead French economic interests, which did not change with the change in regime, must have played the fundamental role in shaping policy. This basic claim is supported, he argues, by an analysis of de Gaulle's public and private statements on these issues at the time and after, and also by an analysis of de Gaulle's actual behavior, especially his repeated threats to pull out of the EEC if France's partners were unwilling to accept the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

What is to be made of these arguments? What is to be made, first of all, of the argument about the continuity of French policy following de Gaulle's return to power? It is not to be assumed that de Gaulle's geopolitical vision amounted simply to a defense of the nation-state and a consequent opposition to supranational institutions. That was of course important, but there was another side to his policy that pulled in the opposite direction as far as the EEC...