The crisis between England and France aroused intense anxiety in Europe about the future of the Common Market. In one way or another, all France’s partners appeared to be bent upon a rupture with her. Yet, after a pause of some days, the Brussels machinery was working normally again. In the old days, by the old rules, an international conference would never have survived this kind of upheaval. The political, economic, and sentimental ties which link Belgium, Holland and West Germany are such that one can only explain the survival of the existing agreements between the Six by one simple fact: the Common Market is now irrevocable. Europe has once and for all left behind the generous or hypocritical dreams of its promoters, and become an economic reality. Before the crisis, the issues discussed at Brussels were still diplomatic problems. Now they are domestic problems.
What, then, is this economic reality of the Common Market which has proved stronger than the velleities of its politicians? The man who is today entrusted with the interests of the French bourgeoisie was able to triumph at Brussels because of the weight of the economic decisions already taken by the Six; and conversely, his only merit it that he has accepted these measures as irreversible. The superiority of de Gaulle over his European partners is doubtless that he himself has never believed in the European dream. He is better placed than they are to separate the objective content of the new “Europe” (an economic alliance based on the power-relationships between the participants) from its mythological image.
Economists expected European integration to have three main effects:—
Complete integration was not a pre-requisite of the first two aims. If these were the objectives that received most emphasis in the preparatory period, this was because the measures they involved scarcely exceeded the limits of a classic liberal economy. Indeed,
The free-trade area set up by England and the Scandinavian countries copied this aspect—and this aspect alone—of the Common Market. Liberals looked forward to the gradual fusion of the two free-trade areas of Northern and Southern Europe, and to the subsequent lowering of tariff-barriers between Europe and America. The free circulation of American capital in Europe would have accelerated this fusion. In England, the Labour Party had every reason to fear this vision (hypocritical or naive) of a liberal Europe. The embryonic attempts at planning, public ownership and social policy begun in various European countries after 1945 would have been swept away by a tidal wave of capital. The intensification of international competition would have threatened new economic crises which in turn would have jeopardised the social gains of the working class. Not only all hope of a reformist evolution towards socialism would have disappeared: even the modest Welfare State policies of the Labour Right would have been cancelled. It was this vision of Europe that inspired the benevolence of the USA. The vaster the free-trade zone, the greater would be the opportunities for the most powerful capitalist nation in the world.
In fact, it is precisely in this direction that Europe has made least progress.
It is true that trade between the Six has increased since the process of integration began. France has been the principal beneficiary: integration has allowed it to flood its five associates with the greater part of the exports of the former French Community. The advantage has been far less for the other partners, and particularly for German heavy industry, which continues to expand its markets in South America, the Middle and the Far East, while conspicuously ignoring de Gaulle’s Africa. The break-up of the Common Market, in fact, would clearly leave some of France’s partners with other outlets.