21 July 1978

The Ditchley Foundation Annual Lecture XVI

France, the European Community and the Western Alliance

Delivered by:

Mr Maurice Schumann, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the French Republic 1969-73 

Foreign policy, it has been said, played no part in the general elections that took place in France four months ago. Nothing could have been more true and nothing could be more false. There are two reasons why nothing is more true. First, the two main opposition parties were so divided on all the important issues of international policy that the less they said about the matter the better they felt. Then, since the choice at stake was not just a choice of a government, but a choice of a society or way of life, no one felt inclined to emphasize the future of the European Community or of the Atlantic Alliance. But there are two equally good reasons why it is safe to say that the French voter last March was continually being asked to cast his eyes beyond the frontiers of his country. First, precisely because a choice of society was involved, there could be no question of not comparing the shortcomings of the society we live in with the defects of all communist dominated regimes, whether they regard the Soviet Union as a model or not. Madame Simone Veil, our Minister of Health for the last four years, and a very popular figure according to the opinion polls, ended every one of her speeches with the words: ‘In Prague they are still waiting for the Spring.’ And secondly, all the arguments about our economic difficulties and the best way of tackling them were overshadowed by the following question: If France were to move away from what the President called ‘advanced liberalism’, would she not be led to differ, perhaps even to break with the other Western industrial countries, and so (in fact, if not in law) to leave the Common Market, the Atlantic Alliance, the Western World itself? In short, willy-nilly, the leading government and opposition speakers all acknowledged tacitly or expressly that it is no longer possible to take refuge in the realm of pure ideas, or to indulge in ‘glorious and splendid isolation’, as a British statesman said seventy five years ago.

This point is essential and I wanted to make it right at the start. For I believe that it applies to every one of the countries sadly too few, where the people are still not mere subjects but are free citizens — that is men and women responsible for their own destinies. None of these men and women (especially if they were privileged, as I was, to serve in the Free French Forces) can forget what they owe to the United Kingdom: French dictionaries define ‘parliament’ as ‘the political assembly of the British monarchy’, and we should not be defending our fundamental freedoms now if Britain had not saved them in 1940.

But are we to conclude, then, that the foreign policy of France would have changed out of all recognition if the elections in March 1978 had gone the other way; or that her allies have no problem with the French government’s attitude towards the Atlantic Alliance and the European Economic Community? Either of these two conclusions would be equally false. If the opposition had won last March, the new head of government would have been a member of the Socialist Party, not of the Communist Party. Just as surely, the name of the Foreign Minister would have disappointed Moscow and reassured Washington. As the government would have included a large number of Communist ministers and would have needed the Communist MPs’ votes to stay in power, it is very likely that the conduct of foreign policy would have been difficult and uncertain. Because I have always believed that sincerity is compatible with wanting to win in politics. I repeated every day during the election campaign: ‘Those who think that, if we were to lose the election, France would leave the European Economic Community for Comecon and the Atlantic Alliance for the Warsaw Pact are very much mistaken’. But I went on to say:

‘And those who think we could still have real influence, either in the Atlantic Council or in the Council of Ministers of the Community, are just as much mistaken’.

What it amounts to is that France does not have the choice between several, or even between two fundamentally different foreign policies. France belongs to the West. Her problem is to determine what conditions. she must meet in order to play a part of her own. It is the second of the two previous questions I announced, the most important, and indeed the only one still of any importance today. Now everyone must know that this question can be considered as settled. To be quite clear, that means that nine years after General de Gaulle’s resignation, and eight years after his death, the guiding principles and ideas of our foreign policy remain unaltered.

I will be frank. I became Foreign Minister just after the General resigned and stayed for four years. During that time I frequently heard French politicians and Western statesmen telling me, not in public but behind closed doors, something like this: ‘The General’s personality was too strong, it has marked the history of France too profoundly, for you to be able overnight to disown him or even to move openly away from him. But if retracting is impossible, a certain evolution is inevitable’. To which some added; ‘The General refused to sacrifice what he called the independence of states to a supranational Europe; in other words he could not imagine the unanimity rule being replaced by majority decision, at least for important matters. Such an attitude is obsolete. De Gaulle’s successors will have to give it up gradually’. More often still I heard warnings like this: ‘The General thought it was possible to reconcile France’s being in the Atlantic Alliance and at the same time condemning, deprecating or rejecting the military system that goes with it; such an approach is not logical; either you will have to proclaim your neutrality and become a kind of bigger Switzerland or Sweden, or else you will gradually have to agree to putting your forces again under American command’. Well, now it is 1978 and all must admit the obvious:  on neither the first nor second of these two essential points has French doctrine been modified or softened.

There are those who think that French government and parliament changed their religion by accepting the direct election of members of the European Assembly established in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome. This is what our Prime Minister, Monsieur Raymond Barre, said on the subject when he presented to parliament his new government after the elections: ‘There is no question of abdicating over issues which fundamentally affect our sovereignty. There is no question of our letting others decide for us what we must decide for ourselves. That is true for defence, for the construction of Europe, and for the whole of our international policy . . . Our wish is to see a confederal Europe in which the European Council [that is the Heads of State and Government of the nine member countries] determine Community policy while respecting the sovereignty of the States. The powers of the Assembly are defined by the Treaty of Rome. It will be elected in 1979 by direct universal suffrage and will give the people of the Community the opportunity to participate more actively in building a European union’.

One could hardly be clearer. But you must know that Monsieur Barre’s words do not only commit his government. Direct elections to the European Parliament had been thought by some to be contrary to the French Constitution. Now we have in France a kind of Supreme Court whose job it is to rule on such questions, and the ruling is unambiguous: direct elections to the European Parliament are constitutional, provided that the change in the election procedure does not affect the powers of the Assembly. Such powers could be increased only by a new Treaty, negotiated by the nine governments and ratified by the nine national parliaments.

What I have just said about the European Community applies equally to the French position on the Atlantic Alliance. Monsieur Barre was no less clear on the latter essential point than on the former. Here is what he had to say: ‘The foreign policy which France conducts in the service of cooperation, balance and peace in the world is closely linked to her defence policy. And this is based on sticking to our alliances, keeping our forces independent, and on the irreversibility of our withdrawal from integrated international military organisations’. Perhaps I may be allowed at this point to tell a short story about myself. In 1966 I was Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly, or let us say, majority leader for foreign affairs. General de Gaulle, President of the Republic, asked me to go to Washington and explain to President Johnson the reasons for the decision he was about to take concerning, to use Monsieur Barre’s own words, ‘withdrawal from integrated military organisations’. As you can imagine it was not an easy job, and yet in the famous oval office of the White House, which I entered for the first (but not for the last) time, I felt no embarrassment. I felt it was my duty to be convincing. I remember my last words (I don’t consider I have the right to quote President Johnson’s, and will only say that they were sorrowful but not harsh): ‘Mr. President, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis you were Vice-President of the Unitied States. You had occasion then, with President Kennedy, to see that we behaved as one of the most faithful of your allies. You will soon perceive that, while we mean to recover completely our independence, it is not in order to become less reliable or less loyal allies. It is important that you should know it and that your successors after you should know it. For the successors of General de Gaulle, whoever they may be, will stay in the Atlantic Alliance. But whoever they may be, none of them will go back into the integrated military organisation’. I was not mistaken, but little did I know how far later events would prove me right. And in saying that, I am not only thinking of President Pompidou, Monsieur Giscard d’Estaing or Monsieur Raymond Bane, but also of the main opposition leader. As soon as they learned of the grave decision that was to lead to NATO headquarters being moved from France to Belgium, many MPs tabled a motion of censure. The first among them was Monsieur François Mitterrand. But today Monsieur Mitterrand the Socialist leader is the first to sound the alarm each time an unreliable report moves a mischievous observer to suggest that the French government might contemplate returning to military integration. Facts must be faced: of the major decisions taken by General de Gaulle, those that were most violently disputed are those which appear irreversible.

You must be tempted to reply: ‘Well at least one major decision of General de Gaulle’s was not irreversible. He was against Britain entering the Common Market. He stepped down from power in April 1969 and died in Novenber 1970. No later than July 1969, you had yourself begun (in full agreement with President Pompidou) the negotiations that within a year and a half changed the Common Market into a nine-country Community. Would the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland, have been able to join the Six if General de Gaulle had stayed in power?’

For the first time, I am going to try and answer that question fully. Here today, I feel that the time has come to unveil certain facts which until now I have kept secret. Fifteen years ago, at the Chateau de Rambouilet near Paris, General de Gaulle had his famous talks with Mr. Harold Macmillan (who had been close to him in Algiers during the War, and whom he had always considered as one of his best friends and one of the best friends of France). On leaving Rambouillet, the British Prime Minister flew to Nassau to meet the President of the United States.  Immediately afterwards General de Gaulle broke off the negotiations which had been going on for several months in Brussels, with a view to enlarging the Common Market. These events are known to everyone, although they give rise to widely differing interpretations (please forgive the understatement).

Allow me to add a story that has never been told and that may perhaps surprise you. On the 15th January, 1963, that is the day after the French Government had broken off the negotiations in Brussels, General de Gaulle summoned me to his office. He handed me a long document headed ‘Report on the Rambouillet Talks’ and asked me to read it carefully while he would get on with his own work, but not to take any notes. An hour later I had finished this very instructive if not enlightening reading. The General then took off his spectacles and said to me: ‘You are Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly. In that capacity, forget what you have just read. But remember all when you have greater responsibilities’. And as I looked at him inquiringly (for I thought I had guessed what he meant, but was not sure) he went on: ‘Yes, remember all that when Britain enters the Common Market. For she will enter eventually’. For nearly a quarter of a century I had been used to hearing General de Gaulle utter the most unexpected words. But I could not conceal my astonishment. The President lost no time in pressing home his advantage: ‘A journalist with a lot of imagination,’ he said ‘has attributed to me the horrible phrase: “I want to see England in the Common Market without any clothes on”. Of course I have never said anything of the sort. But if I had said it, what would it mean? When I was young, the women I wanted to see without their clothes on were the ones I liked best. I suppose the same applies to your generation’. It took me some time to translate these bold metaphors into political language. Other conversations helped me. Soon I was quite clear as to the line I must follow:

‘The Common Market [this is in 1964] has not yet reached the end of what is called the provisional period. So if we were so rash as to enlarge it immediately, it would become a free trade area and would be diluted in the whole of the Atlantic world. As soon as the European Economic Community has been made irreversible, as soon as it has become unretrievable, the question of enlargement will take on an entirely different character’. Which is why, immediately I became Foreign Minister, I made enlargement depend on completion: in April 1970 the Six signed a treaty that is little known, but of crucial importance, stipulating that within a given time all expenditure of the Community was to be covered by the Community’s own resources, its own income; by the end of 1970 the Six had all ratified the treaty; the Community was completed. At the very beginning of 1971 we began (as I had promised) to negotiate its enlargement, firmly resolved to succeed. The day after the successful conclusion of the negotiations, I said to the French Parliament, with the full agreement of President Pompidou: ‘I always knew that in due course there would be no Europe without Britain, for without Britain since 1940 there would be no more Europe’.

But where do we stand today? I see no point in analysing the reasons why the Common Market feels uncomfortable as if in this sphere regrets had any meaning. Let us never forget this: in the long history of England and France there have been innumerable international treaties; but in the long history of England the only international treaty ever to be approved, not only by the Lords and Commons, but also directly by the British people is the one by which the United Kingdom acceded to the Common Market; and in the long history of France the only international treaty to be approved, not by the Senate and the National Assembly, but directly by the people of France is the one that enabled England to become a component part and London to become one of the capitals of the European Economic Community. Now let us suppose that is not sufficient to make the Community of Nine irreversible, though the supposition is not a reasonable one. And then let us cast our eyes towards Lisbon, Madrid, and Athens.  

Just a few years back, Portugal was ruled by Salazar and Caetano, Spain by Franco, and Greece by the colonels. We, being democrats, did not like any of these three regimes, but we could not help wondering what was going to happen to the whole southern flank of Europe after they had gone. We still often ask ourselves the same kind of question about Yugoslavia in view of Marshal Tito’s age. Well, thanks to men like Mr. Soares, King Juan Carlos and Mr. Karamanlis, neither Caetano nor Franco nor the Greek colonels have been replaced by enemies of the Western way of life and security system. But the Portuguese, Spanish and Greek democracies are weak and are certainly not likely to be made any stronger by what is happening around the Mediterranean, to the north as well as to the south. And what policy have these three young democracies chosen as their best defence against all the internal and external dangers threatening them? The same one (which in itself is highly significant): they all turn towards the Common Market, they all look to the European Community, and ask to join. That is not to say that they have reached a sufficient level of economic development to become full members of the Community straightaway. But it does not mean that, if we were to let the Community wither away and die, we should be depriving all European democrats of an irreplaceable hope.

What I really have in mind basically is that not all European democrats are in Western Europe. There is more and more uneasiness among men and women in East Berlin, Prague, Warsaw and even farther east. We have no right to incite them to do anything rash. But neither do we have the right to frustrate them from a peaceful pole of attraction. So the real problem is not about leaving the Common Market; no one really wants to, and if they did want to, they could not do it. The real problem is how to give back to the European Community the drive it has lost and how best to go about it. I think it may be better at this point to consult my memory than to exercise my imagination. A European summit meeting was held in Paris in September 1972. Its purpose was to dramatise the enlargement of the Community. For the first time there were nine, not six, member States at the conference table. They had no difficulty in agreeing on a communiqué which I venture to paraphrase without distorting it: ‘Our aim’, we said, ‘is to establish a political union among the Nine. We undertake to achieve that goal by 1980. But we are not going to make the same mistake as our predecessors who wasted precious time on endless theoretical debates about the legal concept or philosophical notion of political union. We will base ourselves on reality: the customs union, the removal of tariff barriers between our countries. We will add to that, monetary union [which we then termed the royal road]. When we all belong to the same customs area and the same currency area, our interests will be so closely interwoven that political institutions will necessarily be engendered by this solidarity’. A French political thinker of the 18th century, who knew and loved England well, Montesquieu, wrote that ‘laws are necessary relationships deriving from the nature of things’.

We were so sure of ourselves that we resolved to call a summit conference in 1976, halfway to 1980, to measure the progress made. Alas, poor Yorick, or rather poor Pompidou! Here we are, almost in 1980, and we are further away from political union because monetary union has become an unreachable dream. When currencies float, when fixed and flexible parities seem out of reach, even the customs union itself can only survive by dint of acrobatic contortions. Currency war is the opposite of monetary union, which in turn is the precondition of political union. The latest meetings in Hamburg and Bremen give grounds for hope that the European leaders have finally decided to begin at the beginning, that is to put an end to monetary anarchy among the Nine without waiting for the dollar to give the example or rather to lay down the law. It is. not easy, you may say, because the member countries of the Community have different rates of inflation. But it would perhaps be better to turn that argument round the other way. If the Nine undertook to establish a monetary union themselves the day after their inflation rate differentials had been cut to a given percentage, they would achieve three results at once: first, they would commit themselves to follow wise and courageous policies in their respective countries; secondly, they could honestly offer their citizens the prospect of a return to full employment, since monetary order is the main condition of investment, as shown by the unprecedented growth of the industrial countries in the 1950s and 60s; and, lastly, they would give proof that they expect to be saved primarily by their own common exertions. Nothing less is needed, but nothing more, for Europe to become an independent entity. Independence, of course is a dangerous word if it is ambiguous, but beneficial if it is clearly defined. In the world as it is, being independent does not mean that a small or medium power can ignore the superpowers or pretend they do not exist, which would be absurd. It means earning the respect and support of the superpowers by relying mainly on oneself and by forming with others an association, community, confederation (call it what you will) strong enough to compel the superpowers to take it seriously.

I have spoken so far as though I were mainly concerned with relations between Britain and France. As I draw nearer to my conclusion, I am led to deal directly with relations between France and the United States, or rather with the French view of relations between the United States and Europe. Nothing could be more logical, since we know already, and see more clearly now, that there and nowhere else is the key to Franco-British relations, that there can be no other bone of contention.

First we believe or rather we observe that nothing can replace the Atlantic Alliance. There is no substitute. I will try and give you unchallengeable evidence of that. A conference on security and cooperation in Europe was held at Helsinki. There is no need to discuss its outcome. But it does need to be remembered that everybody agreed on one thing, which might have seemed extraordinary but was considered obvious, namely that a conference on security in Europe could not be imagined without the United States and Canada taking part. In other words, it is common ground that if the North Americans ceased to be the allies of Western Europe, the resulting imbalance would rob East-West dialogue of any meaning and of any value to the Soviets. The lesson is perfectly clear: the Atlantic Alliance is not the opposite of détente; it is the condition of détente. And then we believe or rather we observe that we cannot ‘just leave it to Uncle Sam’ to look after us. For some it is a matter of principle; for all it is a fact, regrettable perhaps, but glaringly obvious. Let me give you three reasons.

The first concerns our African policy; everyone acknowledges that Western Europe’s defence would be out of reach if the whole of Africa were to serve as a base for a potential aggressor; the most optimistic admit that the threat is not a pure forgery. Effective counter-action was taken last spring; the United States approved and even gave us essential assistance; no one has forgotten the meeting of President Carter and President Giscard d’Estaing at the White House on Friday, 26th May; but if the initiative had not been taken by us, nothing would have happened. Which is natural of course; for one thing, because the Americans remember Vietnam and are in no hurry to get involved in Africa; for another, because the African governments most determined to preserve their independence have no wish to side with one superpower against the other, believing that that would increase, not lessen, the danger facing them.

The second reason has to do with currency policy, on which our whole economic and social future depends. Friday, 23rd June, marked an important date; that day Chancellor Schmidt and President Giscard d’Estaing had dinner together in Hamburg; the next day, the German Government announced that four hours of talks has ‘enabled progress to be made towards establishing a zone of monetary stability in Europe’. The meaning of this is crystal clear: the Federal Republic has spent thousands of millions of marks in propping up the dollar, and is beginning to think that the sacrifice might be better made in support of those European currencies that are still too weak. Does that imply declaring war on the dollar? The Federal Republic would never do so! It would be absurd and subsequent events have shown that nobody would dream of it; genuine stabilisation is impossible without the contribution of the United States. What does need to be done is to persuade the United States that the Western economies cannot be revived without a concerted return to monetary stability. But here again, we must show that we can take the initiative if we want them to follow.

The third reason is strategic, that is to say that it concerns our global security. A former Chief of Staff of the US Army, General Taylor, wrote a book entitled The Uncertain Trumpet. The title is eloquent: the outcome of an atomic war could be the destruction of the United States, so they must remain sole judges of the means they use to defend Europe; which is incidentally in accordance with both the letter and the spirit of the Atlantic Alliance; if Europe does not possess a deterrent of its own, it runs two risks — one, which may seem slight, of being dragged into a war it does not want; the other, which may seem less unlikely, of being defended too late, after it has been overrun by classical conventional forces and turned into a field of ruins. Peace therefore depends on two conditions being met; détente has a chance and East-West dialogue can continue only so long as Germany (divided and thus inevitably dissatisfied) has no nuclear force of its own, and this Germany understands; but Britain and France must have a nuclear force of their own if détente is not one day to be at the expense of Western Europe and the necessary entente between the superpowers maintained at Europe’s. cost. Our ‘withdrawal from the integrated military force’ means that and never meant anything else.

Let us not be ashamed to admit it; there will be a Europe worthy of the name to the extent that the means of an independent, that is a specific, economic policy are supplied primarily by the Federal Republic and strategic weapons for its own security are provided by Britain and France, which is why, although the world has been changed out of all recognition over the last seventy five years, the Entente Cordiale is as vital at the end of this century as it was at the beginning.

Precisely six years ago, I spent an hour and a half with Mao Tse-tung. ‘You’ he said, ‘are the first Foreign Minister from a Western European country that I have welcomed in Peking. Since you sat down opposite me, you have pronounced the word “détente” four times. I do not know exactly what the word means. But I do know it would mean nothing if two conditions were not fulfilled: first, a million Soviet troops on the Chinese border; and, second, a genuine counter-weight in Western Europe’. I preferred to refrain from any comment on the first point. On the latter, I replied to Mao: ‘Mr. President, had we not shared that conviction, President Pompidou and I would not have expended such efforts to throw the Community open to the United Kingdom, whatever the risks’.
It is a great privilege to be able to re-state in Britain today what I said in China six years ago.

© The Ditchley Foundation, 1978.  All rights reserved.  Queries concerning permission to translate or reprint should be addressed to the Communications Officer, The Ditchley Foundation, Ditchley Park, Enstone, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire OX7 4ER, England.