1. Why doesn't France have more Euroscepticism?

  2. Why haven't more of the French voted to leave, after the UK's entry in the EC in 1973 that De Gaulle and his government loathed?

The European Union: A Very Short Introduction (2018, 4 edn). p. 14.

The 1960s: de Gaulle against the federalists

In June 1958, less than six months after the Rome Treaties came into force, de Gaulle became French President. He did not like the federal elements and aspirations of the Community. But nor was he prepared to challenge directly treaties recently ratified by France. He sought, rather, to use the Community as a means to advance French power and leadership. One example was his sidelining of Euratom in order to keep the French atomic sector national. Another was his veto which terminated in 1963 the first negotiations to enlarge the Community to include Britain, Denmark, Ireland, and Norway. Although the British government's conception of the Community was closer to that of de Gaulle than of the other, more federalist-minded member states' governments, and Britain's defence of its agricultural and Commonwealth interests had irked them by making the negotiations hard and long, they resented the unilateral and nationalist manner of the veto (more here) so deeply that it provoked the first political crisis within the Community. This was followed, in 1965, by a greater crisis over the arrangements for the common agricultural policy (CAP).

The CAP had from the outset been a key French interest and de Gaulle was determined to have it established without undue delay. It was to be based on price supports requiring substantial public expenditure. Both France and the Commission agreed that this

p. 15

should come from the budget of the EEC, not the member states. But the Commission, with its federalist orientation, and the Dutch parliament, with its deep commitment to democratic principles, insisted that the budget spending must be subject to parliamentary control; and since a European budget could not be controlled by six separate parliaments, it would have to be done by the European Parliament. This suited the other governments well enough, but was anathema to de Gaulle. He precipitated the crisis of 'the empty chair', forbidding his ministers to attend meetings of the Council throughout the second half of 1965 and evoking fears among the other states that he might be preparing to destroy the EEC.

With neither side being willing to give way, the episode concluded in January 1966 with the so-called 'Luxembourg compromise'. The French government asserted a right of veto when interests 'very important to one or more member states' are at stake; and the other five affirmed their commitment to the treaty provision for qualified majority voting on certain questions, which was that very month due to come into effect for votes on a wide range of subjects. In practice de Gaulle's view prevailed for the next two decades, so that Luxembourg 'veto' seems a more accurate description than 'compromise'. In the mid-1980s, however, majority voting began to be practised in the context of the single market programme, and has now become the standard procedure applicable to most legislative decisions.

1 Answer 1


The French are rational enough to realize that a not quite perfect EU is still vastly superior from their perspective than no EU at all. The EU is designed to build and require a consensus, so one recalcitrant member can stop almost everything. As a negotiating strategy, brinksmanship may work some of the time, but on the long run it breeds resentment.

You will see some of that when the next multiannual financial framework comes up. Quite a lot of EU governments dislike specific EU policies, but do they dislike them badly enough to sink the structural and cohesion funds, and the freedom of movement for their citizens, and so on?

  • 3
    The predecessor to the EU was made to avoid Germany and France going to war again. This is also still a factor I suppose. Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 15:06
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    @ThorbjørnRavnAndersen, I'd like to think that is no longer necessary, but who knows what kind of hostility could grow again without easy interchange.
    – o.m.
    Commented Nov 17, 2018 at 16:22

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