Sometimes Speaking with a Single Voice

The European Community as an International Actor, 1969–1979

by Lorenzo Ferrari (Author)
©2016 Monographs 245 Pages
Series: Euroclio, Volume 95


In the late 1960s, the European Community was a loose association of countries focusing on economic matters. By the late 1970s, it had become a real international actor: member states had started to coordinate their foreign policies, the EC had joined the United Nations and the G7, and it had established direct relations with almost all of the world’s countries. What happened in those years?
This book provides the first comprehensive historical account of the early phase of the EC member states’ cooperation in international affairs. Community activities, the European Political Cooperation and the European Council are all considered, relying on a wide range of archival sources. Why did the EC member states decide to cooperate in international affairs? How did they do it, and in which domains? What idea of Europe as an actor on the global stage did they put forward?
As the author shows, the EC stressed its own profile as a «force for good» in international affairs – especially with regard to development cooperation, the reform of the international system, and human rights promotion. In the early phase of the EC’s international activity one can find the origins of many traits – and flaws – of the EU’s foreign policy nowadays.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • Prologue: Early Failures, New Chances
  • The failure of early attempts at political integration
  • The relaunch of political integration in the late 1960s
  • The choice of the EC as forum for political integration
  • The Hague and Paris summits
  • Chapter 1: Internal Institutional Developments, 1969-72
  • The establishment of the European Political Cooperation
  • Different views on the evolution of political integration
  • The struggle over the location of the EPC secretariat
  • The struggle on the political role of the Commission
  • Domains excluded from EC consultation and coordination
  • The EC’s relations with other countries and organizations
  • Institutional design and the EC as a distinct actor
  • Chapter 2: External Political Developments, 1973-74
  • The exclusion of defense from the EC’s international activity
  • Defining relations with the US: challenge
  • Defining relations with the US: struggle
  • Defining relations with the US: concession
  • Defining the relations with the Soviet countries
  • The creation of the European Council
  • External relations and the EC as a distinct actor
  • Chapter 3: Trying to Speak with a Single Voice, 1974-79
  • Establishing diplomatic relations with third countries
  • The EC’s admission to the UN
  • How to speak with a single voice: declarations and votes
  • The EC at the G7 summits
  • The project of common European embassies
  • The project of the European Union
  • A choir of voices, not a single voice
  • Chapter 4: The EC as Partner of the Developing Countries
  • The EC’s concern with development at the Paris Summit
  • The structure of the EC’s development cooperation
  • The departure from the Yaoundé association
  • The abolition of the reverse preferences
  • What was new in the Lomé system of cooperation
  • Lomé as a new model of international relations?
  • The weakness of the worldwide tier of cooperation
  • Development cooperation and the EC as a distinctive actor
  • Chapter 5: The EC as Promoter of a New International Order
  • Offering trade preferences to the developing countries
  • The EC as the most progressive industrialized actor
  • How new should the new international economic order be?
  • The Conference on International Economic Cooperation
  • The EC and the outcomes of the CIEC
  • Overcoming blocs: the promotion of interregional dialogue
  • The international order and the EC as a distinctive actor
  • Chapter 6: The EC as Promoter of Human Rights Abroad
  • External pressures putting the EC on the defensive
  • Distancing itself from Portuguese colonialism
  • Distancing itself from human rights violations in Chile
  • Distancing itself from white minority rule in Austral Africa
  • The constraints on the EC’s initiatives on Austral Africa
  • The EC taking the offensive on human rights
  • The inclusion of human rights in the Lomé Convention
  • Human rights and the EC as a distinctive actor
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • Chronology
  • Index
  • Directory of people
  • Series Index

← 8 | 9 →Acknowledgements

A number of people gave their advice, feedback and support to my research in the last years. I am really grateful to them all; the fault for any omission and mistake in the book obviously remains mine.

This book is drawn out of the PhD dissertation that I defended in December 2014 in Lucca. The IMT Institute for Advanced Studies and the Italian Ministry of Education provided essential support and funding to my PhD, which was overseen by Giovanni Orsina. Over the course of my research I received very insightful advice and feedback from Mark Gilbert, who was an excellent supervisor.

In these years I had the chance to discuss my work with many people. At different stages and in different ways, they all provided useful feedback and stimulating ideas. Special thanks go to Giuliano Garavini for being so supportive, and to Antonio Varsori for being always kind and helpful. I am very grateful to Lucia Bonfreschi, Maria Elena Cavallaro, Mario Del Pero, Véronique Dimier, Maria Eleonora Guasconi, Ann-Christina Knudsen, Giuliana Laschi, Sara Lorenzini, Antonio Masala, Guia Migani, and Federico Romero.

Michel Dumoulin and Marc Lazar kindly invited me to spend visiting periods at the Université Catholique de Louvain and at Sciences Po in Paris. I am also grateful to Mariuccia Salvati, who first encouraged me to study the history of European integration, and to my fellows Paola Varotto and Benedetto Zaccaria.

Sincere thanks also go to all the librarians, archivists and staff members around Europe who assisted me in these years. Finally, I am grateful to the editors of PIE Peter Lang and to the series editors for helping me to turn my research into a book.

This book is dedicated to my parents.← 9 | 10 →

← 10 | 11 →Abbreviations


African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries


Association of South-East Asian Nations


Conference on International Economic Cooperation


Council for Mutual Economic Assistance


Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe


European Defence Community


European Political Cooperation


Foreign and Commonwealth Office


International Monetary Fund


General Agreement on Tariff and Trade


Least Developed Countries


Ministère des Affaires Étrangères (France)


Member of European Parliament


Non-Governmental Organization


Overseas Development Administration


Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development


Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries


Secrétariat Général du Comité interministériel pour les questions de coopération économique européenne


United Nations Conference on Trade and Development← 11 | 12 →

← 12 | 13 →Introduction

At the end of the 1960s, the international activity of the European Community merely consisted in its external commercial relations and in its policies for the management of relations with some former European colonies. By the end of the 1970s, the Community had joined the UN and the G7 summits, and it had taken part in major international negotiations such as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Conference on International Economic Cooperation. It had established direct relations with almost all of the world’s countries and it had concluded commercial and cooperation agreements with many of them. EC member states had started to coordinate their foreign policies, and they had adopted a number of common positions and declarations on the main international political issues.

The argument advanced in this book is that the EC’s international activity underwent a major qualitative change in the 1970s, leading to the assertion of the EC as a distinct and distinctive international actor. The EC’s activity on the global stage increased considerably in comparison to the previous period, both in terms of intensity and scope. The EC asserted itself not only as a major global economic player, but also as a distinct global political player. Moreover, the EC’s international activity was endowed with a distinctive character, claiming a particular attachment to dialogue and cooperation. The EC claimed that it was a “force for good” and that its distinctive activity on the global stage was to promote a more balanced and a more just international order. The process of assertion of the EC as a distinct international actor during the 1970s is the object of this book.

By using the term “the EC,” I refer to the complex of the Community system (European Economic Community, European Coal and Steel Community, European Atomic Energy Community), of the European Political Cooperation system (EPC), of the European Council and of other initiatives jointly taken by their member states.1 All these instances were different expressions of a general activity of cooperation involving the same group of European countries and aiming at the promotion of a closer integration between them. By “international activity” of the ← 13 | 14 →EC I refer to the complex of policies, initiatives and relations carried out on the international stage by the EC in its various forms, such as for instance the Community’s external policies and the EPC initiatives. As for the notion of “international actor,” I adopt Christopher Hill’s definition of it:2 an international actor is clearly delimited from others and from its environment; it has procedures to make its own decisions; it has structural prerequisites and means for international action.

A burgeoning trend in historiography has been challenging the long held view that the 1970s were a period of deep crisis and inability to act for the EC. To be sure, the EC was seriously affected by the economic and energy crisis, by the evolution of the international monetary system, by strains and tensions in transatlantic relations, by the problems concerning the British membership, and so on. All of these problems were real, and it is clear that the EC experienced a “crise de confiance, crise de volonté, crise de lucidité” during the 1970s.3 However, growing evidence indicates that the period was also one of striking dynamism for the EC. The EC experienced its first enlargement, and major institutional innovations were decided, such as the establishment of the EPC, the creation of the European Council and the direct election of the European Parliament. New common policies were launched, such as the regional policy and the social policies. Most importantly, the project of monetary cooperation led to the creation of the European Monetary System.

It was in the external sphere that the EC reached some of its most remarkable achievements during the 1970s, leading not only to the consolidation of the EC’s position as a major international economic actor, but also to its assertion as a distinct political actor.4 While recent analyses of such a development have focused almost exclusively on the creation ← 14 | 15 →of the EPC and on its activities,5 this book shows that the EC’s assertion as an international actor did not concern only the EPC: I consider also the other aspects of the EC’s international activity and I show that they contributed to the EC’s assertion to a considerable extent.6 Most of the existing historiography also tends to suggest that the EC’s goal of asserting itself as a political global player was abandoned very quickly after its launch, mainly because of the pressures exerted by the US against it and because of the economic and political crisis begun in 1973-74. In contrast, I argue that 1973-74 was indeed a turning point for the EC’s international activity, but it was more a beginning than an ending point for the assertion of the EC as an international actor. In order to appreciate this, it is essential to look beyond the EPC and to consider the more general picture of the EC’s international activity, as well as to adopt realistic benchmarks for its assessment.

In the early 1970s, the EC’s international activity had quite vague traits and imprecise ambitions. It was in its infant phase, and it is not by chance that most of the debates about it focused on structures, procedures and institutions. The 1973-74 crisis forced the EC’s project of political integration to really engage with reality, favoring a clearer definition of its traits. Initial ambitions certainly had to be reduced as a result, but the EC’s international activity did not end and it did actually experience interesting developments. The European Council was established and the coherence of the EC’s international activity was improved. The EC became a recognizable player at the UN and it gained recognition by basically all of the world’s countries. The limits of the room of maneuver available for the EC’s international activity were defined and quite a clear division of labor with the US was established, leading the EC to focus on “civilian” activities and to cultivate a distinctive profile.

While this book shows that the EC asserted itself as a distinct international political actor, it also advances the argument that the EC sought to assert itself as a distinctive international actor during the 1970s. The EC presented itself as an actor adopting and promoting an original and ← 15 | 16 →innovative approach to international relations, assigning a central role to the notions of international cooperation and dialogue, to the understanding of international relations as a positive sum game, to the pursuit of values rather than only material interests. The adoption of this approach was useful for the EC’s assertion as a distinct international actor, since it made it possible for the EC to highlight its original character with regard to its own member states and to the US. It also made it possible for the EC to compensate with rhetoric its limited capabilities to act. While doubts can be held on both the plausibility and sincerity of this distinctive approach to international relations, fewer doubts can be held on the fact that the EC did stress its attachment to it. The EC often tried to substantiate its distinctive approach with the adoption of actual policies and initiatives, even though it rarely managed to do so effectively.

To argue that the EC asserted itself as a distinct and distinctive international actor during the 1970s does not mean to dismiss or overlook the limits, shortcomings and flaws of this process, which are evident. The EC’s international activity remained quite fragmentary, often declaratory, and sometimes ineffective. This was hardly surprising, given the gravity of the economic and political crisis hitting Europe in those years, and given the inherent difficulty of promoting political integration between nation states with significantly different interests and political cultures. To a large extent, disappointment with the EC’s achievements could be attributed to the excessively high expectations that had been held of it. In this respect, the EC created a sort of vicious circle, a capabilities-expectations trap: its limited capabilities of acting effectively on the international stage led it to rely much on rhetoric, but rhetorical commitments raised even higher expectations, which in turn had less and less chance of being met given the available capabilities.

The EC’s international activity in the 1970s has attracted a significant amount of interest from historians during the last few years. The most comprehensive view on it is provided by the collective volume Europe in the International Arena during the 1970s, edited by Antonio Varsori and Guia Migani.7 Most of the other studies have focused on specific external policies of the Community or on the activities of the EPC. Studies have dealt with the external trade policies of the Community and with its ← 16 | 17 →policies of development cooperation.8 Analyses have been devoted to the evolution of the relations between the EC and the US,9 the Soviet bloc,10 China,11 and the non-aligned or developing countries.12 The role played by the EC in its neighborhood has been studied, focusing in particular on the CSCE13 and on its activity in the Mediterranean and in the Middle East.14 The EPC system and activities have been thoroughly analyzed,15 and some ← 17 | 18 →studies have looked at the creation of the European Council16 and at the establishment of connections between the EC and the G7 summits.17

In this book I take a broader perspective on the EC’s international activity, considering its general process of definition and growth during the 1970s. I consider how and why the assertion of the EC as a distinct and distinctive international actor was promoted, how it was connected to other contemporary developments, and who influenced the definition of the traits of the EC as a global player. In doing so, I analyze the fundamental conceptions underlying the main aspects of the EC’s international activity, such as its institutional structure and the limits of its sphere of action. So far there has not been any extensive and dedicated historical account of the EC’s international activity as a whole and of the general conceptions underlying it. Some recent works have taken into consideration limited aspects of it. For instance, some have focused on the Declaration on the European identity released by the EC member states in 1973, which largely dealt with the EC’s international activity.18 Yet despite its grandiose name, the motives and goals of the Declaration were mostly contingent. Another attempt to date to analyze the general conceptions underlying the EC’s international activity can be found in After Empires by Giuliano Garavini,19 even if it focuses on a specific aspect of it, namely the EC’s relations with the “Global South” countries.

By extensively and specifically investigating the process of assertion of the EC as a distinct and distinctive international actor, I aim to enrich the historical understanding of the evolution undergone by the EC’s international activity. The analysis will enrich the understanding of specific ← 18 | 19 →aspects of such evolution, and provide some insight on the more general evolution of European integration. Conceptions of the EC as an international actor, and the surrounding debates, concerned different significant aspects of European integration, such as the structure and traits of the EC’s institutions, the relationship between the Community and its member states, the definition of the final goal of integration, and so on. The analysis of the process of assertion of the EC as a global player can also provide some insight into the long-term process of reassessment of the position and role of Europe on the international stage, with the transition from the European empires to a divided Europe in a bipolar world, up to a Europe taking part in a globalizing, multipolar international order.

Especially in the last decade, the question of the character and identity of the EU as an international actor has attracted much attention from political scientists.20 They have discussed and looked at the role played by the EU in international affairs, at the principles orienting its activity in this field, and at the interests and values informing the design of such activity.21 The extent to which the EU can be considered a distinct international actor has been widely debated, as well as the extent to which it can be considered a distinctive international actor with a “civilian” or “normative” character. Political science debates about the general traits of the EU as an international actor have so far been mostly theoretically oriented.22 This book can offer additional empirical evidence and historical ← 19 | 20 →insight to the debate on the EU as an international actor, showing that the process of its assertion started well before the establishment of the EU and of its common foreign and security policy. Moreover, a comprehensive analysis of the early conceptions, traits and image of the EC as an international actor helps to understand how they were defined, how they were engrained, and how they affected the later developments of the EC/EU’s international activity and identity.

In this book I analyze how the assertion of the EC as a distinct international actor came about, and how a distinctive character was assigned to it. In order to do so, I consider both the Community and the EPC dimensions of the EC’s international activity, in contrast to most of the existing studies. To be sure, the institutional separation between these two dimensions should not be overlooked. However, such a separation should not draw attention away from the fact that Community and EPC dimensions involved the same countries and to some extent even the same people, and that they were both meant to concur to European political integration. It is essential to look at the EC’s international activity as a whole in order to appreciate the overall process of assertion of the EC on the international stage and the general traits of the EC as an international actor.

In order to analyze the assertion of the EC as a distinct and distinctive international actor, I focus on instances and debates where its assertion was debated and its traits were defined. Actors involved in the making of the EC as an international actor often held different views and conceptions of it. In particular, member states’ governments advocated different conceptions and promoted different understandings of the traits of the EC as an international actor. For instance, the French government insisted on the necessity of establishing the EC as an actor clearly distinct from the US. The Dutch government argued that the EC should assert itself as generous partner of the developing countries, the Italian government called for a federal outcome of the European political integration, and so on. The compromise and combination of these different conceptions led to the definition of the EC’s specific traits.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (October)
European Community European political integration EU Foreign policy
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 245 pp.

Biographical notes

Lorenzo Ferrari (Author)

Lorenzo Ferrari (b. 1986) is a historian of contemporary Europe. After graduating in international studies and history at the University of Bologna, he obtained a PhD at the IMT Institute for Advanced Studies (Lucca).


Title: Sometimes Speaking with a Single Voice
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