Europe between Imperial Decline and Quest for Integration

Pro-European Groups and the French, Belgian and British Empires (1947–1957)

by Laura Kottos (Author)
©2016 Monographs 238 Pages
Series: Euroclio, Volume 97


The book assesses the role of three pro-European pressure groups (the European Union of Federalists, the Socialist Movement for the United States of Europe and the European League for Economic Cooperation) and their impact in fostering new relations between Europe and the colonies between 1947 and 1957. It argues that the association of the overseas territories into the European Economic Community in 1957, the founding stone of today’s European policy for aid and development, was to a large extent the result of the intense intellectual activity that took place in these transnational groups upstream of the signature of the Treaty of Rome.
A transnational approach of these groups uncovers the broader objectives of the European policy: that the association would in the long run revive the declining links between Europe and its overseas territories. On the one hand, part of the influential British and continental pro-European elites wanted to create a European Commonwealth which would establish new preferential and intergovernmental links between countries of the Council of Europe, the British Dominions and the European colonies. On the other hand, a number of French and Belgian pro-Europeans wanted to create a Eurafrican community, a federation linking Europe and Africa economically and politically. Both the European Commonwealth and the Eurafrican community were designed in response to postwar challenges: the dollar gap, the communist threat in the Third World, the rise of new African and Asian nationalisms or the position of European powers in a new globalised world.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • 1. European Integration and the Empires: a Recent Interest
  • 2. Filling a Gap in the Historiography
  • 3. Methodological Approaches
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 1. Going Transnational
  • 1. Non-Influential Actors
  • 2. Political and Economic Groups at national level: Influential Actors?
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 2. Groups and Networks
  • 1. Forgotten Actors: Transnational Pro-European Networks (1947-1957)
  • 2. Origins and Networks of Early European Pressure Groups
  • 3. Pro-European Colonial Networks
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3. A Political Eurafrica
  • 1. An ‘Entente Cordiale’? (1948-1950)
  • 2. French and Belgian Federalists towards Eurafrica (1952-1954)
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 4. A European Commonwealth
  • 1. Unionist Projects (1947-1949): A Consensus?
  • 2. A British Precondition: Securing the Participation of Independent Commonwealth countries (1950-1951)
  • 3. The British Section of ELEC (1951-1954)
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 5. From Strasbourg to Rome: Assessing the Influence of Groups
  • 1. Transnational Pressure Groups Upstream of the Decision
  • 2. During the Decision: Exerting Pressure on National Decision-Makers
  • 3. Following the Decision: An Introduction to Policy Implementation
  • Conclusion
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Series index

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First and foremost, I would like to warmly thank my supervisors, Professors Andrew Knapp and Hilary Footitt. I would never have achieved this work without their patience, precious advice and guidance.

I am very grateful to the University of Reading, and particularly the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies, for their support and interest in my research. I am also very grateful to the Leverhulme Trust which has allowed me to join a particularly dynamic research programme. Joining the Liberal Way of War Programme has been a wonderful experience and I really want to thank the director of the programme, Professor Alan Cromartie, for allowing me to join his research team. All the academics who participated in the group have been at one time or another inspiring for this research, so I would like to thank them all warmly.

The help of the archivists at the National Archives (Kew), the University of Birmingham, the London School of Economics and the University of Louvain-la-Neuve has been crucial all along this research. I am particularly grateful to the (then) director of the Historical Archives of the European Union, associate-professor Jean-Marie Palayret, for his enlightening suggestions during my stay in Florence.

I would never have applied for a Ph.D. without the support of Professor Pieter Lagrou who continued to support my academic career well after I left the ‘Université Libre de Bruxelles’. Acknowledgements are also due to Professor Piers Ludlow for his guidance during and after my viva and to Claude Fluchard for his constant interest in my research and for the enriching discussions we have had since 2005.

Finally, and most importantly, I would like to thank my family, and especially my husband Eric Cerneaz, for having never failed to support and reassure me during these years of research and redaction.

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ACP African, Caribbean and Pacific countries

BAO Banque d’Afrique Occidentale

BFU British Federal Union

CAED Comité d’Action Economique et Douanière

CAEF Centre d’Action Européenne Fédéraliste

CED Communauté Européenne de Défence

CEE Communauté Economique Européenne

CNPF Conseil National du Patronat Français

CoE Council of Europe

CPE Communauté Politique Européenne

ECSC European coal and Steel Community

EDC European Defence Community

EDF European Development Fund

EEC European Economic Community

ELEC European League for Economic cooperation

EM European Movement

ENFOM Ecole Nationale de la France d’outre-mer

EPC European Political Community

EPU European Payments Union

EUFOR European military Force

FBI Federation of British Industries

GATT General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade

HEC Haute École de Commerce

ILEC Independent League for European Cooperation

ILP Independent Labour Party

MFE Movimento Federalista Europeo

MFN Most Favoured Nation

MRP Mouvement Républicain Populaire ← 11 | 12 →

NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

OEEC Organisation for European Economic Cooperation

PCB Parti Communiste Belge

PCF Parti Communiste Français

PCI Parti Communiste Italien

PTOM Pays et Territoires d’Outre-Mer

RGR Rassemblement des Gauches Républicaines

RFA République Fédérale Allemande

RPF Rassemblement du Peuple Français

SFIO Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière

SOFFO Société Financière pour la France et les Pays d’Outre-mer

SMUSE Socialist Movement for the United States of Europe

T.O.M. Territoires d’Outre-Mer

UDSR Union Démocratique et Socialiste de la Résistance

UEF Union of European Federalists

UFF Union des Fédéralistes Français

WTO World Trade Organisation

1 For abbreviations used in citations of archival sources, see bibliography.

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Many of the countries that took part in the debates and negotiations to create a European community in the late 1940s and early 1950s were imperial powers. This work proposes to fill a particular gap in the current historiography on the links between European integration and European empires. These links have only been discussed in the scholarly literature very recently – since 2000. While previous works focus on national choices in order to explain the relations between Europe and colonial empires, this study seeks to add a new level of explanation. It argues that discussions and projects developed in the evolving European sphere between 1947 and 1956 considerably influenced the political outcome of 1957, that is, the association of overseas territories to the EEC which was the keystone of the European policy for aid and development. Transnational groups of non-state actors devised two projects for a Europe with broader frontiers: a federal Eurafrican community linking two continents around the Mediterranean Sea, and a European Commonwealth based on economic links. Such transnational groups were actively involved in both early European organisations and in organisations at the national level. They brought together imaginative policy-makers who acted as a linking force between national and international decision-makers. Their work is unknown so far because they acted largely within the corridors of power. However, they directed colonial reforms in France and Belgium. Although Britain did not join the EEC in 1957, British members of these groups contributed to the ideas that were then realised in continental Europe. A handful of influential elites from these three main imperial countries exchanged ideas and best practice in transnational forums to give Europe an imperial policy, precursor of the EU’s international commitment to Africa.

Because of its focus on non-state actors and policy-making processes, this study uses two methodological tools drawn from political science. The transnational approach focuses on how ideas on linking Europe and European empires moved across national borders to become truly European policies. The policy networks approach shows how members of European pressure groups interacted among themselves as well as with national governments and international organisations. Whilst these two approaches offer new perspectives on the ‘Europeanization’ of the colonial problem, they also have certain limitations. Following exhaustively and coherently policy networks composed of multiple ← 13 | 14 → actors would be a Herculean task. In order to reduce it to a manageable dimension, this work focuses on a limited space and time. In this study, Europe and Europe’s imperial relations are studied solely through the ideas of elite networks which had direct and longstanding interests in the French, Belgian and British empires. The study also focuses on the decade 1947-1957, a period of colonial crises and European reconstruction which called for imaginative solutions. It was in this context that pro-European transnational pressure groups invented and institutionalised themselves as actors with innovative solutions to reform the imperial system.

This introduction first retraces the existing literature on European integration and Europe’s empires. It argues that this historiography of ‘Eurafrica’ concentrates mainly on national approaches and covers long time-frames. In a second section, the introduction explains how focusing on three imperial powers and a limited period of time (1947-1957), enriches our knowledge of both European integration and post-war colonial studies. Finally, it suggests a new approach to fill the gap in the existing literature. It proposes a historical analysis using methodology from political science theories. This approach shows that there was a liberal − by the standards of the time − but short-lived European policy towards Europe’s empires in the mid-1950s.

1. European Integration and the Empires: a Recent Interest

Many works on European integration mention the geopolitical role of decolonisation in the European process. In this historiography, it is generally admitted that declining colonial prerogatives were one of the many arguments leading France (and Belgium to a lesser extent) to envisage the formation of the European Economic Community (EEC). Authors who acknowledge the relevance of the colonial argument1 also ← 14 | 15 → generally refer to the 1956 Suez crisis2 as a supplementary but minor point encouraging European cooperation. Geopolitical considerations such as the pressure for Franco-German reconciliation in the Cold War context, the strength of the European ideal or the need for economic recovery after the Second World War are the major themes in these studies.

Only a few works focus exclusively on the links between the imperial and European contexts and such literature is quite recent. This is due to the fact that until the late 1990s, colonial studies were highly politicised, notably in the context of the Cold War. As Frederick Cooper observes in Colonialism in Question,3 the first post-war studies on colonisation concentrated exclusively on the political goals of changing the international order, in other words on the concept of modernisation: such works focused on post-war Marxist or capitalist interpretations of decolonisation and North-South relations. It was also the period of ‘nationalist history’, the moment when newly-independent countries wanted to re-appropriate their own history, a long-term history where local figures have an important place, and of which broader colonial history was only a part.4 In the late 1970s and early 1980s, postcolonial studies appeared as a new academic field, one that ‘works to make this relation of unequal power more visible, with the goal of ending it. Postcolonial studies in this sense is the radical philosophy that interrogates both the past history and ongoing legacies of European colonialism in order to undo them.’5 In the 1980s and 1990s, colonial studies were led mostly by anthropologists, sociologists or gender studies specialists6 who were postcolonialists and paved the way towards a depoliticised historical debate on the legacies of European colonialism. It is thus only during the last decade that researchers started to become interested in linking colonial situations with European integration. ← 15 | 16 →

Taking the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957 as the symbolic beginning of the European Union, most of the literature focuses on the African continent. This is because of the six original European countries, France and Holland, had lost their empire in Asia by 1954, while France and Belgium still had huge territories in Africa under colonial rule in 1957. The literature therefore concentrates mainly on the ‘Eurafrica’ concept (in French ‘Eurafrique’), the idea that there are privileged links between the European continent and Africa. For the historians and political science theorists who studied Eurafrica, the term encompasses a broad range of relations based on economic (interdependence), historical and/or political links. The historian René Girault was the first to ask, in 1989, whether the Common Market and its Eurafrican policy was a mean for France to save the French Union or a policy aimed at withdrawing from its empire.7 As this work will show, Eurafrica meant (and still means) different things to different peoples. All ‘Eurafrican’ supporters believed that the links between Europe and Africa should be deepened, and possibly institutionalised, often through the development of a common community. The main difference among them lies in the degree of integration they envisaged for the Eurafrican community. For example, for some politicians Eurafrica was to be a very integrated European Union exploiting the resources of Africa for its own economic advantages. For others, it was to be a political association8 between European countries and their colonies which shall benefit both Europe and the empire. Other ‘Eurafrican’ supporters saw (and sometimes continue to see) Eurafrica as a close and equal partnership between the European Union and its former colonies in Africa. These are only three examples of the possible Europe-empire links envisaged by the supporters of Eurafrica. The short overview of the historiography on Eurafrica below shows how the term has encompassed a broad range of meanings according to their theorists, but also according to the countries where, or time-periods when, they were developed. It also shows that the term is more common in Francophone literature than in Anglophone literature.

It is only very recently that historians and political scientists have linked the European Union as a political organisation to the decolonisation ← 16 | 17 → of Africa. In 2004, Peo Hansen was one of the first to observe that ‘…very few accounts have so far focused on the more specific relationship between colonialism, the movement towards decolonisation and the nexus of European integration and European identity. The question of how to situate the project of European integration – and its impact on the ways in which the meaning of “Europe” has been construed in recent decades – in the wider analysis of colonialism and decolonisation still awaits examination.’9 Since then, several major contributions have strengthened our knowledge of the topic.

Yves Montarsolo’s work focuses chiefly on the evolution of the idea of ‘Eurafrica’ among French intellectuals, and includes a review of the Eurafrican concept of the French politician Albert Sarraut.10 He also describes the evolution of the Eurafrican idea among French elites from 1945 to 1957. Some French politicians, he observes, promoted their ideas of Eurafrica in their discussions of the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC), as well as of the never-realised European Defence Community (EDC) and the European Political Community (EPC). He notes finally how a less ambitious form of ‘Eurafrican market’ was realised within the European Economic Community.11

Guia Migani’s La France et l’Afrique sub-saharienne12 devotes substantial chapters to the motives behind France’s decision to associate its overseas territories with the EEC and later to support European cooperation with Africa. While Montarsolo focuses on Eurafrica between 1945 and 1957, Migani addresses ‘Eurafrican’ cooperation between 1957 and 1963 notably through a thoughtful analysis of the policies of the minister of overseas territories Gaston Defferre and later of De Gaulle, as well as through the influence of the European Commission, Washington and the newly-independent African states.

Extensive research on the correlation between the Belgian Congo and European integration was conducted by Etienne Deschamps.13 Etienne ← 17 | 18 → Deschamps published several articles on the position of Belgium in the association of overseas territories to the EEC,14 with Franco-Belgian cooperation in the construction of hydroelectric dams as an illustration of Eurafrican cooperation,15 and on Spaak’s16 strategy towards Europe and Africa17 and the role of the Belgian Congo in discussions on the European Political Community.18


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (September)
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 232 pp., 1 ill., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Laura Kottos (Author)

Laura Kottos is a scientific collaborator to the Research Unit Modern and Contemporary Worlds at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB, Belgium). She obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Reading (United Kingdom) where she was part of the Research Programme ‘The Liberal Way of War: strategy, ideology, representations’.


Title: Europe between Imperial Decline and Quest for Integration
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