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Europe between Imperial Decline and Quest for Integration

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


Laura Kottos

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.

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The period 1947-1957 was a period of intense debate and achievement in the European integration process. The Organisation of European Economic Cooperation, the Council of Europe, the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community were all created within this decade. Other projects, such as the European Defence Community and the European Political Community were discussed but abandoned. The period 1947-1957 was also a period of imperial crises. Although France, Britain and Belgium were still important imperial powers, they were facing growing demands for decolonisation from the colonies themselves, as well as the USA and the USSR. Was it possible, therefore, that the founders of Europe left colonial issues out of European debates? This study has sought to find out to what extent there was a common European policy – or vision – towards the empires. The work has contributed to filling particular gaps in the historiography, and its empirical findings offer important contributions to existing literature. The conclusion now also looks forward offering recommendations for future research in this area.

Mainstream Historiography and Gaps

The debate on how European countries, which possessed colonies, envisaged their links with the European community was raised in the mid-2000s. Authors have wondered how France or Belgium linked European and imperial issues, and how they envisaged a Eurafrican community that would provide European opportunities for the empires, and imperial opportunities for Europe. Like recent studies on the question, this work maintains that the empires should not be left...

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