World power and Europe

  • Created by: bethany
  • Created on: 30-04-13 18:50


The efforts of Br gov to join the EEC in the years 1951-73, was due to her declining status as a world power?

Some historians, such as Sked and Cook argue that Britian's declining world role and her "need to find somewhere to act as a leading role" were the main determinants behind Britain's application to join the EEC.

Whereas, other historians, such as Pugh argues that it was more to do with Britian's desire to reverse her economic decline and enjoy the same prosperous economic situation that the countires within the EEC were experiencing. 

I would argue that both factors are equally important, but would also acknowledge the significance of Heath as a Europhile in relation to Britain's eventual allowance into the EEC, although i would suggest the relative economic decline and also britain's reduced world power status were more significant factors.

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Declining status as a world power

The declining status as a world power between the years 1951-71 were key to Heath's application to join the EEC. Between 1964 and 1971 the British Empire contracted, with the loss of Ghana, Cyprus, Singapore, Malaysia and Aden, as well as others signifying her freduced spher of influence. By 1971 Britain ruled over an Empire that largely consisted of small islands, the number of people within her empire had also significantly shrunk; from 200m in war time to 15m outside of the UK. Furthermore, the British attitude towards empire began to change, symbolised in 1958 when she no longer celebrated Empire day and also Macmillan's infamous 'wind of change' speech in regards to Africa. Britain's declining world power status may have pushed her closer to America rather than Europe, but the Anglo-American relation had been a volatile one shown through the events of the Suez Crisis and also the Vietnam war. However, the historian Reynolds points out that during this time Britain's relationship with the USA became one of 'dependence', therefore i would argue that if the EEC had not improved their member's economies so drastically, Britain would have moved towards America and not Europe in the 1970s. Therefore showing that Britain's decline in world power status was equally important to her economic motive behind joining the EEC. 

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Economically weak

At the same time as Britain's loss of political and miliatry status as a world power, her economy was suffering and her influence as a world trading partner was in decline. This came at a time when the EEC's economic power was growing and had begun to outstrip that of the UK's. The historian Marr supports the view of Pugh that Britain the EEC due to her economic decline when he stated that the EEC was simply 'an escape route into a more modern and effiecient world". Since 1953 the French production had increased by 75%, west germany's by 90% and incomparison, Britain by only 30%. Britain had faced a deficit of £800 million in 1964 (Marr) and had been forced to devalue the pound in 1967. Britain was economically weak, her trade in the world refelcted this as in 1950 she had held 25% of world share, but by 1960 this had been reduced to 15% and was further declining. The EEC appeared to be threatening the British holding of world trade further by suggesting that they would allow commonwealth countries and some former European colonies to become an associated member of the EEC. Therefore, in support of my own view, the weakness of the British economy, partly brought on by her decline in world power status, appears crucial to the reason why Britain entered the EEC in 1973. 

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The role of Heath as prime minister during the British time of entry into the EEC can be argued as significant, and was undoubtably a contributing factor as to why Britain was able to join in 1973. Heath had a 'coolness' about the Anglo-American relation, whilst Wilson had been close to USA, Heath was a europhile. Such was Heath's desire to gain British entry into the EEC that he had told his team of officials to accept any terms and that these could be negotisted later, once British entry had been secured. It was Heath's belief that Europe would enable Britain to to achieve a higher standard of living and provide a substantial advance for British entry. As the historian Lowe advocates, British entry into the EEC was Heath's "finest moment" and therefore i would argue that Heath was also a driving factor towards entry in 1973. Athough her relative economic decline and reduced world power status still remain more prominet factors as i would argue that Heath would not have been so keen to join the EEC if these were not present.

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In conclusion, whilst both views held by the historians Cook, Sked and Pugh all appear to have some truth behind them, Britain;s world status was in decline, and economically she was weak. I would argue that these factors provide a better explanation for British entry into the EEC in 1973 when used in combination. Thus i would argue that Britain entered the EEC mainly due to her declining world power status that led partially to her economic decline, but also due to the appealing economic situation occuring within member's of the EEC, quietly noting that Heath also played an important role. 

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