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1969: The Spirit of the Hague

1969 proved a watershed moment in the history of the European project, both in terms of EC reform and preparing the ground for the first enlargement. By Amelie Buchwald

In 1969 the European project was faced with dynamism, as well as slowdown and crisis. On the one hand, the customs union was completed ahead of schedule and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) showed initial success. On the other hand, Gaullist policies had prevented British membership of the European Community (EC) and slowed down institutional progress, for example through the ‘empty chair crisis’. When Georges Pompidou became French President in 1969, he changed France’s preceding Gaullist course in the process of European integration. The post-de Gaulle era was characterised by the optimism to rejuvenate the European project. This spirit was manifested during the Hague summit from 1st to 2nd December 1969, identifies it as a “summit of Euro-optimism”.

The summit was proposed by Georges Pompidou, and the six member states of the EC (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) participated to discuss further steps in the European integration project. Moreover, Pompidou coined the motto of the Hague summit: “completion, deepening, enlargement”, representing his political goals. It is important to note the significance of the order. In Pompidou’s opinion the European integration process had to be completed first, then deepening could be pursued and, as a next step, enlargement could be discussed with the candidate states, who would have to accept the acquis communautaire (the body of EC rules and regulations).

Completion and Deepening

The issue of completion concerned particularly financial and monetary matters. The notion of deepening referred to the expansion of the common market and activities of the EC. This also included further political cooperation between the member states. The EC-6 leaders discussed issues of a permanent budget, monetary union, foreign policy, fisheries and regional development. Furthermore, it was agreed upon to hold the first direct elections for the European Parliament, thus giving European citizens more power in the EC. The European Parliament was strengthened as it gained more budgetary powers. Moreover, the strengthening and extension of existing institutions also linked to discussions about technological and research developments, reforming the European Social Fund and establishing a European University.

Financially, the leaders wanted to determine the financing of the CAP and decided that the EC should have its own resources. Moreover, the first plans for an economic and monetary union were commissioned. As a result, the Werner Plan, named after Luxembourg’s Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, was drawn up. This ambitious Plan proposed the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in 1970 and aimed to establish a single currency within ten years. The EMU was supposed to tie the EC closer together, in particular, in the context of Brandt’s Ostpolitik and the Federal Republic’s focus on Eastern Europe.

In terms of political cooperation, a report was commissioned under the supervision of Etienne Davignon, a Belgian diplomat, exploring the possibilities of political unification. This report was adopted by the EC member states in October 1970 and the Foreign Ministers launched the European Political Cooperation (EPC). Moreover, regional development policies were supposed to diminish economic differences between EC regions. This entailed the foundation of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) in 1972. Even though the report by Davignon also proposed the establishment of a political secretariat, the lack of consensus about where this secretariat should sit led to it not being set up.

Enlargement and the spirit of the Hague

After de Gaulle’s two-time veto against British EC membership in the 1960s, Pompidou became more willing to accept enlargement in the face of Germany’s growing political and economic strength. Together France and the United Kingdom could balance Germany’s increasing power in the EC. At the Hague summit, the representative leaders of the member states agreed to begin negotiations with the four applicant countries – the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, and Ireland – by June 1970. In anticipation of enlargement, some leaders of the EC pushed for deepening in a fear that new member states, in particular the United Kingdom, could veto or change decisions significantly once they joined. As Richard Griffiths argues: “The Hague summit […] was intended to launch the Community firmly on a path of future development that could not be blocked or diverted once enlargement had occurred”.

The spirit of the Hague Summit is often associated with unanimity and breakthrough, but in reality tensions were evident between the Gaullist-lite position held by Pompidou and opposing position led by Brandt. In particular, the order in which the goals of completion, deepening and enlargement should be reached was debated. Whereas Pompidou arguably foremost aimed at completion and deepening of existing EC policies and activities, Brandt wanted an economic balance within the EC. Furthermore, the Dutch Prime Minister de Jong was in favor of accession of the candidate states first and then furthering the integration process within the EC. As a result, it was agreed that if the budget for the EC was negotiated by the end of 1969, the accession talks could start in 1970.

The EC-6 agreed that the Community had to master the move from the transitional to the final phase of integration. Even though successful in discussing steps towards completing the EC, the leaders at the Hague summit did not address the issue of institutional reform. The struggle for deepening the EC was greater than reaching the goal of completion. In addition, developments in the field of foreign, economic and monetary policy were more difficult to implement. There were perhaps two main achievements of the Hague summit: firstly, the decision in favour of the EMU, with monetary, financial and political cooperation; and secondly, the enlargement of the EC, with Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joining the Community in 1973. Above all, the summit was successful in rejuvenating the European project, engendering enthusiasm, as well as widespread public interest.

Images ‘Tramlijn 6, Fluwelen Burgwal, The Hague, 1961′ and ‘Willy Brandt’ both courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Cover Image: “Binnenhof, Den Haag” by Tom Roeleveld via Flickr, released under Creative Commons License 2.0


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