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8.5 Program for the Study of Germany and Europe

De Gaulle and Europe: Historical Revision and Social Science Theory

1998 Andrew Moravcsik


The thousands of books and articles on Charles de Gaulle's policy toward European integration, whether written by historians, political scientists, or commentators, universally accord primary explanatory importance to the General's distinctive geopolitical ideology. In explaining his motivations, only secondary significance, if any at all, is attached to commercial considerations. This paper seeks to reverse this historiographical consensus by the four major decisions toward European integration taken under de Gaulle's Presidency: the decisions to remain in the Common Market in 1958, to propose the Fouchet Plan in the early 1960s, to veto British accession to the EC, and to provoke the "empty chair" crisis in 1965-1966, resulting in Luxembourg Compromise. In each case, the overwhelming bulk of the primary evidence speeches, memoirs, or government documents suggests that de Gaulle's primary motivation was economic, not geopolitical or ideological. Like his predecessors and successors, de Gaulle sought to promote French industry and agriculture by establishing protected markets for their export products. This empirical finding has three broader implications: (1) For those interested in the European Union, it suggests that regional integration has been driven primarily by economic, not geopolitical considerations even in the least likely case. (2) For those interested in the role of ideas in foreign policy, it suggests that strong interest groups in a democracy limit the impact of a leaders geopolitical ideology even where the executive has very broad institutional autonomy. De Gaulle was a democratic statesman first and an ideological visionary second. (3) For those who employ qualitative case-study methods, it suggests that even a broad, representative sample of secondary sources does not create a firm basis for causal inference. For political scientists, as for historians, there is in many cases no reliable alternative to primary source research.