841.5151/9–2349: Telegram

The Chargé in the United Kingdom (Holmes) to the Acting Secretary of State 1


3820. Embtel 3810, September 23.2 Further information on French reaction to British devaluation given Embassy Officer by Shuckburgh, head of Western Department.

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Massigli,3 apparently without waiting for Quai d’Orsay instructions, called on Strang4 to express French concern. In Paris there had been formal démarche to British Ambassador.5 There was no objection to new rate as such but French based their representations primarily on failure of British to consult in advance with French. It was pointed out that before French devaluation Petsche6 had come to London and the Chancellor had gone to Paris to discuss matter.7 French therefore took exception to abruptness with which British decision had been communicated to them and absence of consultation.

Shuckburgh stated that no reply had yet been made but that outline had been sent to Bevin. It is believed that he probably has been discussing matter with Schuman and may be able to exercise some mollifying influence. FonOff proposed that tenor of reply should be that in view of need for secrecy it was not possible to give French any greater advance notice. They in fact were informed same time as members of Commonwealth. Furthermore, in view of everything that had been said about possibility of devaluation French should not have been taken by surprise. In fact, it was this extensive discussion of subject of devaluation that had made it all the more necessary to proceed with greatest caution in effecting it. Too much importance could not be attached to fact that there had been consultation before devaluation of French franc because France had gone flatly contrary to advice of the Chancellor. All in all, British are proposing to tell French that their resentment is unfounded.

Shuckburgh stated he thought French reaction would be transitory and that no long term ill-effects on relations with France need follow.8

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Massigli has also made strenuous representations in protest of a devaluation of the west mark of more than 20 percent and insisting on an adjustment in the domestic and export prices of coal.9

Sent Department, repeated Paris 725.

  1. Secretary Acheson was in New York attending the fourth regular session of the United Nations.
  2. Not printed; in it Holmes reported that members of the French Government had let the Foreign Office know their serious concern over “British unilateral devaluation.” The main French criticisms were (1) that the new rate was too low (2) that there should have been consultation (3) that the British procedure constituted a direct and possibly severe setback to European cooperation. The British did not underestimate the seriousness of the French resentment and its possible repercussions on French relations with Britain. (841.5151/9–2249)
  3. René Massigli, French Ambassador in the United Kingdom.
  4. Sir William Strang, British Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  5. Sir Oliver Charles Harvey.
  6. Maurice Petsche, French Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs.
  7. For documentation relating to the devaluation of the French franc in 1948, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. iii, pp. 592 ff.
  8. In telegram 1307, September 27, from Brussels, not printed, Counselor Millard reported on a conversation in which Spaak expressed his view that “… precipitant British devaluation was a disastrous step and would emphasize divisive forces in Europe rather than contrary.” (841.5151/9–2749) In a similar telegram on October 1, from Rome, not printed, Ambassador Dunn reported an “acerbity of criticism against British” for devaluation. Both the suddenness and the extent were annoying and devaluation had lost prestige for the United Kingdom. The manner in which it was adopted weakened Italian faith in international bodies and Italy would now feel freer to take its problems directly to Washington rather than to the OEEC on a European basis. Within the OEEC the continental delegates were now more likely to gang up against the United Kingdom. (841.5151/10–149)
  9. Documentation relating to the devaluation of the German West Mark and the regulation of German coal prices is in volume iii, chapter ii.