11. Memorandum of Conversation0



Paris, May 31–June 2, 1961


  • Friday Afternoon Talks


  • United States
    • President Kennedy
    • Mr. Glenn (Interpreter)
  • France
    • General de Gaulle
    • Mr. Andronikoff (Interpreter)

[Here follows discussion of tripartite consultations.]

Common Market

The President said that he would be in England for the christening of the young Princess Radziwill; at that occasion, he would lunch with Prime Minister Macmillan and might be asked something by the latter about the Common Market question. He would therefore like to have the General’s opinion on the matter.

General de Gaulle said that it was his wish and his intent to work towards the establishment of an organization for close European cooperation, [Page 24] in particular between France, Germany, and Italy, and also (although these countries do not have a great importance) with Belgium and the Netherlands, but particularly between France and Germany. The six European countries which have established the Common Market consider this as only the beginning and they intend to develop their cooperation. Contacts between them will take place in December and it is hoped that at that moment the customs duties between the Six will be reduced by 20 percent as compared with the 10 percent by which they had been reduced to the present moment. This would mean de facto an elimination of internal customs duties in Europe. There still are some difficulties in the area of agriculture but it is hoped that in December all these difficulties will be overcome. The six nations feel that if they are to be linked in a common economy, they must also establish a regime of close political cooperation. Some people even think that there should be a political integration of Europe. The French feel, however, that this would be premature and oppose such integration in favor of an organized cooperation of states. This is what they want and proposals have been made to that effect which may well be accepted in December. Therefore, what may emerge from the December meeting is a genuine common economy and a likewise genuine political cooperation. Now what is the position of the United Kingdom? At first the U.K. said that it would never participate in such an enterprise. Three years ago the British said that this entire enterprise was directed against them, to which the General had answered that such an opinion, as well as the British fears, were greatly exaggerated.

Now the position of the United Kingdom is different but it still has considerable difficulties to join the Community. There are some difficulties of an economic nature, both internal to the United Kingdom and deriving from the Commonwealth Preference System. The British may have the Commonwealth Preference System or a membership in the Common Market but they cannot have both. Up to this moment, they still have not chosen between the two possibilities. As for political cooperation, they are very leery of it for reasons which derive from their history. True enough, there is a movement for joining the Common Market without, however, joining it fully. This would be a somewhat hollow pretense which would make Britain appear a part of Europe without it being a part of the European reality. This is not acceptable to the Europeans who would be glad to accept Britain if Britain were to join without reservations of either an economic or a political nature, but not otherwise.

The President said that he fully realized that such questions were primarily the responsibility of the Europeans and not of the U.S. He nevertheless wished to describe American thinking on the question. The Common Market has some adverse effects on American economy. At [Page 25] the same time, however, it greatly strengthens Europe both economically and politically. The United States feels that the advantages by far outweigh the drawbacks in regard to the United States and in consequence the United States has taken a strong position in favor of the Community. There is also another reason why we favor the Community. It is because it contributes to tie West Germany to Europe. It is not clear what will happen in Germany after Adenauer and, therefore, every tie which links Germany to Europe should be welcome.

Britain is moving closer to the Common Market, it has, however, some difficulties both with its own and with the New Zealand agriculture. There is a tendency on the part of the British to seek a limited association with the Community on the basis of a trade association without any of the political obligations provided by the Rome Treaty. The U.S. position in this respect is that such a limited association of the U.K. with the Community would add somewhat to the economic difficulties of the U.S. without having any favorable political results. Therefore, the U.S. does not favor such a limited association, although it does favor a full membership in the manner in which the General also favors it; this the more so that such a membership would have a strong effect on West Germany. The President hopes the British will end up by seeing it that way.

General de Gaulle said that he was taking note of the President’s statement and position. The desire to tie Germany to the West is the most profound reason for his own backing of the European Community. A limited accession by the U.K. would have only drawbacks and be an appearance without a reality. Full membership would be viewed with favor. The General doubts, however, whether the U.K. will seek such membership. The Community, in any case, will keep the door open. British reluctance stems from their very nature and tradition which is that they always try to play the part of a broker within any group within which they participate—even at times between the U.S. and the French.

The President added that even at times between the U.S. and the Soviets.

General de Gaulle said that he did not mean this in any disparaging way but, in any case, that his position towards British membership is either/or, either full, or none.

[Here follows discussion of NATO.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D110, CF1891. Secret. Drafted by Glenn. The meeting was held at the Elysée Palace. President Kennedy visited Paris on his way to Vienna to meet with Soviet Premier Khrushchev. For documentation on the discussions with de Gaulle, see Documents 107 and 230.