sehepunkte 23 (2023), Nr. 5

Matthew Broad / Richard T. Griffiths: Britain, the Division of Western Europe and the Creation of EFTA, 1955-1963

European Integration is now often held to be synonymous with the development of the European Community (EC). Such an impression, however, neglects the range of competing visions of economic unity which flourished during the early post-War era. It is apt that with the passing of three decades since the opening of governmental archives in the 1990s, the difficult circumstances of these formative years should now be revisited in a dedicated study. Focusing on the circumstances behind the foundation of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), "Britain, the Division of Europe and the Creation of EFTA, 1955-1963" explores the eight-year period between the Messina Conference and the failure of the United Kingdom's application to enter the EEC through just such an alternative lens. In comparison to the dozens of studies published on the initial years of the EEC, the formation of EFTA and the "Free Trade Area" (FTA) of the 1950s are often discussed as a mere footnote in the creation of the Brussels based EC system. Established scholars in the area, Griffiths and Broad strive to utilise novel methods of exploring this well-trodden period, avoiding concentration on bigger countries such as Britain, France and West Germany to focus on smaller states represented in the organisation, "each of whom were in a position to expand the range of issues under consideration, complicate the agendas of larger powers, and wield a veto should their concerns not be sufficiently addressed" (7). The little that has been already written on EFTA has largely drawn from the familiar bodies of sources in London, Bonn and Florence which, since the early 1990s, have provided the bulk of material for the historiography of European Integration. Unsurprisingly given its title, Broad and Griffith's book does not completely deviate from this well-established source base. However, by aiming to cover in detail the complexity involved in bridgebuilding efforts between EFTA the EEC, it provides a new picture of how both smaller and larger nations responded to the plethora of economic relationships available in the post-War era.

As the book develops, Broad and Griffiths give a number of important additions to current interpretations of the significance of EFTA to the wider developments of 1956-1963. They support Alan Milward's influential argument that the British pivot towards Brussels and away from Geneva was not necessarily driven by the shrinkage of British economic influence, depicting the continuing centrality of the Sterling zone, and not the EEC, in British trade during the later 1950s (21). Chapters 2, 3 and 4 focus on the abortive FTA negotiations inside the Organization for European Economic Co-Operation (OEEC), complementing evaluations of the FTA project from earlier studies from the 1990s and 2000s. There is little surprising here, but the sizable chapters portray the internal dynamics of European Integration outside of either Britain or the Messina Six in far better detail than has hitherto been available. Chapter 7 "Consolidating the Association" provides the best example of this work at its most incisive, revealing to an extent not seen in previous literature how tensions inside EFTA could be both exacerbated and alleviated by Britain's rapidly oscillating position on EEC membership. The focus on EFTA itself also uncovers the hitherto little noted influence of neutral European countries on EFTA-EEC relations. Finland is shown to dominate discussion from the Stockholm agreement in 1960 until 1963 specifically because it represented a case study for the dilemmas facing the neutral countries of EFTA (Switzerland and Sweden) in pursuing closer geopolitical alignment with the EEC. This unusual institutional perspective does not completely escape the shadow of the EEC, but deftly avoids the 'great man' personal politics of the early 1960s - that of De Gaulle, Kennedy and Macmillan - which dominated the Community negotiations of 1961-1963 and thereby much history written on this period. However, for a book of the length of "Britain, the Division of Europe and the Creation of EFTA", some areas are not explored as thoroughly as they could be. Unsurprisingly, the book heavily utilises the holdings of the Historical Archives of the European Union (HAEU) in Florence, as well as the British National Archives and archives in EFTA member states. Yet archives in third party states such as the United States and West Germany are often readily relied on for material while Austrian and Portuguese archives are not consulted at all, resulting in analysis that struggles to deliver on the ambitious methodological intentions declared in the introductory chapter. The Stockholm negotiations of 1959-1960 are covered in excellent detail, with the seminal role of the first EFTA secretary general Frank Figgures particularly well scrutinised. There is, however, little sense of a large methodological progression from existing literature.

Despite some shortcomings, the book follows the lead of recent critical re-evaluations of the early history of the European Community [1] in presenting a novel study that paves the way for further research. Why no serious rift developed between the Six and the Seven from 1957 onwards despite "a certain degree of suspicion, of antagonism and resentment" (2), has long been an open question in historiography. Broad and Griffiths present a convincing explanation of why this did not occur: through the experience of negotiating EFTA itself, the Seven (crucially including the UK) became better versed in pooling resources in an intergovernmental organisation which was just as much a negotiating group as an internal market, minimising any appetite for a split between the EEC and itself and providing an important experience for future multilateral diplomacy in a Europe now dominated by economic organisations (308-320). The topical context of Brexit now makes the debates of the history of EFTA and on the membership of such free trade organisations relevant once again. The Norwegian foreign minister Harvard Lange noted at the London EFTA summit of November 1960 that "Future historians may see the problem created by this Western partition as a minor and passing one. I sincerely hope they will find reason to do so" (299). The subsequent history of EFTA and the European project has fulfilled Lange's expectation, but not necessarily for the reasons for which he would have anticipated. Sometimes presented as a mere waiting room for European membership, EFTA has also proved to be remarkably resilient, outlasting both the departure of its largest member state, the United Kingdom, to the EEC in 1973 and four subsequent decades of UK membership. Broad and Griffith's book provides a fascinating and well needed revisiting of the formative years of European integration, and their scope stretches far further than Britain's experience alone. This new study is unlikely to transform the field of European integration studies. However, its thorough depiction of the impulses behind the peripheral forces of European economic integration in the formative era of the European Community offers a great deal to current historical understanding.


[1] Klaus Kiran Patel: Project Europe. A History. Cambridge 2020, pp. 14-20.

Rezension über:

Matthew Broad / Richard T. Griffiths: Britain, the Division of Western Europe and the Creation of EFTA, 1955-1963 , Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2022, X + 344 S., ISBN 978-3-030-97736-8, USD 39,99

Rezension von:
Thomas Soden
European University Institute, Florenz
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Thomas Soden: Rezension von: Matthew Broad / Richard T. Griffiths: Britain, the Division of Western Europe and the Creation of EFTA, 1955-1963 , Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2022, in: sehepunkte 23 (2023), Nr. 5 [15.05.2023], URL:

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