Professor Simon Usherwood on what can happen if you ratify a treaty and someone else doesn’t.

Back in the early days of European integration, there were lots of different efforts to build new organisations, not all of them happy experiences.

However, flush with the success of the Coal and Steel Community negotiation process, the French government proposed a European Defence Community (EDC) in late 1950.

This was a way to let West Germany rearm, by placing their forces under a European command structure, which would also control part of other signatories’ forces (i.e. an unbalanced arrangement).

This was needed given the heightened tensions of the opening phase of the Cold War, including late-stage Stalinism and the Korean conflict, which was drawing away US attention from Europe.

Despite all the issues with the unbalancedness, the French got the rest of the Six (West Germany, Italy and the Benelux trio) to get into negotiations, with a treaty being signed in May 1952.

Already, it was clear at this point that the fourth French Republic was a bit of a wobbler on this (and much else), but ratification pressed on and, within a year, five of the six had ratified...

... all except for France!

Not to lay this solely on French domestic politics, it is worth noting that the context had changed in the interim: Stalin has died, Korea was out of its hot phase and much of the pressure was off pressing German rearmament, which the French had not ever been keen on.

By 1954, pressure was growing on France to make a decision about all this.

In the end, in August that year, the Assemblée nationale decided to not decide, by postponing indefinitely a debate on ratification.

This basically killed the EDC treaty, albeit by indirect means.

The five? They had to bin their work and start on alternative arrangements (ahem), which ultimately resulted in the Western European Union (WEU).

The moral is that this was the last time that European governments didn’t put a bunch of time into thinking about the ratification of treaties, particularly the sequencing thereof.

Typically, in EU-related amendments and in the 2004 round of accession, this has meant that the more certain approvals take place first, to create more momentum, to help through the less certain ones.

That does not always work, as most clearly seen in the 2005 votes in France and the Netherlands on the Constitutional Treaty, but it is a model of doing things.

To pull this back to Brexit (because it is about Brexit!), the EDC experience has been reflected in the unwillingness of the EU to do its arm of ratification until the UK is done.

Here, the flakiness is like that of the French — evident early on and critical to the success of the venture. No France, no EDC: No UK, no Withdrawal Agreement.

In the 1950s, the benefit of the doubt was given (not least because other projects were proceeding well). This time, it is not.

In summary, something something forgetting your history something something doomed to repeat it something something.🔷

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(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article, with the author’s consent, with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.)

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Professor at the University of Surrey. All aspects of Brexit and EU-UK relations, plus some learning and teaching.

Guildford, UK. Articles in PMP Magazine Website