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9-08-2015, 22:36


The post-war history of France is full of contradictions. To outward appearances the Fourth Republic was plagued by a degree of political instability that promised to repeat the weaknesses and follies of the Third, which had ended with Vichy’s disgrace. The individualistic French, divided on so many issues and by so many parties and groupings, seemed ill-suited to a parliamentary democracy. De Gaulle certainly believed this when he withdrew from government in January 1946 and then, a little less than a year later in 1947, launched his movement grandly called the Rassemblement du Peuple Français, offering his leadership above party in place of the squabbling, weak politicians who by their jostling for power were reducing the National Assembly to ridicule. But the constitution of the Fourth Republic had vested power in the National Assembly rather than in the president and the executive. De Gaulle had to wait in the wings for eleven years. The spectacle of twenty-two governments from December 1946 to May 1958, the shortest lasting four days and the longest a little over a year, seemed to justify the behaviour of those groups who treated parliamentary democracy with scorn. The French Communist Party, which still looked to Stalin’s Russia for guidance and was excluded from any share in responsible government after May 1947, attacked each government successively, and felt no sense of commitment to the institutions of the Republic. Its domination of the trade unions through the communist-led Confédération Général du Travail (CGT), whose membership was larger than that of the MRP– Catholic Union and the Socialist Union (Force Ouvrière 1947) combined, enabled it to harass the governments of the Fourth Republic. During the years of acute inflation and shortages (1945–8), when wholesale prices tripled but wages lagged behind, there was plenty to fuel discontent. Split ideologically and frequently calling strikes that were politically motivated, organised labour was limited in the constructive role it could play to help reform and modernise the economy. French working people did not feel that their standard of living had significantly improved during the twelve years of the Fourth Republic or that disparities of wealth had decreased. Apart from a short period of comparative price stability from 1952 to 1955, inflation had become endemic. The difficult conditions of working people’s lives help to explain why, despite the Cold War, the French Communist Party was able to retain the electoral support of one in every four voters, polling the largest percentage of the votes in every election from November 1946 to January 1956. But its split with the fiercely anti-communist socialists deprived the left of a commanding parliamentary role. Support for the socialists was not as strong as that for the communists and fell away from the end-of-war peak of 23 per cent to 15 per cent in 1956. The Fourth Republic was also threatened by the re-emergence and recovery of the right and by the tactics of de Gaulle, who had re-entered active politics in 1947. Those on the right, discontented with the workings of the Fourth Republic, from de Gaulle’s Rassemblement to various conservative groupings, polled 26 per cent in 1951, and later with the popular Poujadists in the 1956 elections gained 32 per cent. Thus coalition governments were threatened by the prospect of disagreement among the partners. If we add to this political instability the conservative structure of the greater part of French industry, dominated by small enterprises and widely dispersed – in 1956 there were still 499,000 industrial plants, each employing an average of eleven workers – a backward agriculture, much of it split into uneconomic small farms, as well as a much higher rate of inflation than that of its industrial rivals, the total picture is bleak. Armed resistance to the threatened loss of empire after 1945 greatly increased France’s burdens in the first difficult post-war decade. De Gaulle was not the first French leader to attempt to compensate for the humiliation of defeat by reasserting France’s grandeur overseas. Even the French communist leader Maurice Thorez supported the French army against the communist Vietnamese independence movement, declaring that he ‘did not intend to liquidate the French position in Indo-China’. Their unsuccessful war in Indo-China, from its start in December 1946 until the armistice agreed in Geneva in July 1954, debilitated the French, costing them more than they had received in Marshall Aid; 10 per cent of the national budget had been swallowed up by it and 75,000 officers and men had lost their lives. Meanwhile, in North Africa, the French were facing serious conflict in their protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco. Here, too, they had refused to bow to nationalist demands until terrorism and resistance wore down their will to maintain their rule. Independence was granted to Morocco and Tunisia in 1956. The withdrawals from these two North African countries had another cause. A French presence there was regarded as secondary to continued French rule in Algeria: for Algeria was not a protectorate, it was ‘France’. The savage conflict, which began in 1954 and was to last for eight years, finally broke the Fourth Republic and brought back de Gaulle. In the summer of 1958 France came close to civil strife and the politicians, in despair, gave way to de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic. This catalogue of disasters and burdens is, however, only one side of the history of the Fourth Republic. Behind the unstable political façade, the Fourth Republic inaugurated an industrial revolution by a remarkable combination of state encouragement, central planning and private enterprise. From 1944 to 1947 the state had acquired considerable economic power, having brought into public ownership and control the Renault motor works, Air France, the Bank of France and the larger private banks, insurance, gas, electricity and the coal-mining industry. Although the departure of the communists from government and the decline of the socialists halted the expansion of state ownership, there was no denationalisation, and what had been nationalised was vigorously developed. The results of the modernisation of agriculture were patchy and less spectacular; nevertheless over a decade and a half some real progress was achieved. The new concept of modernisation was typified by Jean Monnet, one of France’s most distinguished public servants. Monnet had persuaded de Gaulle after the war to allow him to organise a group of experts to prepare a plan for the recovery and modernisation of France. The first Five-Year Plan was approved in January 1947. It placed Monnet at the head of a small secretariat in the modest offices of the Commissariat du Plan de Modernisation et d’Équipment, charged with promoting the realisation of its objectives. The Plan indicated growth targets for specific sectors of the economy; modernisation commissions were set up for each sector at which the details of how this growth could be achieved were worked out with industrialists, civil servants and the unions, with the assistance of members of Monnet’s secretariat. Monnet’s Plan bears little resemblance to Soviet five-year plans, with their detailed targets and directives. In place of the stifling bureaucracy and rigid, inefficient central planning of the USSR, cajolery, incentives and more subtle means of persuasion were employed. This method of proceeding was greatly aided by a closely knit French establishment. A peculiarity of the French establishment was the interrelationship of government, regional administration, senior civil servants, politicians, industrial management and higher education. The French leadership was recruited from elitist educational establishments. Young men would be selected on academic merit for entry to the École Polytechnique or the École Nationale d’Administration, and then recruited into one of the Grands Corps, where the career ladder reaches to the top posts in the ministries or the prefectoral administration. This elitist group of graduates also runs the state industries and is to be found in the private sector too. The close oldboy network gets things done and counterbalances the rigid administrative divisions of the state. The expertise developed by groups of brilliant technocrats in engineering, in administration and in business skills, together with their dedication to the state, which rewarded them handsomely with high salaries, created a powerful elite that, in the unstable political conditions of the Fourth Republic, spearheaded the drive for modernisation in industry and agriculture. Such a high degree of institutionalised elitism has its weaknesses and its dangers too. It is fundamentally undemocratic. It is possible for those of poor background through sheer talent to enter one of the Écoles, but it is very much easier for the children of the better-off Parisian families who can afford the best education in preparation for the competitive entrance examinations. Of course, France is not unique in this respect. The system tends to stifle talent and initiative lower down; it also encourages patronage and allows excessive influence to a small number. On the other hand, it has provided France with an able corps of innovators and administrators in key positions, and so counteracted the disruptive political and industrial conflicts that plagued the Fourth Republic. Monnet’s First Plan (1947–1952/4) concentrated on key sectors fundamental to a general modernisation programme: coal, electricity, steel, cement, the mechanisation of agriculture, fertilisers and transportation. But the most immediate needs of the workers for better housing and consumer goods were largely sacrificed, with the exception of food, to provide for a better future. Nor were financial controls exerted, so the currency rapidly lost value which, in turn, created industrial instability for most of the years of the Fourth Republic. All efforts were directed to improving the productivity of industry and agriculture. The result was not an overall advance across the board, but the creation of some modern, efficient and technologically progressive industries and farms alongside the small, backward nineteenth-century enterprises and peasant holdings. It was too much to expect the First and Second Plans (1947–57) to transform the whole French economy; much of agriculture remained backward and traditional attitudes prevailed throughout France. Indeed, the difficulties facing modernisers in France were great. There was no large increase in the labour force, as there was in West Germany. The waging of colonial wars, an inefficient system of indirect taxation and high inflation were all serious handicaps. But during these hard times, which largely contributed to the return of de Gaulle in 1958, the foundations were laid for the expansion of the 1960s and later. The modernising of key sectors enabled France to compete successfully with West Germany. They also provided 2 million more jobs, compared with before the war, and productivity significantly increased. From 1947 until the early 1960s, successive plans had an important influence. As they became more sophisticated after 1966 so French administrations also became less interventionist. Plans had to be ‘adapted’ in any case to reflect economic realities such as the unexpected oil shocks of the 1970s. But for the majority of French workers and small farmers the gradual transformation of France, with islands of highly advanced technology, did not mean rising standards of living in accordance with their expectations. France continued to be a divided society of great inequalities between the rich and the poor, between the privileged technocrats of the École Polytechnique and small businessmen and traditional peasant farmers who vented their frustrations in supporting populist movements. It was a curious paradox of the Fourth Republic that so much solid progress in changing the fundamental economic and industrial structure of France could be taking place in parallel with the political and social strife reminiscent of the 1930s and the Third Republic. Proportional representation and the French electoral system permitted a multiplicity of parties. The so-called ‘Third Force’, standing between Gaullism and communism, played musical chairs in successive government coalitions, the exclusion of communists and Gaullists from government being the one point of agreement among the other parties from left to right. From 1947 to 1951 coalitions were built around three parties; the Mouvement Républicain Populaire (MRP), the Socialists and the Radicals. At the election of 1951, the Conservatives and Gaullists increased their strength and the MRP was weakened, but the Socialists decided to leave the government and return to opposition in a bid to rebuild their support. From 1951 to 1954 governments were based on centre–right coalitions. From 1954 to 1958 the Socialists once more returned to government in coalitions with the centre. On specific policy issues the coalition parties held strongly opposing views, and there were endless rounds of compromise, accommodation, rupture, and back to compromise. The MRP, that is to say the French Christian Democrats, managed to remain partners in all these coalition governments. It was not a narrowly Catholic party, though it reconciled its majority of Catholic supporters to the Republic. It inclined to the Conservatives in believing in a market economy and private property, but was progressive in seeking to overcome traditional industrial conflict by collaboration between employer and employee. On issues of social and welfare policies it sided with the Socialists, but differed from them and the Radicals in seeking to retain independent Catholic education with state aid. But on policies relating to Western European cooperation, generally favoured by the MRP and the Socialists, they were aligned against the conservative right. The parties in the National Assembly were prepared to make compromises only on a short-term basis. The instability that so discredited the Fourth Republic was an inevitable outcome. Nonetheless, there was greater continuity than might at first be supposed, since a number of able ministers, for instance the Socialist Jules Moch, was appointed to several of the governments. The Foreign Ministry remained from 1944 to 1954 in the hands of the MRP, alternately in the charge of Georges Bidault and Robert Schuman. Against the disasters of the colonial wars have to be set the success of the Fourth Republic’s West European policies, and the conciliation and practical cooperation of France and the Benelux countries with their former enemies, the Federal Republic of Germany and Italy. During the years of the Fourth Republic, the Christian Social Democratic leaders of West Germany, Italy and France, Adenauer, de Gasperi and Schuman, laid the foundations for the new economic and political relations of the principal Western Europe nations, which proved so powerful a force in promoting their mutual economic growth and prosperity, and settled their historic and territorial enmities. The French recognised that the imbalance in Europe had only been temporarily solved by Germany’s defeat. German vitality would lead, so the French feared, to a resurgence of power and a renewed threat of aggression. De Gaulle at first followed past traditions in maintaining the ‘French thesis’ that even after the East–West division of Germany, West Germany would need to be curbed further and permanently. In the wider European context he saw the continued need for an Eastern link with Russia. In the treatment of occupied Germany the French stubbornly resisted the Anglo-American efforts to bring the Western occupation zones together and to centralise their administration. What is more, the French demanded the economic detachment of the Ruhr and the Saar from West Germany, and some form of internationalisation of the industrial Ruhr. The Cold War, and the resulting American and British military presence on the continent of Europe, shattered de Gaulle’s vision, shared for a time by many French ministers after his withdrawal in 1946, that France could be the dominant continental West European state, acting as arbiter between East and West. Instead, the French risked total isolation. They therefore went along with Anglo-American plans put forward at the London Conference in 1948 on the future of Germany. A West German state would be created with a federal constitution; safeguards would remain, especially Allied supervision of heavy industry, coal, iron and steel in the industrial Ruhr complex. But the US and Britain, for whom the occupation was proving a costly strain, were determined to help West Germany to recover economically and to stabilise it politically and socially. With the continued threat from the Soviet Union, a chaotic and dissatisfied West Germany could be dangerous. The French accepted the need for change. In September 1949 the federal West German state came into being, its government, however, still subject to some Allied supervision and controls. The occupation of the French zone came to an end. France would have to find a new way of living with its powerful neighbour. France’s foreign policy adjusted to the changed international conditions of the Cold War and the revival of West Germany with difficulty and only after fierce debates in the National Assembly, which had to ratify the treaties embodying the shift in France’s position. In 1949 France agreed to become a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, but the spectre of Germany was what most concerned the French. Would Germany be built up militarily by the Americans and also become a member of NATO, eventually overshadowing France? Despite Schuman’s robust rejection of such a possibility ‘even in the future’, and his insistence that Germany would remain disarmed, others saw the writing on the wall. The debates in the National Assembly show how far France was from reconciliation with Germany. There was also another current at work, the call for a federation of Europe – a cause strongly espoused by Winston Churchill. The ideal of a united Europe was appealing, especially to a younger generation seeking an escape from the recent past. The high point of the European movement was reached at The Hague Congress in May 1948, but practical results were few. In May 1949 ten West European governments agreed to set up the Council of Europe, the purpose of which was to achieve a greater unity between its members. There was to be no pooling of sovereignty, however. The Council’s work was largely confined in the 1950s to cultural spheres. The signature of a Convention of Human Rights in 1950 was nevertheless a notable and lasting achievement. The European movement had come to a dead end by then, as far as the political integration of Western Europe was concerned. Neither France nor Britain, nor any of the other members, was ready for a real United States of Europe. But the public support generated for the idea of Europe played a part in preparing the way for the more hard-headed approach of piecemeal economic integration followed in the 1950s. For France the fundamental problem of the overwhelming strength of Germany, even a divided Germany, remained to be faced. The outbreak of the Korean War and the likely continuation of the Cold War made it obvious that the Americans and the British would insist on West German recovery. Wartime policies pursuing the demilitarisation and industrial dismantling of West Germany were ended, and the French came under great pressure from Washington to permit West German rearmament and a German contribution to defence. France had to make the best of it: it could not be defended without the alliance of Britain and the US. The French prime minister, René Pleven, therefore took the initiative in October 1950 to call for a European army subject to a European Defence Community (EDC), which would avoid the danger of creating a separate West German army. Under the Pleven Plan, German combat units would be kept small and thus incapable of independent action. In May 1952 the Occupation Statute was repealed and the Federal Republic of Germany took a further step towards the restoration of full sovereignty; simultaneously the European Defence Community Treaty was concluded between France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg). Britain was not a member. The Anglo-Saxon separation from continental Europe had, from the first, worried the French as they faced a resurgent Germany, for memories of Britain’s lack of support in the inter-war years were still fresh. To reassure the French, the British Conservative government concluded a mutual defence treaty with the EDC. The French had, however, to concede that the national army units would be 12,000–13,000 men strong, rather than the 1,000–2,000 they had envisaged, and that West Germany would contribute half a million men. The signature of the treaty was not enough to secure its adoption. It had to be ratified by the signatories’ national parliaments as well, including the French National Assembly. No issue since the Dreyfus case divided France more deeply than the EDC and its consequential endorsement of German rearmament. Successive French governments, uncertain of ratification, procrastinated until in August 1954 the National Assembly, when the treaty was finally submitted, rejected it. The opponents of EDC initially refused to see that France could not veto the creation of a new German army in the long run since the other West European nations and the US were insisting that the Federal Republic be accepted as a full ally. By December of the same year, enough members of the National Assembly had shifted their views for the restoration of sovereignty to the Federal Republic and its membership of NATO to be accepted. Policy had thus run full circle, from Pleven’s attempt to create a European army that would have avoided a new German national force, to an acceptance of German rearmament and the creation of the Bundeswehr. Pleven’s plan to counterbalance German strength by playing the card of ‘European integration’ had been aborted at the military level. German industrial power had been closely linked with German aggression – for example, the alliance of the Krupps with the Hohenzollerns before 1914 and with Hitler after 1933. European integration could break these links. Accordingly the French developed dynamic European policies that were to change the economic and political face of Western Europe. But what form should European integration take? By 1950 it was clear that the hopes for a ‘federalist’ solution to create a United States of Europe, by which a member state’s interests would be subordinated to a federal European government, were not going to be realised. The Council of Europe could not be developed further along integrationist lines, but there was another way. Prussia’s Zollverein in the nineteenth century had shown how common economic interests could bind states together; the way to proceed was not at the top, at national level, but rather ‘functionally’, where collaboration could be shown to benefit all concerned. Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg had shown the way. During the war they had agreed to form a customs union, which came into operation in 1948. The Belgian statesman, Paul Henri Spaak, was an ardent Europeanist; he had been elected to the presidency of the Council of Europe and was later to play an important role in the creation of the Common Market. The Americans also sought to further West European integration. Marshall Aid had been offered on condition that the Europeans themselves should cooperate and work out a coordinated plan for reconstruction. This led to the setting up of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) in April 1948. The carrot of US aid spurred sixteen Western European nations (in October 1949 the Federal Republic of Germany joined and, also in 1949, Spain) to agree on how to share the aid. The Council of the OEEC was composed of representatives of the member states, but it could not impose its decisions on individual nations. It was not a supranational body, but its expert committees developed the practice of discussing economic cooperation. Their most important and difficult task was to agree on the division of dollars, which the US was making available. European integration policies became, as far as their leading proponents were concerned, a question not just of idealism but also of hard-headed realism. For the French a comprehensive arrangement with the German iron, coal and steel complexes made good economic sense in safe-guarding French heavy industry; at the same time supranational control would remove any possibility of undetected or uncontrolled German rearmament. French determination to secure access to the coal mines of the Saar, without the bad blood a separation of the Saar from West Germany would cause, was an additional incentive. The outcome of all these considerations was the famous plan proposed in May 1950 by the foreign minister, Robert Schuman. The Schuman Plan, largely Jean Monnet’s brain-child, put forward the bold scheme of pooling French and German production of coal, iron and steel – it would be open to other West European countries to join if they wished. A crucial aspect of the Plan was the setting up of a supranational ‘high authority’ that would make decisions not on a national level, but in the overall interests of the integrated industries. Adenauer saw the advantages of the Plan and promptly accepted it. West Germany would be treated as an equal, and the European solution allowed relationships of trust to be re-established that would facilitate the recovery of full sovereignty for the Federal Republic. This was finally attained only five years later in May 1955. The European Coal and Steel Community played the key role in taking its six West European member states (France, West Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries) forward at last along the road of economic and political coordination. By this means the ‘German problem’ became manageable, and, more than that, West European economic cooperation made all of the participating states rapidly more prosperous. The success of the original ECSC was due, in the first place, to the fact that its aims were strictly limited. As with the Monnet Plan for French modernisation, a practical start had been made in just one crucial sector of industry; the creation from the start of a comprehensive European political and economic union was recognised as impossible. Second, institutions were created which down-graded national sovereignty – an important reason why Britain would not join – and transferred decision-making to the supranational High Authority. Working with it were a Council of Ministers, a Common Assembly and a Court of Justice. Thus an embryonic European executive, Parliament and Court were set up, which worked with government representatives in the Council of Ministers – but most decisions did not require the separate consent of national governments. Jean Monnet was the choice for the first president of the ECSC. The ECSC overcame an early period of difficulty and haggling between rival national interests to prove in the mid-1950s the benefit to all the participants of having established a common market in coal and steel. Business interests in France and Germany, and the other four countries, now advocated extending the common market in coal and steel to the rest of their economies. Thus pressure was building up in a realistic way for more ambitious integration. This is not to underrate the continued enthusiasm for the idea of ‘Europe’. The European Movement, founded at The Hague in 1948, was still active and had won important adherents in the political world of the six nations. ‘Europe’ offered a road forward and away from the guilt-ridden past, especially for a new generation of young Germans; it also offered the best means of reconciliation after two destructive world wars. The foundation of such reconciliation rested on the new relationship developing between France and West Germany, carried forward by many political and social groups in both countries. Meetings organised between politicians, journalists, educators, Chambers of Commerce, town partnerships, cultural exchanges, school exchanges and textbook revisions to remove national bias are just some examples of this multifaceted effort to bring about a fundamental change of attitudes. It worked because it reflected a massive desire for change by millions of ordinary people. The ideas – inculcated through propaganda and schooling – that national patriotism automatically involves hostility to a neighbour, that national frontiers should be fought over so that one country may expand its territory at the expense of another, and that enmities between nations were a law of nature, have all vanished in Western Europe. A perceived common threat, from the Soviet Union, also led to alliances and military cooperation. But the collaboration of Western Europe encompasses more than the kind of alliances that have been formed for common purposes throughout modern history. That such a fundamental change in national relations can be brought about in a region of the world that was torn with strife is a momentous achievement in the history of the twentieth century. The three Benelux foreign ministers – the Dutchman Johan Beyen, the Belgian Paul Henri Spaak and Joseph Bech of Luxembourg – took the initiative in the spring of 1955 at governmental level to provide new momentum for European integration: an example of statesmen of small nations who have exerted a disproportionate influence. Their proposal for a large extension of economic collaboration received the backing of the European Coal and Steel Community. The failure of military integration after the French rejection of the European Defence Community the previous year had been seen as a setback but not as an end to integration in other spheres. In May and June 1955 the foreign ministers of the Six met in Messina, Sicily. Their agreements paved the way for further intergovernmental conferences and negotiations which took place during the following two years. Britain was not excluded, but its cooperation was half-hearted and it withdrew without making a serious effort to overcome the problems of its association. The Six had difficult problems to iron out and did not wish to be impeded by Britain, though they were able to resolve their differences far more speedily than the British had expected. They signed the treaty setting up the European Economic Community (and Euratom) in Rome in March 1957; these treaties were ratified in the succeeding months of that year. The majority of the French Assembly in July voted for European collaboration and thus dispelled the fears that the spectre of defeat aroused by the EDC failure would be repeated. That same month, the Bundesrat in West Germany completed the process of German ratification. The treaties entered into force on 1 January 1958. All the members of the European Economic Community had had to make concessions and compromises. Obstacles to trade between the Six were to be removed eventually. Those of most immediate importance were the duties levied on industrial goods in order to protect the importing country’s home industry. The French and Italians especially feared competition from the more efficient West Germans. A transitional period of twelve to fifteen years was therefore agreed, though in the event the abolition of duties was speeded up and completed by July 1968. Free trade required many other aspects of economic management to be harmonised as well, and complex arrangements were agreed over the years: for example, common rules of competition, free movement of workers, of capital and of services, harmonisation of taxation and of quality standards, and a system of managing currency exchange rates. An essential feature of the EEC, beyond the removal of internal barriers of trade between the Six, was the erection of a common tariff, which non-member states had to pay when exporting industrial and agricultural goods to the Common Market. This provided protection where it was most needed by the Six. Together with payments from its members it provided the funds of the common budget of the EEC that could be used to support economic and educational activities within the Six and to pay for the administration of the Common Market. But it also led to much tension with the US, whose agricultural exports particularly were discriminated against. The most controversial aspect of the Community has proved to be the support given to farmers by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Intervention prices are fixed annually by the Council of Ministers for each kind of agricultural produce and the farmers are guaranteed these prices. What they cannot sell in the Common Market, that is the surpluses, are bought by the Community; exports to non- Community members are subsidised so that the farmer secures the intervention price. The farm costs are met by the EEC budget, which has had to devote to them the greater part of its funds. The CAP benefits the countries with most farmers – France, Eire and Denmark – and is unfavourable to countries such as Britain, a member since 1973, which import food, because world prices frequently are below those fixed by the Common Market to support its farmers. If not corrected by other mechanisms, this would result in Britain and Germany paying disproportionate contributions to the common budget. A second undesirable feature is the high prices that have to be paid by the consumers of the member countries, and the stimulus to agricultural production that was to lead to costly cereal, meat and butter mountains maintained by the EEC as it bought up what could not be sold at the set prices. The funds required by the CAP became larger as each year passed, but member governments found it difficult to deny their farmers, who form an important political constituency. Not until the later 1980s was any serious reform attempted. The subsidies were devastatingly harmful to Third World farmers denied cheaper exports. As France braced itself for the full impact of German industrial competition in its markets, its politicians could boast that they had secured benefits for the large agricultural sector. But the Common Market proved an immediate success, greatly surpassing the hopes of those who had negotiated its establishment. French industry was stimulated by competition and by the new export opportunities. Industrial production between 1958 and 1962, far from declining, grew by almost a quarter; the West Germans did even better, increasing industrial production by more than a third. West Germany’s and France’s trade with the rest of the Six doubled and trade between France and West Germany tripled in the same period. The continued economic success of the Common Market won it the support of the peoples of the Six as they gained in prosperity from economic collaboration, but hopes that it would lead to closer political union were frustrated, especially after the return of General de Gaulle in 1958. The Commission is the body that runs the EEC, two commissioners being appointed by each of the member states. In practice, on important issues it can only put forward plans and proposals. Decisions are reached by the Council of Ministers, which represents the viewpoints of national governments. Here again, escape clauses allow individual countries to opt out of joint decisions if they believe their vital interests to be affected; what is more, it later turned out that individual countries could exercise a veto. Even so, the degree of integration actually achieved went much further than Britain and its European Free Trade Area partners were at that time willing to accept. The European Parliament of the Six was also given only limited supervisory powers. The most important controlling body to emerge was, therefore, the Council of Ministers. That has remained the case to the present day. Two of the most important achievements of the Fourth Republic were the French contribution to the creation of the European Common Market and Franco-German reconciliation. Yet, little more than a year after the signature of the Treaty of Rome, the Fourth Republic came to an ignominious end as General de Gaulle returned to power on his own terms. The general had no time for Monnet’s visions of supranationalism. The European institutions were not to be permitted to override national decision-making; they were, in de Gaulle’s view, to act as no more than forums where national differences could be discussed and negotiated. By 1958 the majority of French people perceived that the rivalries of the political parties in the National Assembly had made active government on many of the crucial problems facing France virtually impossible. The achievements – the Common Market, reconciliation with West Germany, security through NATO – were easily overlooked as their benefits became apparent only later. It was de Gaulle who was to be credited with the rising prosperity and modernisation of France. High inflation from 1947 to 1951, when retail prices more than doubled, followed by three years of greater stability (1953 to 1955) and a resumption of inflation proved very unsettling, even though wages and salaries kept abreast. The harsh economic measures introduced in the autumn of 1957, higher taxes and devaluation to reduce inflation, once again hit the pockets of French families. Constant strikes, some for the most trivial reasons, were one symptom of the discontent and general malaise. But the final blow was the government’s inability to deal with the crisis in Algeria, where a military takeover raised a near panic in Paris at the prospect that the whole country might fall victim to a military dictatorship.