Uneasy Allies: British-German Relations and European Integration since 1945

By Klaus Larres; Elizabeth Meehan | Go to book overview

Introduction: Uneasy Allies or Genuine
Partners? Britain, Germany,
and European Integration

KLAUS LARRES

Throughout the twentieth century British–German relations have been of fundamental importance in shaping the course of European and world history. Often those relations were strained and hostile, no more so than during the Second World War. Having conquered and then governed Germany as one of the four occupation powers between 1945 and 1949, Britain became the FRG’s formal ally when West Germany joined NATO in May 1955. However, it was only in the 1970s, when the UK was under great pressure from its increasing economic problems, that London began to view the British–German relationship as a partnership between equals. When Britain became a member of the then European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, the bilateral British–(West) German relationship gradually intensified. At the same time this relationship began to include an ever greater number of other partners and developed into a truly multinational framework. Although bilateral British– German relations before and after World War II had always been strongly influenced by third parties, with the increasing importance of the European integration factor this tendency intensified. Not least in view of the dramatic redistribution of world power status away from Europe since the end of the Second World War, it made increasingly less sense to focus on bilateral instead of multilateral relations. Moreover, throughout the entire post-1945 era neither London nor Bonn regarded their bilateral relationship as of prime importance; relations with the USA and France appeared to be much more crucial.

Thus, the publication of a book on the strictly bilateral relationship between Britain and Germany may be justified when dealing with the decades prior to 1945 and, perhaps to some degree, even with the 1950s and 1960s. However, when focusing on the years since then such a project no longer seems appropriate. And indeed, during the last few decades international historians and political scientists have recognized that the

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