The History of the European Union: Origins of a Trans- and Supranational Polity 1950-72

By Wolfram Kaiser; Brigitte Leucht et al. | Go to book overview

11   The European Commission
and the rise of Coreper
A controlled experiment

N. Piers Ludlow

In late April 1965 the six permanent representatives of the founding member-states of the European Economic Community (EEC) gathered in Brussels to hear a serious complaint from one of their number, Jean-Marc Boegner, about the behaviour of the European Commission. The French government, Boegner explained, was growing ever unhappier with the work of the Press and Information Service of the European Communities. In the most serious of a number of recent abuses of its power, the Commission Service had assisted an American academic, Professor Daniel Lerner, to circulate to around one thousand Europeans of note, a questionnaire, which invited participants to give their opinions of the policies of Charles de Gaulle, the French President. This was not appropriate behaviour for a Community institution. Boegner had thus written to Walter Hallstein, the President of the European Commission, raising this issue but had yet to receive a reply. The French government had therefore decided to demonstrate its disapproval by cancelling the planned visit to Brussels of its representative on the ‘Information’ working group, with the result that the scheduled April 28 meeting of this committee would not go ahead.1

A little over a week later, Boegner himself visited Hallstein, to remonstrate further and to broaden the list of complaints to include the invitation to visit Brussels which the Press and Information Service had issued to a delegation of members of the French Conseil d’Etat. Such invitations, the permanent representative asserted, should only be transmitted via the Permanent Representation so that the French foreign ministry could remain aware of which Frenchmen were visiting the Community institutions. And once more French displeasure was not limited to verbal complaints. Boegner also informed the Commission President that the Conseil d’Etat delegation would not be visiting Belgium at all.2

While Lise Rye demonstrates in her chapter in this book that member-state influence over the Commission’s incipient information activities remained limited, both of these incidents could be regarded merely as preliminary skirmishes between France and the European Commission in the months that preceded the outbreak of the ‘empty chair crisis’. By early July 1965 indeed with a French boycott of most Community meetings underway and rumours circulating around Europe about De Gaulle’s intention of seeking a radical alteration of the whole Community system and a drastic reduction in the European Commission’s prerogatives,

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