The promotion of EEC membership

The promotion of EEC membership

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Greek junta, the European Economic Community (EEC) was considered the only forum in which Greece could regain its self-confidence and support the democratization process on which it had embarked. Despite the fundamental role of Washington, DC in the national security of Greece, the inner circle of Konstantinos Karamanlis reached a clear conclusion: Greece should reduce its excessive dependence on the United States and develop multilateral diplomatic relations, without putting in doubt the post-war foreign policy of “we belong in the West.” This new multilateral approach included policies (for example, in the Balkans) that would be unthinkable for Greek conservatives prior to 1974. However, accession to the EEC seemed to offer the most sustainable solution to Greece’s problems and working toward full membership became the priority of the government agenda. Europe offered Greece an alternative model of democratic growth, immune to the actual and supposed sins of the US.

Issues of geopolitics and economics

The unexpected submission of the Greek application for membership, on June 12, 1975, made waves in the EEC, causing a series of economic, institutional and political problems. The government in Athens could not have chosen a worse time to submit its application. The 1973 oil crisis, which had plunged the industrial West into recession, was straining the communal model of Europe. Several community policies had suffered setbacks and the member-states were wary of a new expansion, a mere two years after the previous one and while Britain was renegotiating its membership.

The situation was exacerbated even more by the geopolitical aspect that was not a feature in the first expansion. Suddenly, the question of security came to the fore, when Greece decided to withdraw from the military structure of NATO in August 14, 1974, in the wake of the second Turkish invasion of Cyprus. The simultaneous fall of the other two Southern European dictatorships, in Portugal and Spain, along with the political and economical upheaval wracking Italy during this period, amplified fears of a potential destabilization of the cohesion of the Western structure of alliances in Southern Europe. Even worse, a potential admittance of Greece would unavoidably mean that the Community was in danger of finding itself in the midst of the Greco-Turkish conflict, disrupting its efforts to keep an equal distance from both sides. The Community was aware that Turkey was not only an important member of NATO, but also an associate member of the EEC.

French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing was a warm supporter of Greece’s induction into the EEC. [AP]

Alongside the geopolitical concerns, there was unease in Brussels about the economic side of the application. The economy of Greece and its public administration would test the institutions of the Community even further. If the Greek state wanted to be admitted into the EEC, it would have to undergo important institutional changes, and the Community would have to bear the economic brunt of achieving these goals by transferring funds to Greece. The crucial issue is that Greece was never examined individually, but as a precursor of the other two emerging Southern European democracies. A “yes” to Greece by the Community would make it very hard to say “no” to Spain and Portugal. The prospect of a Mediterranean expansion, in turn, would create unwelcome competition and further strain the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Above all else, it would force the Community to completely reform the CAP to reassure Italy and France over worries of competition with Greece, and mainly Spain, in the Mediterranean agricultural production.

Unanimous rejection of the Commission’s recommendation

The argumentation by the Community and the Greek side was familiar to the European Commission, which on the one hand agreed that it was imperative that Greeks were not discouraged during the unstable democratization reforms they had undertaken, but, as the depository of the treaties, it considered its duty was to point out the challenges that a potential accession of Greece would have on the institutional and political development of the EEC. Additionally, the Commission assumed that Greece, as one Commission official put it, “was enthused by the possibly excessive, positive reaction to its admittance by the higher echelons of the member-states’ governments,” and did not realize the need for a preliminary period of financial aid that would allow it to move past its structural weaknesses and facilitate the adoption of the Community’s mechanisms and policies.

The opinion of the Commission, submitted to the Ministerial Council of January 28, 1976, was considered a lukewarm statement, that on the one hand fully recognized the democratic obligation to accept Greece’s entry application, but, on the other, attempted to counterbalance the concerns over the success and consequences of Greek membership. The proposal for a positive response to Greece, but with a 10-year preliminary period, was an answer to these contradictory worries.

In an unprecedented move in the history of expansions and following the furious reaction of Athens and the intense backroom maneuvering by the “9,” the Council ignored the proposal of the Commission and unanimously rejected its opinion a mere two weeks after it was submitted. The membership negotiations would take place without provisions for a preliminary “antechamber.” There was no doubt that the Greek application concerned an economically and politically fragile country whose potential induction in the Community would bring the latter closer to the Greco-Turkish conflict in an era where a pattern of European economic stagnation was apparent. Despite everything, these concerns gave way to an irresistible need to find a new international purpose for the EEC, through the granting of aid to the newly established Greek democracy with the ultimate goal of stabilizing the country in the framework of Western institutions, pre-empting potential developments in neighboring Spain, Portugal and Italy, in the fragile geopolitical atmosphere of Southern Europe.

A strategy emphasizing speed

Francois-Xavier Ortoli (left), president of the Commission from 1973 to 1977, whose opinion called for a 10-year preliminary induction period for Greece.

The Greek line of argumentation persuaded the “9” to respond positively to Athens’ application for membership in the EEC. It did not guarantee, however, that this positive response would translate into acceptance for a speedy induction. A claim often put forward was that Karamanlis overcame these difficulties emphasizing speed (and by extension versatility) at the cost of particular Greek interests. There is some credence to this. The Greeks had carefully studied the process of the first (“northern”) expansion of the Community. They had noted that British intransigence in 1961-63 had created a stalemate that made rejecting London’s application easier, while in 1970-72 British versatility facilitated the desired result. Along with this earlier British experience, the prospect of a connection between the Greek application with those of the Iberian countries also affirmed the choice by Karamanlis to pursue a speedy resolution.

Speed was also necessitated by the expansion mechanisms of the Community. The “9” were after an induction doctrine that would primarily protect the interests of existing members instead of facilitating newer members in adapting to the community acquis. These practices of “take it or leave it” removed all but the slightest opportunity for versatility by states looking to successfully apply for membership. The inflexibility of the negotiation process and the asymmetric balance of power between the Community and any candidate state could only be addressed after the latter was inducted into the Community, when it was a full member capable of participating in the decision-making process. Characteristically, Margaret Thatcher confirmed this theory during a stalemate over the negotiations for Spanish membership, when she sarcastically told Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez that rather than fight for favorable accession terms, it made better sense to join the European club at the earliest possible opportunity, with a view to renegotiating those terms at a later date, from inside. The Greek government adopted a hard political stance, placing a constant stream of pressure on the members of the EEC, in parallel to a versatile approach to technical negotiations.

The accession of Greece to the EEC marks a milestone in the history of Community expansions for two reasons. Firstly, it confronted the “9” with a true challenge, as they had to deal with the different nature of the Greek application – from accepting a state with a stable democracy and economy to a recently democratized country with a far weaker economy. The second reason, which also has to do with the unstable conditions in the region of Southern Europe and rise of a system of global recession, is that this round of expansion was clearly planned with a Cold War mentality and calculations on the stability of Europe’s southern flank.

The facts

The Greek application for membership in the European Economic Community was submitted in June 1975. In early 1976, the European Commission, in its opinion, while accepting the application in principle, recommended there should be a 10-year preliminary period, meaning a postponement of Greek membership by 10 years. This recommendation was overturned by the Council of Ministers following intense diplomatic maneuvering by the Greek government.

Eirini Karamouzi is a lecturer in contemporary history at the University of Sheffield. Edited by Evanthis Hatzivassiliou.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.