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Whitehall & Britain's Accession to the EEC after 1973: Cultural Revolution or Business as Usual?

Thomas Raineau

This paper will deal with the consequences of the accession to the EEC on the central government of the United-Kingdom during the last phase of the accession negotiation and after 1973.It will show how the main structures and practices of Whitehall's "core executive" remained relatively unaffected by Britain's entry to the EEC in the first place, except for the Cabinet Office. We will examine, in the early 1970s, the last phase of the formalization and institutionalization of a permanent Cabinet Committee soon to be renamed "European Secretariat", where Britain's European policy would be fully coordinated from that period onwards. We will see to what extent the European Secretariat was the product of a typical Whitehall tradition of cross-departmental coordination, complemented with some continental elements borrowed from foreign precedents; an how it became an efficient instrument of compromise between conflicting ministries (Foreign Office, Treasury, Ministry of Agriculture and Department of Trade and Industry) under the growing authority of the Prime Minister over European affairs.This paper will also examine how the dynamics of domestic British politics affected the European machinery in Whitehall from the 1970s onwards at both collective/departmental and individual level for the senior officials in charge of European affairs, starting with the renegotiation and the referendum in the years 1974-1975 until the negotiation of the Single European Act in the mid-1980s. It will conclude that, despite an apparent continuity in the management of government business during the first decade of British membership, Britain's participation to the EEC produced some new trends in the management of the core executive that would develop in the 1980s: a growing centralization in the decision-making process and a new political clutch of European issues that tightened the control on top civil servants.

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