Yet unbelievably just a decade later she was fighting bitterly to keep Britain out of Europe, fearing London might threaten French dominance of the fledgling EEC and even demand a re-write of the entirely self-serving Common Agricultural Policy.
The horrors of the Second World War – Hitler’s death camps, the fall of Paris, D-Day, and the ultimate liberation of France by Great Britain and the US – were not yet history. They were still real, visceral scars on a divided continent
The Nazi Holocaust loomed large in the consciousness of every European who survived the most vile war mankind had yet devised.
And yet, almost unfathomably, just a handful of years after Adolf Hitler doused himself in petrol in a Berlin bunker, France was back in bed with Germany, drawing up trade agreements which would become the EEC (later the EU).
She was simultaneously desperately working behind the scenes to keep Britain OUT OF a European economic block which the French wanted to totally dominate.
Britain had bankrupted herself to save the French from German invasion, taking on loans from the US which would take lifetimes to pay back.
Germany had invaded France TWICE in a quarter of a century, sparking two world wars – in 1914 and 1939 – in the process, and leaving two million French dead.
Britain would have seemed to many to be a better bet for an economic and political partner.
But French President Charles de Gaulle disagreed.
The French president was fiercely opposed to British involvement in Europe and any attempts to open negotiations, especially by pro-Europe Tory MP Edward Heath were met with stonewalling and time-wasting.
On October 10 1961 Heath said the British Government had accepted the terms of the Treaty of Rome – the founding document of the EU expecting to be welcomed into the arms of Europe.
However de Gaulle was desperate to keep Britain out because the details of the Common Agricultural Policy were still being hammered out and he wanted the CAP to serve French interests.
In his book ‘Edward Heath’ writer Philip Ziegler said: “If Britain had become a member in mid-1961 it would have been in time to participate in the formulation of the Common Agricultural Policy instead of being confronted with a system largely devised to meet the needs of French farmers.”
He added the French approached talks with “cool hostility” and insisted on thrashing out every trade detail on every individual commodity from bananas to kangaroo meat so as to drag out negotiations indefinitely and said: “The French rejoiced in this sluggish progress. It was their object to spin matters out so as to ensure that the CAP would be operational before matters cam to an end.”
According to Heath’s own memoirs he told prime minister Harold Macmillan: “There was a genuine fear on de Gaulle’s part of admitting Britain as a kind of Trojan Horse which would either disrupt the present system or prevent French domination.”
UK diplomat Michael Butler was convinced de Gaulle simply wanted to rule Europe and said: “He was determined to keep us out because he feared the UK would gang up with Holland and Germany to create a Europe which was both too federal and too closely linked to the United States.”
And in January 1963 de Gaulle held an emergency press conference which he stated Britain was “socially, economically, and politically unsuitable to be a member of the European Community.”
It was only after de Gaulle’s death in 1969 that Britain’s accession to the EEC became possible and the nation joined in 1973.