British sovereignty and the EEC, 1971
Catalogue reference: PREM 15/381


EEC Debate: July 1971


Note by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

1. Entry into the European Communities would not of course affect the position of the Monarchy, nor would it in itself have any effect upon the constitutional position of the Crown in Parliament. There are 5 other monarchs among the members and applicants. There is no question of any of these giving up their sovereignty, nor of there being a Community head of state or even a Community State to be head of. The Community will be a Community of sovereign states.

2. The United Kingdom would continue to be a sovereign independent state just as present members of the European Community are. We would for example continue to participate in international organisations such as the United Nations, whose membership is open to sovereign states. By entering the Community the United Kingdom would be undertaking certain international obligations in the fields covered by the European Treaties. Like obligations in other Treaties which are binding upon the United Kingdom, these obligations would affect the United Kingdom's freedom of action, but only in the fields covered by the Treaties. These fields are limited to certain economic and commercial affairs and closely related matters; they do not include defence.

3. Some of the United Kindom's existing Treaties in economic and commercial matters would be inconsistent with obligations under the European Treaties. We therefore intend with the agreement of the other parties concerned to secure the termination of these agreements in so far as they conflict with our European Community obligations. Article 234 of the Treaty of Rome takes account of this situation. Outside the limited fields covered by the Community Treaties, our freedom to conclude Treaties with other states would not be affected by membership.

4. While it is true that the EEC and Euratom Treaties are concluded for an unlimited period and the ECSC Treaty for 50 years, in the last analysis (as the White Paper makes clear) the Community system rests on the original consent and on the continuing consent of member states and therefore of national Governments. Nothing in the Treaties requires the member states to change the procedures of their legislative bodies. Parliament will continue to exercise control over the actions of their Ministers and Ministers will be answerable to Parliament for the part they and their officials play in the formation of Government policy. In legislating Parliament would of course have to take account of Community obligations and refrain from enacting legislation contrary to these obligations, just as we already do in connection with other Treaties.

5. By far the greater part of our domestic law would be unaffected. Only certain provisions of Community law primarily regulations made by the Council and the Commission apply directly as law in each member state.

6. In the Community all major decisions are taken by the Council of Ministers, on which we should be represented. Although the European Treaties provide for majority voting on most matters, the member states recognise that it is not in practice possible to force another member state to act contrary to its vital national interests. As the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons after his meeting with President Pompidou......"The maintenance and strengthening of the fabric of co-operation in the Community requires that decisions should in practice be taken by unanimous agreement when vital national interests of any one or more members are at stake".


16 July 1971

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