The European Union is perceived today as being a community of shared values based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. In other words, Human Rights play an essential role as the constitutional basis of the European Union itself. Human Rights are nowadays put at the front of the foreign policy of the Union as it is the ethical toll that, at least in theory, the EU demands to every third country willing to establish an institutional partnership with it. Human Rights are the core of the neighbourhood policy and furthermore of the external action as a whole. Most importantly of all, any candidate to accession must prove that such rights are assured in its country as defined in the Copenhagen criteria of 1993.
This status quo was institutionally born when the Treaty of Maastricht came into force in the early 90’s and the European Communities officially became a political entity, not only economic. However, these common values are supposed to have deeper roots than the mere post-Berlin Wall context: they are unanimously agreed to be the essence of the political reconstruction of Western and Northern Europe after World War II. And as such, they are commonly assumed as the basis of the whole European integration process. However, looking back to the origins of the European Communities in the 60’s and in the early 70’s, these weren’t bestowed with a legal basis in Human Rights, not even as a condition for other European third countries to become full members. In part this was due to the fact that the political issues would rather be dealt in the context of the Council of Europe and not in that of the three European Communities.
As a matter of fact, the European Communities were urged to outline a first political conditionality when they had to come to terms with their neighbouring dictatorships in the South, which were demanding full accession to the European Economic Community. Such were the cases of Franco’s Spain, the colonels-ruled Greece (1967-1974) and the Estado Novo Portugal. These countries were evidently too weak in economic terms in order to access to the EEC, but they were indeed becoming important trade and investment partners for the Northern European countries. Regardless of their economic situation, the European Communities’ leaders had to determine if they were eager to accept these three countries, not only for full accession but also for association, in the same existing political terms, knowing that the Treaty of Rome didn’t specify any political condition for this matter. In this context, the European Communities’ leaders would find provisional mild solutions which, although didn’t solve the “political conditionality” problem, contributed to consolidate the idea that the respect of rule-of-law needed to be mandatory in order to be a member or a European associated partner of the European Communities.
The key actor was the Council of Ministers as it superintended the whole decision making process of the European Communities those days. As a matter of fact, some voices had raised in the early 60’s asking for a definition of the Community’s foreign policy, the most important of which is represented by the MEP Willi Birkelbach’s January 1962 Report to the European Parliament. However, as the Council of Ministers didn’t acknowledge any of such proposals, these ones were deprived of any political force.
The first time that these considerations were introduced in the Council of Ministers was by the time when the Spanish francoist government requested in February 1962 an association agreement similar to the one signed with Greece in 1961, which was conceived as a “pre-accession” agreement. This was actually the first demand that the EEC ever received from a dictatorial regime. Furthermore, this regime was negatively perceived by an important part of the public opinions, as it had been a close collaborator of Hitler and Mussolini before 1945. Since there was no legal objection to reject it, this request subsequently opened an important debate within the EEC institutions themselves, which brought about a particularly political (and confidential) discussion inside the Council of Ministers in March 1964. There, it was decided that the EEC would eventually discuss an agreement with Spain but that such wouldn’t be an association one like the one signed with Greece, but instead a one of a new sort with no political implications, which with time would be called a “preferential agreement”.
In April 1967, the coup d’état which led a military junta to seize power in Greece, the main external partner of the EEC of the time, caused new embarrassment to the Community. New discussions were displayed then in the international arena, which extended to other organizations to which Greece belonged, too: the NATO, the WEU and, most specially, the Council of Europe. The EEC was urged to reconsider its association with Greece, which it eventually did by suspending some of the 1961 agreement’s major provisions as well as its implementation, but without suspending the agreement as a whole.
In 1972, it was Portugal’s turn to demand association to the EEC, even though the country’s image in the international public opinions had been seriously downgraded because of its colonial wars. The talks between the EEC and Portugal were also received with tough criticism by some actors, especially by the socialist transnational networks. However, the EEC Council could hardly exclude Portugal from the talks with the EFTA countries, since it was one of the “outer Seven”, and an agreement similar to the ones concluded with Austria, Sweden and Switzerland was also signed with the Lisbon government in July 1972.
As a conclusion, we may affirm that the controversial process of bargaining that the EEC undertook in the Sixties had a determinative influence in shaping a European common policy referring to Human Rights. The disagreements about what kind of relations the EEC could establish with the Southern regimes brought about the first attempts of defining a real European foreign policy. Subsequently, the EEC reconsidered the imprecision of its political nature in the 70’s by explicitly appointing Human Rights and democracy as its core value in some political texts, such as the December 1973 Copenhagen Document on European Identity and the April 1977 Luxembourg Common Declaration on Fundamental Rights. When Portugal, Greece and Spain became democracies in the middle 70’s, their accession to the Communities was subjected to their respect of the rule-of-law. Unsurprisingly, these three countries were to become the next members of the European Communities right after the fulfilment of their democratization process.
Víctor Fernández Soriano