Application to join EEC closely monitored
Government watchers of Europe spent 1969 monitoring the French and British moods, upon which the progress of Ireland's application to join the EEC (European Economic Community, now the EU) seemed to depend.
The State papers from that year, released by the National Archives, show busy lines of correspondence from the State's ambassadors in Europe reporting the views of officials on the ground.
A letter from Mr Sean Morrissey, ambassador to the European Communities, dated September 19th, 1969, to Mr H.J. McCann, secretary at the Department of External Affairs, recounts a reception he attended given by the British ambassador, Mr Majoribanks.
On the numerous ambassadors' views on extending membership of the EEC, Mr Morrissey commented that he discerned a "clear line of demarcation, regarding the progress question, between the applicant countries and those who are not anxious to see progress [as represented by New Zealand, Australia and Portugal]".
Concerns around Ireland's progress to membership at this stage centred on when a date would be set for the beginning of negotiations on enlargement between the current six member-states and the four applicant states. The main bars to the setting of a date were apparently British antipathy to Europe and French problems with financing the Common Agricultural Policy.
On October 14th, Mr Morrissey wrote to the department secretary of a meeting he had with the new Italian ambassador to the Communities, Mr Bombassei, and the Dutch ambassador, Mr Spierenburg. Neither was optimistic that a date would be set at the summit meeting in The Hague in November.
Mr Spierenburg remarked that the French had never said they would agree to a date being set.
Mr Spierenburg also thought "that the French would hold out on the question of financing the CAP before agreeing to a date for negotiations," he recorded.
The ambassador to the Netherlands, Mr Eoin MacWhite, wrote to the department secretary on October 24th recounting a meeting with a senior Dutch civil servant whom he described as "extremely pessimistic of real progress being made on the enlargement of the Community".
"Experience," wrote Mr MacWhite, "has taught him to limit his optimism when dealing with the French."
The only reason for optimism was the sense that Mr Georges Pompidou (the French prime minister) had "very obvious and personal motives to come back from The Hague with something successful".
The counsellor at the embassy in Paris, Ms Margaret Tinney, wrote to the assistant secretary at the department, Dr Donal O'Sullivan. During a lunch given in honour of the French minister for information, Mr Leo Hamon, she was told by Mr Hamon that the French government was "very anxious to have the agricultural policy and the reglement financier finalised before the end of the year".
"He added that when this was done the French would be prepared to look at the question of agricultural surpluses," she wrote.
Ms Tinney also spoke with Mr Ulrich, a senior French civil servant, asking him whether he thought any progress for applicant countries would be made at the summit conference in November. He said "this would depend, to a large extent, on whether all parties were prepared to accept what had already been achieved in the EEC".
She continued: "One gets the impression from this and indeed from quite a lot of what is now being written in the press, that the French political objection to British entry into the Community has been weakened."
On October 30th, Mr Morrissey reported to the department of a meeting he had had with Mr Majoribanks.
"He remarked that the Conservative Party was firmly committed to membership of the Communities and that too much attention should not be paid to British opinion as expressed by the Gallup poll."
On November 3rd, Mr Morrissey wrote to say that Ireland was the only applicant state not invited to a meeting with the British prime minister, Mr Edward Heath, at the British ambassador's residence in Brussels.
"Majoribanks [ambassador] mumbled something to me about not being able to get in touch with all the applicant countries; in fact, he made no effort. Perhaps there was a NATO angle on all this," he wrote.
The Hague conference was in the end postponed due to the illness of the Italian foreign minister, Mr Aldo Moro, something which the Irish in The Hague regarded as "extremely helpful". There had been time for discussion and lunches.
Following these, the Dutch were reported as "now convinced that the French have accepted the fact that there will have to be negotiations for the enlargement of the Community and that they can no longer postpone enlargement indefinitely".
At the end of November, the third secretary at the Irish mission to the Communities, Mr Edwin Fitzgibbon, reported on his conversation with Mr James Mallon, first secretary to the British mission.
Mr Mallon told him that once the CAP situation was sorted out with the French, "Britain will try her utmost to change fundamentally the present agricultural policy of the Community as otherwise their costs would be crippling".