By William Mills
First World War
The First World War ended in November 1918 with Germany asking for a ceasefire, or armistice. They and their Central European allies were starving due to the British naval blockade preventing any supplies arriving by sea.
Although the ceasefire was granted the victors refused lift the siege. The Germans went hungry that winter. Not until after they had signed the surrender terms at the Treaty of Versailles in Paris the following year was the cordon lifted finally allowing food to reach the starving.
Treaty of Versailles
It needs to be appreciated that this blockade did not affect all continental European countries. France was on the side of the victors and Holland was neutral, as were the Scandinavian countries.
Second World War
However the Second World War dramatically changed people’s prospective. From the Channel Islands to the eastern Mediterranean the European population went hungry. The newsreels of 1945 show German civilians following American G.I.s hoping to pick up a discarded cigarette butt. The British were better supplied but still jokes did the rounds like ‘One yank and they are off!’ referring to ladies’ silk underwear.
The EU and its forerunners came into existence with the Treaty of Rome in 1957 signed by the original six member states.
Common Agricultural Policy
It needs to be realised that the overriding concern was food supply. Some 60% of the budget was spent on the Common Agricultural Policy. The aim of this was to avert wartime starvation and the continent wide epidemics that usually went with it.
The policy was clear. No matter what the cost, or how inefficient, mass produce food by giving farmers everything they needed to grow as much as possible even if this created a food mountain.
German industrial miracle
By the time Britain joined in 1971wartime expediencies had changed. The German industrial miracle had made her a desirable trading partner again. Britain, submitting to the USA’s demand that she forfeit her empire, had lost her manufacturing base and needed new markets for her goods.
However the CAP, the central plank of the EU hadn’t changed. The French newspapers crowed with delight that Britain was now going to pay. After all, in the eyes of those responsible for policy in the 1960’s, twice in living memory Britain had starved Germany into submission making a common agricultural stockpile necessary. If Britain had to help pay for this stockpile she would be less likely to start another war the French reasoning went.
The Common Agricultural Policy as good for Britain’s farmers as it was for the Europeans. The taxpayer agreed to pay the highest prices for all agricultural produce, and if a surplus was created the taxpayer would further pay for the storage costs.
Commonwealth, Australia and New Zealand
Before entry Britain bought most of its food from the Empire, or Commonwealth as it was renamed. Cheap butter and cheese came Australia and New Zealand, bread making wheat from Canada. But upon joining heavy tariffs were placed on our traditional suppliers. Food prices soared as we had to pay CAP prices. The British public were told that we would benefit in other ways.
We now had access to European markets for our industrial goods. Now we could all get jobs in our rusting shipyards and with our higher wages pay the increased food costs, the reasoning went. In the event we had massive inflation and had to ask the IMF for a bailout in the mid 1970’s.
French and Italian farms
But wasn’t it the same for the rest of Europe? Firstly others didn’t have a big empire geared to providing the home country with cheap, plentiful food. Secondly our farms tended to be much larger entities than their European counterparts. The French and Italians had started claiming farming hand outs 14 years earlier. Anyone will an allotment or even a few vegetables in the garden could now claim farm subsidies.
Britain had a perfectly good food supply chain in 1971 and we never got the markets for our rapidly disappearing manufacturing industries.
All Britain really gained form its European involvement was a food mountain it didn’t need, an influx of Eastern European immigration, and most important of all for our masters, another tier of government at Brussels.