Unfortunately for Britain and the United States, de Gaulle believed the propaganda and demanded equality with them during and after the war. Hence, despite a trivial military contribution, France became one of the four powers dividing occupied Germany and one of the five permanent UN Security Council members (with veto rights). Stalin, recognizing de Gaulle’s French for their minimal value, said that any French zone in Germany would have to come out of the British/U.S. occupied areas.
Nevertheless, de Gaulle was postwar France’s most powerful figure—in or out of power. After a stretch in retirement, he was recalled in 1958 to address domestic crises, including the war in Algeria. In the process, he ruled France until 1969 creating the still extant “Fifth Republic” characterized by a strong president designed personally for his occupancy.
His concept of Europe was one in which France dominated. In particular, he sought to reduce Anglo-American (or “Anglo-Saxon” in de Gaulle’s parlance) influences. If he did not quite adopt the attitude of “perfidious Albion” toward London, nevertheless, he made a persistent, calculated effort to block British power projection into Europe. De Gaulle hypothesized a French-German alliance, believing that France would be the dominant partner indefinitely while Germany remained limited by Holocaust memories and war guilt. To further this process, he withdrew from the military arm of NATO and repaired relations with Germany—a political action that probably only he could have done. And, by developing nuclear weapons, France was the only continental “European” nuclear power.
His anti-British attitude was epitomized by his rejection of British efforts to enter the Common Market. Famously, when Great Britain tried to join the Common Market in 1963, de
Gaulle killed it with one word: “non.” It was still “non” when Great Britain tried again in 1967. He remained convinced that Great Britain was not, and never would be, “European” but would inject international/imperial attitudes and serve as a stalking horse for U.S. interests.
Thus it was not until 1973, de Gaulle having died in 1970, that Great Britain successfully entered the Common Market (de Gaulle being unable to thwart its entry from his grave in the quiet village of Colombey-les-Deux-Églises).
And Europe changed immensely in the 45 years between de Gaulle’s death and British Brexit. The most obvious change was the massive increase in numbers of participating states as the Common Market transformed into a European Union. But perhaps more important, and certainly contrary to de Gaulle’s preference and expectation, Germany (united after the USSR collapse) surged in its influence with its political power now equaling its economic strength. The war is 70 years over; Germany feels no guilt. French ability to influence Berlin has clearly declined, notably following the end of the First Cold War and reduced German need for a strong NATO with European allies (or a French nuclear guarantee to supplement any NATO agreements.) And British presence in the EU certainly did not help France.
So Brexit has proved “the grand Charles” correct. The British are not Europeans and unwilling to subordinate themselves to French-German-whomever decisionmaking. And the French could not be happier. One could almost sense French smacking their lips in delight upon hearing that when the UK leaves, English would not be an official EU language.
Much remains to be sorted regarding the EU’s future. Indeed, a “Frexit” may be in the cards as French dissatisfaction with a Europe in which it no longer has the last word (indeed only one word against those of the other 26 EU members) is increasingly pointed. French nationalism is on the rise and the right wing National Front headed by Marine Le Pen gains in the polls; she promises a referendum on the EU if she wins the presidency next year. Her objective? A “new European project,” of sovereign and “independent” nations. Sounds “Gaulist.”
Perhaps she will offer a curtsy to The General’s memory.