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What role did Charles de Gaulle have on France and on Europe? Research Paper


Charles de Gaulle is highly recognized for the role he played in shaping France to become a major player in world, politically and economically, through his ideology and view of Europe. He is largely credited for his contribution during World War II as he led French military against Germany.

During this, France was separated from Algeria and other empires, which were overseas. In his capacity and in the spirit of the nation, he led France and aimed at creating a more independent state with regard to the foreign policy.

He also supported European cooperation, with emphasis on the need for all countries to retain their national power as opposed to interference from external forces. This paper focuses on the impact of Charles de Gaulle on France and Europe.

Charles de Gaulle

This segment of the research paper explains some of the facts in the life of Charles de Gaulle, which are relevant to his role in France and Europe. Charles de Gaulle was born in 1890, in Lille City, near France’s border with Belgium. From his early childhood, de Gaulle was a Catholic and conservative before pursuing his military career in various training schools in France, where he nurtured his leadership skills (Lymbouris 1).

For many years, members of his family played a major role in the history of France, with his father having been wounded during the Franco-Prussian War. After this, de Gaulle’s father, Henri became a teacher and instilled a deep love for France in his children, including Charles de Gaulle.

Charles de Gaulle undertook his military studies at Saint-Cyr, where he earned his nickname, the Great Asparagus and Cyrano. After his completion of studies in 1912, de Gaulle was assigned to a military group that was led by Philippe Petain, who was a French hero during the First World War and a supporter of Germany during the Second World War (Lymbouris 1).

De Gaulle showed outstanding brevity, having been wounded thrice during World War II and was captured by Germans and imprisoned for the entire wartime. De Gaulle’s success is largely attributed to the philosophy, which he developed in 1920’s as a junior military officer in France (Debray 14).

In his military leadership approach, Charles de Gaulle argued that one needed to personify national grandeur and advance his power by creating a distance with the people.

In 1932, he talked about his future leadership in the country, which was later published in 1960, The Edge of the Sword. He however differed with the country’s military philosophy, which led to the Maginot line. While this was the case, Charles embarked on preaching the virtues of the tank, which had a wide-range of mobile possibilities.

He publicized his ideas through articles, say, The Army of the Future, which was published in 1940. It is however important to note that there were other supporters of the tank in Germany and Britain even though he remained outspoken as he continued to criticize the military’s policies and approach to leadership (Rowland 3).

Notably, Charles de Gaulle’s influence remained less dominant because of his austerity and lack of support from senior politicians and generals of the Third French Republic. In fact, it has been argued that Charles spoilt his brilliant career while he was in the military school, for advancing criticism against his bosses.

During this time, he was opposed to France’s trench warfare, which was championed by his superiors in the military. Instead, he proposed the use of reinforced planes and tanks, a suggestion that was widely opposed by his superiors. Even though senior Frenchmen rejected the idea, it was adopted by Germans, who constantly read Charles’s essays (Warlouzet 22).

In some cases, it has been argued that this approach played a crucial role in granting Germany victory over France, in 1940. Despite the fall of France, Charles de Gaulle remained focused to deliver France, without surrendering the course to freedom.

He later fled to London, where he announced through the BBC that France had not lost the war, calling statesmen to oppose Germany’s rule. His brevity and inspiration won him recognition around the world, as he remained stable and focused to the course of freedom.

While in exile, Charles interacted with several people and came into contact with the concept of integration. Jean Monnet further elaborated how Britain and France were going to team-up and fight their common enemy, through sharing of existing duties and rights as nations (Warlouzet 26).

Monnet believed in uniting the countries through a single citizenship as a way of ensuring success. In other words, he was a major supporter of integration. Even though Charles disliked Monnet, he accepted his idea as the only way of keeping France in war and save its honor through the conviction that his country had the potential of becoming a global power.

Oftentimes, Charles sacrificed his passionate dreams for the sake of his country. This was equally evident in his foreign policy and the relationship, which he developed with the European Community. He is also known to have made a series of political mistakes during his career, a fact that was largely attributed to his old-fashioned and unrealistic approach.

Charles fought to be recognized as the one in-charge of France’s rebellion against German rule, and maintained that his country was one of the allies. Even though he had a lot to deal with, Charles acted as the leader of a country that was equal to the Soviet Union, Britain, and the United States (Warlouzet 27). While this was the case, he commanded a small group of soldiers, who were fighting for their flag.

Due to his view of France, Charles de Gaulle disagreed with the American President, Roosevelt, who failed to understand de Gaulle’s motivation yet his country had been defeated by Germany. He therefore treated him as a minor public figure in the context of the Second World War (Rowland 3). Charles believed that any mismanagement of his rights was a mismanagement of his country.

Due to de Gaulle’s commitment to the freedom of his country, he was appointed as the head of the provisional government after it was rescued by the allies. He was tasked with normalizing life in France and restoring its prestige as one of the countries, which had played a major role in winning the war. He was chosen in 1958 as the president of the Fifth Republic, giving him a chance to revive his country in various ways.

For instance, Charles de Gaulle succeeded in reviving the French economy and in protecting its boundaries (Bozo 1). With regard to politics, he steered efforts for a new constitution in the country and withdrew from Algeria, ending its colonial system.

In essence, France was weak to maintain its colonies during the cold war, a position which Charles conceived and chose to sacrifice his ideas for the sake of the country. His dream to make France a world power and an active participant in global affairs remained unattainable, as it lacked the power to maintain its influence.

In fact, its withdrawal from Algeria played a major role in stabilizing its economy, before he shifted his attention to Europe (Ellison 860).

De Gaulle and Europe

After the Second World War, it was clear that de Gaulle could not attain his goal of restoring France to greatness and make a super power in the world. As a result, he adopted other ways like, connecting with Europe, which was largely defended from its enemies by the United States.

For instance, de Gaulle started to reassure the independence of his country and developed nuclear facilities in France (Bozo 5). The latter approach was mainly aimed at restoring the influence of France in global politics and guaranteeing its security by keeping away threats.

He rejected efforts to extend the European Community to include the United Kingdom since he was interested in remaining autonomous in the region. De Gaulle further avoided reliance on American military technology as it was the case of the United Kingdom.

In addition, Charles de Gaulle largely influenced the relocation of NATO headquarters from Paris to Brussels, before withdrawing from NATO’s military structure. He also targeted like-minded nations, which would accept its preeminence, in order to form the third force during the cold war (Bozo 7).

It was not possible for de Gaulle to connect France with the United Kingdom because the latter had strong links with Americans. He therefore considered Moscow and other Soviet countries, a move that turned out to be futile in every way, though he successfully spread propaganda.

Charles de Gaulle sought to reunite with West Germany even though he considered Germans as eternal enemy. This was after realizing that France could not make any progress independently; it needed support from great nations of the world at that time. It was possible for France to interact with West Germany through the European Community, since the Germans set it as one of the conditions of their association (Chopra 48).

De Gaulle pursued this relationship, through meetings and discussions, which aimed at polishing some of the issues that affected the Community. Through a common agreement, it became possible to drive their agenda, since such proposals done by two countries were never rejected by world powers.

Through the European Community, France and West German gave up their sovereignty to common institutions. Importantly, de Gaulle accepted the involvement in the European Community because he aimed at stabilizing his country economically, based on the fact that West Germany was economically self-reliant (Croft 4).

This approach further gave him the imagination that he would change the functioning of the Community from supranational to intergovernmental.

Moreover, France was quickly absorbed by West Germany into the European Community because it was interested in normalizing its diplomatic relations, having been blamed for millions of people who had died in France, prior to its defeat. As a result, West Germany paid the cost of accommodating France, by remaining the primary financier of the common budget of the Community (Cleveland 699).

Importantly, Charles de Gaulle has also been applauded for the role he played in uniting Germany. Even though he found the European Community to be the best partner for economic growth in restoring his country’s greatness, he was opposed to the development of the European Community, as it leaned towards being a supranational entity.

Through the Fouchet Plan, Charles tried to transform the entire Community from within, by giving preference to the power of individual countries (Chopra 105). Notably, he used the European Community to benefit France, and this was evident throughout his term as the President.

His influence was mainly visible in issues like the Common Agricultural Policy, the empty chair crisis, enlargement to the UK, and the Fouchet proposals. In fact, some people have argued that the legacy of de Gaulle is still alive today, based on the manner in which France acts as a member of the European Union.

Among other ways, it is believed that Charles de Gaulle succeeded in advancing the Common Agricultural Policy. This helped France to advance its agricultural sector, accounting for 25% of job opportunities in the country in 1961. Agriculture remained a sensitive issue in French domestic politics as it led to movement of people from rural areas to the cities, where there were scarce job opportunities and poor housing.

He explored other market options for French products and considered other ways of financing the policy since government resources were getting exhausted. In saving the situation, de Gaulle remained pragmatic and put the interests of the nation first before supranational institutions.

As a result, he rescued the country’s economy by converting national subsidies into European Union subsidies, with full support of members like West Germany (Chopra 115). The Community also accepted French agricultural products, and imposed high duties on products imported from Australia, Canada, and Argentina, as a way of giving preference to French products.

In other words, de Gaulle’s opposition to the European integration and full support of his country highly benefited France and played a significant role in establishing a high level of European policy, which is recognized to-date.

In the Fouchet Proposals, de Gaulle suggested the need to establish a new Community, which was to be made up of independent states, acting voluntarily. He further suggested the relocation of the institutions from Luxemburg in Belgium to Paris in order to promote domestic benefits for his country.

In other words, he believed that the relocation would give the French government an opportunity to control the Community and influence it for national advancement and preeminence (Cogan 315). His idea to replace the Commission with a secretariat was aimed at opposing European integration. During his time, he constantly attacked the Community and made proposals, which were aimed at safeguarding the interests of France.


From the above analysis, it is evident that Charles de Gaulle played a major role in shaping France and in influencing the decisions of the European Community. He pursued his interests from the time he was in the military school and hated those who opposed his ideologies.

Through partnership with different countries, de Gaulle pursued the interests of France, with an aim of restoring its greatness and making it one of the powerful nations in the world. His legacy in the EU was quite prominent and partly affects France’s association with the European Union as a member state.

Works Cited

Bozo, Frédéric. Two Strategies for Europe: De Gaulle, the United States, and the Atlantic Alliance. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001. Print.

Chopra, Hardev. De Gaulle and European Unity. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1974. Print.

Cleveland, Harold. “The Common Market after De Gaulle.” Foreign Affairs 47.4 (1969): 697-710. Print.

Cogan, Charles. “Integrated Command…Or Military Protectorate.” Diplomatic History 26.2 (2002): 309-315. Print.

Croft, Stuart. The Enlargement of Europe. United Kingdom: Manchester University Press, 1999. Print.

Debray, Régis. Charles De Gaulle: Futurist of the Nation. New York: Verso, 1994. Print.

Ellison, James. “Separated By The Atlantic: The British And De Gaulle, 1958–1967.” Diplomacy & Statecraft 17.4 (2006): 853-870. Print.

Lymbouris, Christos. . EU Politics, 2010. Web.

Rowland, Benjamin. Charles de Gaulle’s Legacy of Ideas. Maryland: Lexington Books, 2011. Print.

Warlouzet, Laurent. Charles de Gaulle’s Idea of Europe, The Lasting Legacy. KONTUR, 2010. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "What role did Charles de Gaulle have on France and on Europe?" December 11, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/what-role-did-charles-de-gaulle-have-on-france-and-on-europe/.


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