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Ernest Bevin and George Marshall at the funeral of Count Bernadotte, the United Nations representative in Palestine murdered by Zionists in 1949.

The drama of convertibility was occurring at the same time as the drama of the early stages of the Marshall Plan.

Bevin's response to Marshall's speech was to arrange a meeting with Georges Bidault, now French Foreign Minister, in Paris. They were joined at the end of the month by Molotov, representing the Soviet Union.

The picture that is usually drawn (for example by Andrew Adonis in his book Ernest Bevin - Labour's Churchill) is of an enthusiastic Bevin grabbing the opportunity presented by Marshall's speech, then fending off the real dangers of Soviet involvement. But it must have been obvious to the Soviets after Truman's speech that there was no possibility of their joining the US scheme on any terms that wouldn't involve a radical slackening of their control over Eastern Europe. And it would surely have been equally obvious that the Democrat administration could not have secured the support of a Republican Congress for aid to Europe if it had included support for countries with Communist governments. Support for Socialist Imperialist Britain was already difficult enough.

Milward presents a much more interesting picture. He says that:

'Immediately after Marshall's speech William L.Clayton was sent to explain the new course of American foreign policy in London and Paris. He was not the wisest choice because he was already known for his extreme free-trade views which had aroused stiff suspicions in international economic negotiations after 1945 and particularly in Britain during the negotiations for the Anglo-American financial agreement. In the event most of his conversations in Paris took the form of listening to storms of protest about suspected British-American agreement over some degree of industrial revival in Germany, and in London his visit did more to stimulate British opposition than support ...

'In London, Ernest Bevin, the Foreign Secretary, protested to Clayton that the new policy of providing aid to western Europe as an integrated bloc rather than individual countries would mean that Britain would now be "just another European country." As such it would have no protection from the next United States slump. The United States might then change policy again and leave Britain helpless. Bevin's policy was to get the United States to accept that the United Kingdom should have a special interim position for some years rather than have to seek its dollars from the same common pool as its European neighbours.'

According to Milward the whole thinking behind Marshall's offer was based on a drive towards greater European integration. Obviously a situation in which the US had to provide the dollars to enable Europe to buy US exports could not continue indefinitely. It was clearly in the interests of the US that Europe should become a viable economic entity able to trade with the US on more or less equal terms. For a convinced free trader like Clayton that meant following the example of the United States of America and forming a United States of Europe - at the very least abolishing customs barriers and instituting some form of common administration. But, according to Milward (p.63):

'To participate on equal terms, Bevin feared, in a common European recovery programme would be against British economic and political interests. Rather it was Britain who should take the lead in promoting the recovery of Western Europe. This would not be through any programme of political integration, he suggested, but through limited measures of economic co-operation such as the sectoral industrial agreements being discussed between Britain and France, "The British," Bevin said, "did not want to go into the programme and not do anything ... This would sacrifice the "little bit of dignity we have left."' (16)

Pedantic note. This is taken from an account of the meeting kept by FRUS (Foreign Relations of the US), hence the confusion of quote marks as to what is or isn't a direct quote from Bevin.

Bullock gives a fuller version of this quote (p.415) with Bevin  saying 'the U.K. could contribute to economic revival. The U.K. held stocks of rubber and wool and "we, as the British Empire" could assist materially.' Bullock comments: 'the conflict between poverty and pride was obvious. The British were financially dependent on the Americans for their own economic survival, yet wanted to be treated as an equal partner in dispensing aid to the Europeans.'

Milward's account continues:

'The concept of western European economic integration in however limited a form did not offer any immediate prospect of relief of Britain's economic difficulties and it raised all manner of complicated issues about British relations with the Empire and Commonwealth as well as for the world-wide nature of British trade. The inter-ministerial committee which was subsequently set up to deal with all issues relating to the ERP [European Recovery Programme - PB], the so-called "London Committee", put the matter succinctly:

'"This is an artificial means of getting assistance for the UK. We are not economically part of Europe (less than twenty-five per cent of our trade is with Europe); the recovery of continental Europe would not itself solve our problem; we depend upon the rest of the world getting dollars (UK and Europe's deficits with USA are only half the world's dollar shortage)."'

Clayton's visit, discussed at some length by Bullock, goes unmentioned by Adonis, though he does acknowledge that Bevin tried to secure a leading position for the UK. He presents this as a momentary aberration.

In Milward's account, Bevin's meeting with Bidault was a move to secure British and French leadership over the process as a means of obstructing US ambitions for closer integration. Britain and France were of course the two powers with Empires and therefore interests that went beyond Europe. The rejection of the Soviet Union was something of a sideshow: 'The State Department's own decisions had already meant that it was not itself prepared to be seen to be excluding the Soviet Union from the offer of aid, but the insistence on a co-ordinated response and on the treatment of Europe as one common area means that the terms could not possibly be accepted by Moscow.' (p,64). In a footnote he complains that: 'A surprising number of historians are reluctant to admit that Marshall and the State Department wished to exclude the Soviet Union rather than merely wishing not to be seen excluding it.' Molotov turned up in Paris at the end of June with a surprisingly large delegation. Since his objections to a united European response were rather similar to those of France and, more discreetly expressed, of Britain, and since he and the French had similar views on Germany, he might have thought there was a chance of sabotaging the proposal. The French Communist Party had been members of nearly all the governments since the end of the war and it may have been bad timing on their part that they had left in May, the month before Marshall's speech, in protest against the French effort to hold onto Vietnam.

The 'Committee of European Economic Co-operation' met in Paris on July 12th. Sixteen countries were represented - Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The American State Department hoped for an agreed report containing a single proposal covering the whole of Europe that could be submitted to Congress by September 1st. What they got was, in the words of US Under-Secretary Robert Lovett (Milward, p.81), 'sixteen shopping lists, which may be dressed up by some large scale but very long term projects such as Alpine Power.'