1960s Era West European Chronology

Warsaw Pact tanks crush the Prague Spring. August 1968



  • Volkswagen becomes a public company; symbolizes postwar economic miracle in Germany (Wirtschaftswunder); VW buys Audi from Daimler in 1966.
  • France begins testing atmospheric nuclear devices in the deserts of Algeria; in 1966 becomes the world’s fourth atomic power with the United States, the USSR, and Great Britain. Commits to nuclear power for peaceful purposes, and generates nearly 70% of its electricity by atomic reactors by the year 2000.
  • The “freedom summer” of 1960 sees the French west African empire dissolve into a dozen new republics.


  • Newly-elected President Kennedy declares in his Inaugural Address that Americans should prepare “to pay any price, bear any burden” in a time of “maximum danger” for the “defense of liberty.” His ambitious “New Frontier” appears to dwarf Eisenhower’s “New Look” in the area of foreign policy.
  • Khrushchev tests Kennedy’s mettle over the Berlin question at Vienna Summit (June); the other tests would come over Cuba and Vietnam. Soviets start construction of Berlin Wall in August.
  • Kennedy meets Britain’s PM Macmillan at Key West, FL to discuss the urgent situation in Laos and Berlin.
  • The Soviet Union carries our thirty major atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons in the fall, including the unprecedented 50+ megaton “Tsar Bomba” near Novaya Zemlya.


  • The Evian Accords grant Algeria independence from France (March); terrible destruction wrought throughout the country by French colons who saw independence as a betrayal of French greatness; 12,000 dead.
  • Harold Macmillan (1957-1963), the last British PM to have seen service in WWI, famously remarks that “most of our people have never had it so good,” reflecting his country’s full postwar recovery.
  • Macmillan expresses full support for Kennedy’s handling of missiles in Cuba, declaring “Castro is the very devil. He is your Nasser,” referring to the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956.


  • After five years of negotiations, Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle sign the “Elysee Agreement” that transforms a historically hostile rivalry into a productive partnership.
  • Adenauer relinquishes chancellorship of West Germany to Ludwig Erhard after 14 years.
  • France blocks the entry of Britain (de Gaulle: “America’s Trojan horse into Europe”) into the European Common Market; again in 1967.


  • Harold Wilson of the Labor Party becomes British prime minister; serves to 1970.


  • Winston Churchill dies (made an honorary American citizen in 1963).
  • Construction of Milan Cathedral, which broke ground in 1386, is completed. 


  • De Gaulle withdraws France from NATO; proposes grand vision in Moscow of continental unity “from Atlantic to the Urals” where France would act as intermediary between the United States and the Soviet Union.


  • Keynesian successors of Erhard begin the construction of a welfare state in Germany.
  • The European Coal & Steel Community expands into the European Economic Community.
  • Britain devalues its currency.
  • Gibraltar chooses to remain a British Overseas Territory; rejects Spanish initiatives for shared sovereignty in 2002


  • Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia ends “Prague Spring” (August)


  • Chancellor Willy Brandt, breaking with German foreign policy since the war, introduces a rapprochement with the Eastern bloc countries dubbed “Ostpolitik.” Ambassadors exchanged between West Germany and Warsaw, Sophia, Budapest, and Prague.
  • Charles de Gaulle abandons office in France after a countrywide referendum of discontent; dies in 1970.
  • The colony of Gibraltar votes to stay British; becomes the City of Gibraltar.


  • Four-Power Agreement on Berlin guarantees freedom of West Berlin; East Germany receives a UN seat; Poland’s western border formalized.
  • Détente begins with German  question settled.
  • Edward Heath becomes British prime minister; effects withdrawal of British forces “east of Suez.”


  • Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands sign the Treaty of Almelo that leads to the the Uranium Enrichment Company (URENCO) to jointly develop enriched uranium for their nuclear power industries. A Pakistani scientist and subcontractor to URENCO, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, steals company centrifuge blueprints and returns to Pakistan to develop an atomic weapon which it explodes in 1998.


  • The Council of Europe adopts Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” as the anthem for the European Union.


  • Economic recovery in France, started with Marshall Plan aid, comes to an end after thirty years of expansion.




  • The World Economic Summit established by Helmut Schmidt & Valery Giscard d’Estaing bring together Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Great Britain, and the United States. Originally called the “G-6.”
  • Margaret Thatcher becomes head of the Conservative Party in Britain

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