Riding on the “Europe train” – The Confederation of British Industry’s strategy to promote Europe

From Katharina Troll, Hamburg Institute for Social Research

With the term “Europe train” many people might associate the Eurostar train or the famous Eurotunnel project which, since the 1990s, links the United Kingdom with France and provides even in the age of Brexit a comfortable travel route across the channel. However, when officials of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) were in 1972 talking about the “Europe train” they had quite a unique form of engagement with the European Economic Community (EEC) in mind.

After the many ups and downs that British industry experienced during the two attempts of the UK to enter the EEC in the 1960s, the third application in the early 1970s promised to be successful and it was, therefore, the obligation of the CBI to inform British industrialists and member associations alike about the implications of the UK’s entry to an already well-established EEC. In order to achieve this, CBI officials came up with a rather unusual idea: to provide in-depth information about the EEC across the country, a “Europe train” was hired which travelled for seven weeks (from April to June 1972) through England, Scotland and Wales, covering 25 cities.1 The concept was regarded by CBI officials as “unique and dynamic, […] which will give us maximum national and local publicity.”2

The CBI’s “Impact Europe” train, 1977.3

The program was quite ambitious. Special working sessions were prepared to be presented and discussed on the train journey. Each session was covered by a senior CBI session leader or chairman who had “good general knowledge of the EEC”.4 Participants could attend six sessions each covering different EEC-related topics: 1) The EEC – general introduction, 2) the EEC – a changed market for British industry, 3) the EEC – a changed context for the British company, 4) the EEC – the effect on UK management/labour, 5) the EEC – coming into line (harmonisation etc.), 6) the EEC – the changes in taxation, VAT (short session).5 As gets clear, economic implications of a British EEC entry were complex and numerous and, in the eyes of the CBI, required special attention and education across the country.

The endeavour was, however, also quite a modern one: The vehicle was equipped with “the latest TV equipment to show TV cassettes which had been specially commissioned to meet the needs of IMPACT EUROPE.”6 Each session was accompanied by film material in order to make subjects more interesting and as comprehensible as possible.5 The “unique ‘freeze-frame’” function allowed “the lecturers to stop the TV cassettes at any point to explain or discuss a diagram or sequence”.7 The participants were encouraged to take part in group discussions according to the type of industry they represented and had also the possibility to get in touch with experts from the Department of Trade and Industry.8 Furthermore, the train had a display area with selected literature and guides on European matters, a restaurant, and “a high standard of accommodation and facilities for 100 people attending the seminar at each venue.”9 The concept was completed by an integrated club bar and an exhibition centre.

CBI officials aimed at promoting the “Europe train” before the project started but also during its journey by national and local press publicity and especially employed a publicity officer on the train for this task.9 To give it also a more statesmanlike touch, the “VIP” guest, as the CBI called him, for the launching ceremony of the train in London Euston was Sir Cristopher Soames, British ambassador in France and later one of the first British members of the EEC Commission.10 To cover the costs of the whole endeavour, the association charged CBI member participants with 30 Pounds per seminar and non-CBI member participants with 35 Pounds per seminar.2

Of course, the concept not only served to inform and educate British businesses and businessmen on the EEC but was also destined to influence them, i.e. to convince industries critical to the EEC entry from the opposite.2 The CBI had decided to fully back Britain’s accession and could therefore use all support it could get from British industry. It also tried to raise awareness that, contrary to the widespread assumption among British industrialists, the EEC was not primarily an export opportunity, but that EEC countries already had been taken precautions to “exploit the British market”.7

The “Europe train” was, according to the debriefing of the CBI, only partly successful. On the one hand, more than 2.000 people attended the train. The organisation of the endeavour had been regarded by participants as “excellent and comment has been almost universally favourable.”11 On the other hand, the train course had been “a ‘hard sell’” and CBI staff had to work “very hard to achieve the attention [they] did” (ten percent below expectation).11 Support for the train had been the greatest in the Midlands, North Wales and London. The CBI concluded that “many members are still sluggish in their response to the Common Market.”11

Although not fully successful, the concept to engage with Europe on British rails surely was unusual if not unique. The main finding, however, may be that by the early 1970s the EEC had developed complex economic structures that required thorough training on the applicant’s side. The more interesting this was organised, the higher the chances of greater education and advantages in the new common market.   


Cite this blog post
Editorial Board (2023, June 1). Riding on the “Europe train” – The Confederation of British Industry’s strategy to promote Europe. (De)Constructing Europe. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/olp0

  1. Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick, MSS.200/C/3/DG2/117, Confederation of British Industry. CBI Impact Europe (programme). []
  2. MRC, MSS.200/C/3/DG2/117, Paper on EEC seminars on a CBI train. Description with Estimated Costs, Commitments and Timescale, 7.01.1972. [] [] []
  3. Retrieved from: https://twitter.com/redhistorian/status/586454569208586240/photo/1;June 1st, 2023 []
  4. MRC, MSS.200/C/3/DG2/117, Europe Seminars – Content and staff resources, 1972. []
  5. MRC, MSS.200/C/3/DG2/117, CBI Overseas Trade Bulletin. CBI “Impact Europe”, 18.2.1972. [] []
  6. MRC, MSS.200/C/3/DG2/117, Confederation of British Industry. CBI Impact Europe (programme). []
  7. MRC, MSS.200/C/3/DG2/117, CBI Memorandum. CBI Impact Europe Train – Sales Drive, 28.03.1972. [] []
  8. MRC. MSS.200/C/3/DG2/117, Confederation of British Industry. CBI Impact Europe (programme). []
  9. MRC, MSS.200/C/3/DG2/117, Paper on EEC seminars on a CBI train. Description with Estimated Costs, Commitments and Timescale, 7.01.1972, MRC. MSS.200/C/3/DG2/117, Confederation of British Industry. CBI Impact Europe (programme). [] []
  10. MRC, MSS.200/C/3/DG2/117, CBI Impact Europe Train. Launching Ceremony at Euston on Thursday 27 April 1972, 25.04.1972. []
  11. MRC, MSS.200/C/3/DG2/117, CBI Memorandum. CBI Impact Europe Train. Debriefing on 11.07.1972. [] [] []

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