EFTA European Free Trade Association

Documents from [1959] to [1995]

Identity Statement

Reference Code
Extent and Medium

1304 files/volumes, l.m.

Fonds Inventory
Reference Archivists

Mary, Carr


Administrative and Biographical History

The creation of EFTA saw the establishment of a free trade area for industrial goods by some European countries which had not joined the European Economic Community, EEC when it was formed in 1957. Britain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and Portugal were the original Seven who signed the Treaty of Stockholm in 1959: it came into force a year later. Finland became an associate (and later full) member in 1961 and Iceland joined in 1970.
The aim of the Stockholm Convention was to reduce tariffs between member states in phases, as in the EEC, a process completed in 1966. Unlike the EEC, EFTA did not have a common external tariff, common policies or any supranational institutions, as Britain in particular wanted to avoid any loss of sovereignty. Small states such as Sweden and Switzerland benefited from EFTA, as they had access to the heavily protected large market of Britain, which provided 51 million of EFTA's 89 million population. The gains for Britain were much less: EFTA took only 10 per cent of British exports in 1960. EFTA could never be a substitute for the EEC, with its population of 170 million and so, only seven months after EFTA came into being in May 1960, Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister, decided that he would try to take Britain into the EEC. After being rebuffed twice by de Gaulle, Britain and Denmark finally left EFTA in 1972 to join the EEC (Portugal also left in 1985 for the same purpose).
Already during the negotiations of the Maudling Committee concerning a more "far-reaching European free trade area, special contacts had been created between the UK, the three Scandinavian countries, Austria and Switzerland. After the collapse of the negotiations it was a natural progression for these countries to establish among themselves a Free Trade Area. EFTA was created to pursue tariff and trade control bargaining with the Common Market, even if the difference in nature of the two institutions had little significant for their respective tariffs. EFTA’s task from the outset was to track the EEC’s tariff projections. The Common Market remained distinguished by its common economic policies, the CAP, the Common Commercial Policy and Competition Policy.
Even from the outset EFTA appeared as an ad hoc arrangement as geographically the countries were spread out, forming an usual core area to which were added Austria and Switzerland and Portugal to the West. Initially considered an economic unity, each of the seven countries apart from Portugal had closer ties to the Common Market as a whole to any of the EFTA countries. From the political viewpoint it was a mixed bag, with the UK, Demark, Portugal and Norway members of NATO, whilst Austria, Sweden and Switzerland were all neutral. As for population, almost two-thirds of the Associations population lived in the UK. Instead, the EEC’s population was more evenly distributed. Britain was the main loser, despite it being her brainchild. Her interest from the outset was in the other Six. Economically, the greatest beneficiaries were the smaller countries. In fact British exports from 1959-1963 fell from 31,8% on intra-EFTA trade to 26,4%.
So while the economic success of EFTA was limited. A degree of integration within the EFTA member countries arose from the growth of trade within the Free Trade Area. The foundation of EFTA didn’t bring the type of growth that occurred with EEC and indeed the various members of EFTA experience different degrees of development. After Britain and Denmark left EFTA in 1973, the EEC concluded a FTA with the remainder of EFTA. Duties and quota restrictions for manufactured products in trade between EFTA and the EEC were dismantled in 1977.

Custodial History

The EFTA documents were held in the EFTA Headquarters in Geneva until a first transfer was made to the HAEU on 19 May 2015. A second transfer reached Florence in October 2016 with a further deposit of audio-visual material arriving in November 2017.

Content and Structure


The European Free Trade Association, EFTA archives which are now available at the HAEU are the official documents of the Association. For the researcher in the study of free trade and European integration this fonds is a must. The material is available in both bound volumes and in file format. The basic unit of description is of the contents of each volume. The volumes represent and mirror the organisational divisions of EFTA itself.

The seven founding members of EFTA - were members of the OEEC which was established to implement the Marshall Plan. Other processes were initiated to promote close integration of their national economies such as the ECSC and the EEC. The idea for EFTA came with the perceived need to counterbalance the EEC in the formation of a Free Trade arrangement which would however work in partnership with the Six to reach its objectives.

The Convention establishing EFTA was initiated in Stockholm on 20 November 1959 and came into force the following year. A Council was created which was the Association's highest governing body. In the Council meetings, the delegations consult with one another, negotiate and decide on policy issues regarding EFTA. Each Member State is represented and has one vote, though decisions are generally reached unanimously.

Under the Council there are a series of Committees that evolved over time to deal with special issues in specialised fields as laid down in the Convention. One of the most important of these is the Consultative Committee which provides a forum for representatives of industry and labour in the EFTA States to exchange views among themselves and with the Council. The Parliamentary Committee provides a form in which MPs of the EFTA states can discuss issues of concern among themselves and with EFTA ministers.

As can be seen from the documents, full free trade in industrial countries within EFTA became a reality as well as the elimination of technical obstacles which hampered the free flow of industrial goods within the area. EFTA also helped to expand the trading opportunities for those of its members which depend on exports of agricultural products and fish. EFTA enlarged the range of its activities by setting up machinery to assist member countries whose development is less advanced or unevenly spread, such the Industrial Development Fund for Portugal.

In the "Kennedy Round" negotiations in the GATT as documented in the fonds, the EFTA countries consistently supported the objective of a full 50% cut in tariffs, with a minimum of exceptions. The hope was for a considerable freeing of world trade, but also to reduce by one-half the height of the tariff wall between EFTA and the EEC.

An important aspect of the collection is the FINEFTA sub-fonds which traces the expansion of the free trade area between individual EFTA countries and Finland. Of similar importance are the links which EFTA developed with Portugal, Yugoslavia and Spain. To further help for its less developed areas, EFTA set up the Economic Development Committee, intended to act as a clearing-house through which specialised know-how of EFTA countries could be shared.

EFTA is not and never could be, a self-sufficient group. It remains vitally interested in trading with the rest of the world; above all it retains the objective of single market embracing all of Western Europe. The fonds provides the researcher with an in-depth understanding of the legal framework of EFTA, combined with an increased knowledge of the Association’s relationship with other supranational bodies, like the OECD and the EEC. As in matters of trade, as in other respects, the EFTA countries conduct their external relations independently. But because their views on international trade are generally in close agreement, they have formed the habit of consultation and cooperation in their approach to major international trade relations.

System of Arrangement

Organically - reflects the organisational structure of the Association.

Conditions of Access and Use

Access Conditions

The documents are open to the public.

Reproduction Conditions

Copying (including digital copies) can be freely.
The HAEU may not own the rights on the photographs present in this fonds. Copyright or other restrictions applying to the material should be assessed by the user. Any copyright violations resulting from the use of documents held at the Historical Archives are solely the user’s responsibility. More about copyright


English, French, German


Paper file, Photographs, Slides, Video tape

Physical Characteristics

Some documents are fragile so handle with care.

Allied Materials


Notes and Remarks

There are many other documents in the files in various languages.

Relations Area

Related To Record Creators
Related Entries
Abstract: Mainly official documents of the OEEC describing activities of the various OEEC bodies and committees and working parties, including complete series of Minutes and Working Papers of the Council and Executive Committee A relevant part of the Fonds, arranged in Subject Files concerns the creation of a Free Trade Area.
Fonds: OEEC
Description Level: Fonds
Dates: 1948 to 1961
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