Not the most attractive message to find in your e-mail inbox but, on opening it up, I could see the sender's point. It enclosed a link by now former Europe minister, Denis MacShane, published in today's Observer.
I will not trouble our readers with a précis but note, like many commenters on the Wallström blog, he resorts to quoting Churchill in support of his thesis, this one being that the next 18 months is: "Our last chance to make Europe work". "For the first time," MacShane writes, "Britain can lead the way to a truly united Continent."
In his piece, MacShane tells us that:
It was Churchill, not Jean Monnet, who electrified the world in 1946 with his language about a "United States of Europe", picking up the phrase first used by Victor Hugo a century before. But his vision and that of the cautious, careful planners of the first sharing of sovereignty ran into the barriers in 1950 of tired ministers who thought sharing sovereignty was a good thing for the continentals, but Britain's future was radiant and assured under Labour rule.His inference, of course, is that the great statesman supported a "United Europe" and so should we, but always when they invoke Churchill, the Euro-luvvies are highly selective.
What they should appreciate is that, while Churchill favoured European unity, he always made it very clear that any construct should apply to Continental Europe, and should not include the UK. This he made clear when, anticipating the Briand plan of 1930, he wrote in the New York Saturday Evening Post on 13 February 1930, as follows:
The mass of Europe once united, once federalised or partly federalised, once continentally self-conscious, would constitute an organism beyond compare…But he added this now famous piece, that made his views crystal clear:
We are with Europe but not of it. We are linked but not comprised. We are interested and associated but not absorbed. And should the European statesmen address us in the words which were used of old, "Wouldest thou be spoken for to the King, or the captain of the Host?", we should reply with the Shunamite woman. "Nay sir, for we dwell among our own people". We must build a kind of United States of Europe. Great Britain, the British Common-wealth of Nations, mighty America must be friends and sponsors of the new Europe.As for 1946, when Churchill "electrified the world" with his call for a "United Europe", MacShane, like the rest of his Euro-luvvie colleagues, is relying on the historic speech made by the great man in the Great Hall of Zurich University on 19 September.
Then, after painting a typically robust picture of the "plight to which Europe has been reduced" by the "frightful nationalistic quarrels originated by the Teutonic nations", Churchill held out his vision of how the hundreds of millions of inhabitants of this unhappy and ruined continent might "regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living". To achieve peace, freedom and an end to "all the crimes and follies of the past", he said, "we must build a kind of United States of Europe".
Churchill was to renew this message in three more major speeches in the years that followed, in London in 1947, at The Hague in 1948, and in Strasbourg in 1949. It is these rallying calls by Europe's only statesman at that time of world stature upon which the likes of MacShane rely as having been the inspiration for the steps which eventually led to the European Union: a project in which he implies that Churchill wished Britain to play a central part. In every respect this is based on a misreading of the facts.
For a start there was a crucial distinction between the type of united Europe envisioned by Churchill and that which would begin to take shape in the 1950s. He made this clear by his references at Zurich to the "pan-European union" which had been worked for by that "famous French patriot and statesman Aristide Briand", and to that "immense body which was brought into being amidst high hopes after the first world war – the League of Nations".
At all times, Churchill was essentially looking back to that internationalist idealism of the 1920s, associated with Briand, Stresemann and Coudenhove: a "United States of Europe" based on an alliance of sovereign states. Yet, it was precisely this type of "intergovernmentalism" which the founders of what was to be the European Union regarded as their greatest obstacle and, as we saw from the Wallström "Terezin speech", consider to be the road that leads to another Holocaust.
Furthermore, Churchill consistently made clear both at Zurich and later, he saw any "United Europe" rooted in "a partnership between France and Germany". There was no question of Britain's direct participation. "In all this urgent work", as he put it,
France and Germany must take the lead together. Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America, and, I trust, Soviet Russia… must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe, and must champion its right to live.In 1947, at the Albert Hall in London, he conjured up his vision of a "Temple of World Peace", which would have "four pillars": the USA; the Soviet Union; a "United States of Europe"; and, quite separately, "the British Empire and Commonwealth".
But what is particularly interesting is that the man who was most dismissive of Churchill's type of "United Europe" was none other than Jean Monnet, who was convinced that the goal could only be reached in a wholly different way. Ironically, therefore, this was almost the only point on which Churchill and Monnet were agreed. If a "United States of Europe" was to be brought about, it would be without Britain.
If MacShane and his friends are going to quote Churchill, therefore, it would be helpful if they got their facts right.