Tuesday, August 05, 2014

"Europe unites on a day of solemn remembrance"

The headline in "The Times" (above) was accurate and moving. One hundred years after the beginning of the first modern European War, and just under seventy after the end of the last one, Europe is united in peace. This hasn't happened by chance and Winston Churchill was one of the creators of unity, in his noble rhetoric at least. In September 1946 he said this:

"This noble continent, comprising on the whole the fairest and the most cultivated regions of the earth; enjoying a temperate and equable climate, is the home of all the great parent races of the western world. It is the fountain of Christian faith and Christian ethics. It is the origin of most of the culture, arts, philosophy and science both of ancient and modem times.

If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to the happiness, to the prosperity and glory which its three or four hundred million people would enjoy. Yet it is from Europe that have sprung that series of frightful nationalistic quarrels, originated by the Teutonic nations, which we have seen even in this twentieth century and in our own lifetime, wreck the peace and mar the prospects of all mankind...

What is [the] ..remedy?

It is to re-create the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe."

Nationalism was and is lethal. "Nationalistic quarrels", as Churchill called them, meant that "prosperity" became impossible and, more venally, they killed, in their millions - twice in the lifetime of my parents generation. They lived through two grotesque conflicts. I, born a couple of months after Churchill's speech, have lived in peace. And, as I say, this hasn't happened by chance. From the early days of the creation in 1951 of the European Coal and Steel  Community (ECSC) to today there has been a determined effort to be united across Europe, as Churchill had wished. And from the start peace was the goal. The French foreign minister Robert Schumann said that the ECSC was a way to prevent further war between France and Germany. He declared his aim was to "make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible"

Peoples with a "common inheritance" should not fall out and fight, but they did. But add substance to that inheritance and create a pragmatic reason for unity and you've a better chance. That reason has, of course, to be economic. Peace treaties can be and have been broken, all too often. Remember Munich? But economic treaties are solid providing they involve mutual interest. From the "Treaty of Paris", which set up the ECSC, to the "Treaty of Rome" seven years later which established the "European Economic Community" (EEC) and beyond. The greatest achievement of my lifetime has been the move towards Churchill's dream of a "United States of Europe". We may quarrel about the extent of federalism that is desirable, and we may squabble about the details (it would be odd if 28 Sovereign States did not!). But we mostly surely agree that Peace in our Time in Europe could not have happened without a solid economic base and structure for unity. 

In 1954, in Washington, Churchill famously said "... to jaw-jaw always is better than to war-war” . The European Union requires us continuously to Jaw-Jaw. But as we look at the War cemeteries across Europe can any of us truly doubt that these occasional disagreements, peacefully resolved, are far better than the deadly alternative?


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