EUROPE? How do we feel? What should we think? What are the prospects?

A discussion held on 27 May 2004.

Major integrative events in European history, from medieval warfare through nation-states, strategic alliances, competing empires, to two World Wars and a Cold War were mentioned. Then statements by major British politicians on post- 1945 European developments were considered. As well as others in Europe, the words of Churchill set the tone when the Marshall Plan was introduced to redevelop Europe.

" We must build a kind of United States of Europe" in order to secure "peace, safety and freedom", based on "partnership of France and Germany", but where "small nations count as much as large ones"(September 1946). "The Movement for European unity must be a positive force, deriving its strength from our sense of common spiritual values. It is a dynamic expression of democratic faith based upon moral conceptions and inspired by a sense of mission. In the centre of our movement stands the idea of a Charter of Human Rights, guarded by freedom and sustained by law. It is impossible to separate economics and defence from the general political structure. Mutual aid in the economic field and joint military defence must inevitably be accompanied step by step with a parallel policy of closer political unity. It is said with truth that this involves some sacrifice or merger of national sovereignty. But it is also possible and not less agreeable to regard it as the gradual assumption by all the nations concerned of that larger sovereignty which can alone protect their diverse and distinctive customs and characteristics and their national traditions…We seek nothing lress than all Europe…We welcome any country where the people own the Government, and not the Government the people"(May 1948). "If independent, individual sovereignty is sacrosanct and inviolable, how is it that we are all wedded to a world organization?" (i.e. the UN) (June 1950).

Later, others gave their views. Harold Wilson said " The whole history of political progress is a history of gradual abandonment of national sovereignty. The question is not whether sovereignty remains absolute or not, but in what way one is prepared to sacrifice sovereignty, to whom and for what purpose and whether any proposed surrender of sovereignty will advance our progress to the kind of world that we want to see"(August 1961). Margaret Thatcher said " The truth about sovereignty is that in the European Community each of the member states continues to enjoy all its individual traditions – constitutional, administrative, legal and cultural. What it believes to be its vital national interests are safeguarded in principle by a right of veto, and in practice by a continuous process of compromise and accommodation"(May 1975). However, by November 1990, Geoffrey Howe was explaining why he resigned as Foreign Minister- " Winston Churchill’s perception is a good deal more convincing , and more encouraging for the interests of our nation, than the nightmare image sometimes conjured up by my Right Honourable friend, who seems to look out upon a continent that is positively teeming with ill-intentioned people scheming, in her words to ‘extinguish democracy’, ‘to dissolve our national identities’ and to lead us ‘through the back door into a federal Europe’". By March 1991, however, John Major was saying- " I want us to be where we belong at the very heart of Europe, working with our partners in building the future…Change in the Community should be of an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary kind…The important thing is to strike the right balance between closer co-operation and a proper respect for national institutions and traditions". In October 1997, Gordon Brown was primarily concerned with the economics of one particular issue- "If a single currency would be good for British jobs, British business and future prosperity, it is right in principle to join. The constitutional is a factor in the decision, but it is not an overriding one." The five conditions for entry were then announced.

Thus, various leaders have commented upon political, economic and social factors involved in postwar developments in Europe and have declared their visions. A trend towards concern for economic considerations is now being accompanied by more general discussions of the consequences of expansion of membership of the EU. On the day of the discussion, however, it was reported that a group of ‘senior political European experts’ had reported to the President of the European Commission that ‘Europe is at a turning point in its history’ and facing a ‘triple crisis’ of failing institutions, failing democratic legitimacy and not knowing how far it should expand geographically. The proposed solution is the creation of a ‘common model society’ through 50 policies, involving an increased EU budget funded by a pan-European company tax, a European industrial policy, a European minimum wage and welfare benefits, and pan-European political parties guaranteed a proportion of European Parliament places. A British government spokesman is reported as commenting that "There is no prospect of harmonization on this scale. There is no appetite for it".

The ensuing discussion touched upon many of the issues and views raised in the foregoing remarks. Participants initially expressed some skepticism about political pronouncements- one person questioning Churchill’s motives, for example, suggesting that his interest was primarily to secure an ‘economic tool’ to prop up empire and that he wanted to direct without involvement in Europe. Another claimed that "Every politician these days is telling a whole pack of lies". Other comments were that words such as ‘constitution’ and ‘democracy’ are words ‘without a particular meaning’ and that they certainly do not reflect ‘the way we run our country’. One claim was that, following Socrates’ view of democracy as ‘mob rule’, " We need intelligent people to tell others what to do". A dissenter argued, however, that politicians need to ‘specify laws under which citizens will work’ – that is, to provide mechanisms to resolve conflicts of views and interests. Distinctions were nevertheless drawn between British integrity and that of Europeans – one person claiming that while in Britain people are free to do what they like, Europeans must do what they are told. Italy, said one participant, favours ‘Brussels’ only because it has power to deal with Italian government corruption.

While some argued that the motives of Europeans were primarily economic, favouring ‘supermarkets’ over preservation of national cultures, others accepted Churchill’s claim for an underlying ‘spiritual’ dimension. One contributor believed that Churchill did want Britain to be ‘at the heart of Europe’, because postwar Europe was too weak and needed collective strength against external threats- then the Soviet Union, now others. When the present relevance was questioned, it was pointed out that history does teach the value of prudence- with the Swiss Federation being cited as an example. When the Marshall Plan was adopted, to rebuild western Europe on Anglo-American ‘lines’, a ‘break-up of power’ was arranged, for example through the creation of the German federal republic, which has shown its value over many years. Federalism is not the ‘bogey’ it is now claimed to be and many federations around the world work remarkably well. Citizens feel that they are ‘part both of a state unit and of a larger unit, with power shared between them’. Canada, Australia, the United States, Brazil, etc. all indicate the benefits accruing from a balance of powers within a large federated unity.

Turning to the ‘independence’ of Britain, one view was that if we separated from Europe we would have little influence upon its activities. Another view was that ‘independence’ is illusory, not because we must be ‘in’ Europe, but because we are, like Europe, all subject to ‘outside interests’. (An example given was that if China or Saudi Arabia swopped from the dollar to the Euro as a basis for exchange, radical changes would ensue.) One person suggested that the European Community idea is now ‘obsolete’ in a technologically-developed world, where multinational corporations have the real power, across continental as well as state boundaries. Another used the term ‘economic aggression’ to describe that situation, giving as a feature a ‘U.S.-dominated World Trade Organisation’. He said that current ‘economic empires’ differ from earlier political empires, in that they achieve power by ‘persuading us that it is in our interest to do what they want’. It was said further that links between ‘big business’ and ‘politicians’ dominate the global situation today- particularly mentioned were warfare and oil interests. A comment on that was that the situation is not new- the 16th century Spanish wealth was dissipated in war and the devaluation of gold brought inflation, but after its long decline, Spain was now being rescued through the EU.

Some saw ‘Europe’ as a mere American appendage, since American practices and culture now dominate the world. An example of such dominance is that over the years US technical standards have supplanted British standards. A dissentient on culture, however, argued that there is a similarity throughout Europe of the ways in which people ‘behave, live and act’, which he took as a ‘sign of unity’, that they felt ‘at home and secure’, whilst enjoying ‘enough variation to make life interesting’. Many European peoples preserve their culture, developed over centuries, and are proud of it. He thought, however, that we can ‘pay too much attention to culture’, which can be ‘stultifying’ and that we ‘must allow things to be different’. When it was suggested that ‘European regulations’ threaten our culture, he replied that we should ‘intervene’ and that if we rejected that, America would dominate us instead. He concluded that ‘We are much more alike in our social structures to Europe than we are to America’. Moreover, when trade required a common language, English provided commonality with us and across Europe.

When the position of Turkey was discussed, the question of where the boundaries of Europe should lie was raised. The U.S. and NATO want Turkey included and there is an argument that this would also bring in other Muslim countries. When someone commented that ‘large corporates’ favour expansion for purposes of exploitation, another said that ‘Money is power’. One view was that decision on admission should depend upon the degree to which ‘ways of living, resources and facilities’ proved compatible. Although the Middle Eastern population is now larger and younger than that of Europe, democratic systems have not been developed. Expanding on critical views of ‘democracy’ as a criterion, it was argued that ‘democracy is only as good as the electorate’ and that Hitler, McCarthy and Bush were elected democratically. Difficult and unpopular decisions are sometimes needed. Moreover, it takes a very long time to develop conditions suitable for a democratic system and Europeans have retarded such development outside Europe where they have held power.

Prospects for European development were considered. As one contributor put it, although postwar unification may have ‘saved us from ourselves’, now that we are part of a global community, will it save us in future? It was argued that UK industry has been ‘destroyed by politicians’ and that while most of Europe has protected its industry, we have not. Although some foreign investment has come to Britain, the price of labour could cause its withdrawal at any time. For Europe to thrive, harmonization to provide ‘even access’ to European markets will be needed. A comment made on that suggestion was that if poorer countries then complain of their assets being bought too cheaply, they should be reminded of their own policy inadequacies which made them vulnerable. While European countries bargain with each other, they do not ‘talk’ to each other, each (like France) recalling a heyday of earlier independence. ‘Britain does not yet realize that it is as dependent as the rest’. One facet of that was its educational policy- much feebler than that of European countries.

Apart from the economic aspects, there are other considerations. A comment was made to the effect that Europe has failed to make itself a ‘global presence’. Another was that Europe needs ‘someone with vision to drive through a common programme’, since without that ‘bureaucrats’ will dominate. (The report to the President of the European Commission mentioned above was not discussed, presumably because it was considered to be out of the question.) There was a comment, however, upon the pace of change. While Europe may be ‘moving too slowly’ to keep up with global trends, it may be ‘ moving too fast’ to keep its peoples content. Nevertheless, there was a concluding view by one advocate for unity- ‘A strong united Europe can protect itself far better than can its individual states’. This reason alone should unite Europe, since he forecast that in time aggression will come from rising powers such as China, India,etc.

Geoffrey Catchpole