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Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The UK's EU Policy; Attitudes from the 1950s to the Present day; The Federalist Agenda



What with all the fuss about the likely appointment of a federalist as President of the EU Commission, and about Britain's opposition to the appointment, and about other EU Policies (eg certain private conversations recorded in a Warsaw restaurant), I found it fascinating to read the views of a Dutch federalist, published in 1958.

J. H. Huizinga, in his book "Confessions of a European in England" (Heinemann, London, 1958), deals with British attitudes to Europe during the 1950s (in his final chapter, pp 292-296):

"Seven years ago, at the time of the Schuman plan, she had been outspokenly hostile to the revolutionaries on the Continent. She had not only refused to have anything to do with their plan to create a single market for Europe's coal and steel industries, but she had also made no secret of her active dislike of any and all such ideas. In a vitriolic policy-statement the National Executive of the Labour Party, which was then in power, had "fundamentally rejected" the idea of "an economic union based on dismantling all internal barriers to trade such as customs duties, exchange controls and quotas---which would throw Europe open to Communism". It had denounced the men who with the Schuman plan were taking a first step towards such a union, and who had made no secret of it that they championed supra-national methods and aimed at ultimate federation, as "among the most dangerous enemies of European unity"...

"Who would have believed then that six years later both parties would sing such a radically different tune? Confronted with the plan to create that all-embracing economic union which in 1950 had filled practically the whole of Britain with sentiments ranging all the way from polite or superior scepticism to outright aversion, there was now not a whisper of criticism to be heard...Stranger still, this time there was not only widespread sympathy, understanding and even enthusiasm for the bold plans of the architects of the new Europe. This time...Britain even appeared ready to along with them.

"True, she still refused to go more than part of the way. She still declined to subscribe to their ultimate aim, which remained European federation. "The idea of Britain going into a Federation of Europe", Mr Gaitskell said in January 1957, "was absolutely out of the question". She was prepared to join the Six for the immediate object of breaking down the trade barriers that kept Europe divided. To the Continental revolutionaries the pulling down of the walls was only an economic means to the political end of building Europe, a new approach to the unchanging aim which they had failed to achieve with the E.D.C. To Britain the means were the end beyond which she would not go. And even in the achievement of this intermediate aim of the Six she was not prepared to go as far as they. They wanted not only freedom of trade within Europe but also freedom of movement, freedom to work where one pleased and to live where one pleased and to invest one's money where one pleased. Freedom was the shining word that recurred throughout the Common Market Treaty: the freedom of the citizen who was at last to be progressively liberated from the tyrant, that insatiable Moloch of individual liberty, the heavy-handed sovereign nation-State of our days. But of such far-reaching liberties as the peoples of Europe now proposed to resume unto themselves, the British were still wary. Faced with the choice between the sovereign freedom of their liberty-devouring State and the freedom of the individual, they were still inclined to prefer the former....

How badly Britain is needed in the building of this new Europe of ours. How often we have prayed for her to take the leadership that was- and perhaps still is- hers for the asking. How we have longed for the moment when she would recognise that the glorious imperial chapter in her history was drawing to a close and that it was time to come back home to Europe, where a new, great chapter waits to be written by her".

Missed opportunities? After more than sixty years of indecision and uncertainty - alongside very reasonable and growing concerns about the democratic deficit in the EU systems and processes,  it is high time we were given the full facts and the chance to make up our minds, for once and for all.

It is hardly edifying or helpful to read the reports of the leaked private exchanges in that Warsaw restaurant (see The Spectator).

On "Ever Closer Union" (Kosmopolito)

After all these years

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