We can never hope to properly understand the European project without understanding its origins. It’s “official” history is now widely accepted; it was an idea that emerged after WWII to prevent a third European war. Actually the core idea that is the genesis of the EU emerged from the Great War. From there it was not just the ambiguous and differently interpreted idea of a “united Europe” that emerged; but the embryonic concept of supranationalism that would become the foundation of the European Union.
In 1914 a British civil servant named Arthur Salter and a Frenchman named Jean Monnet were in charge of organising the shipping of food and war materials between North America and Europe. They were by 1917 so frustrated by the difficulties created by the variety of national interests involved that they agreed that it would be beneficial to have a body with the power to override the owners of the ships and national governments in order to requisition them. This was the first step in the evolution of the most ambitious political idea ever conceived; one that would come to revolutionise Europe.
By 1919 both men were senior officials in the new League of Nations and would come to be inspired by the higher cause that was intended to transcend national loyalties. Eventually they would become disillusioned with the structure of the League; it was their disillusionment that would render the core of their vision totally uncompromising. Nation states with the power of veto were perceived to have been the fatal flaw in the League of Nations and this would be an anathema to their vision for Europe. As Monnet put it ‘the veto is the profound cause and at the same time the symbol of the impossibility of overcoming national egoism’.
The idea of a “united” Europe was popularised by Count Richard Coudenhove Kalergi who authored the 1923 book Pan Europa which contained a membership form for the “Pan-Europa movement”. It contained within it a proposal to merge the German and French steel industries as a means of maintaining peace. Coudenhove was however emphatic that the purpose of a federation would be to provide a framework for co-operation rather than to reduce the national sovereignty of its members.
It gathered support amongst European politicians, not least one Winston Churchill, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who told the House of Commons on June 24th 1925:
…the aim of ending the thousand-year strife between France and Germany seemed a supreme object. If only we could weave Gaul and Teuton so closely together economically, socially and morally as to prevent the occasion of new quarrels and make old antagonisms die in the realisation of mutual prosperity and interdependence, Europe would rise again.
The Pan-Europa movement held its first congress in Vienna and it was attended by more than 2,000 politicians, academics, businessmen, representatives of the professions and journalists. Among them was Arstide Briand, the Foreign Minister of France, who would become Pan-Europa’s honorary president in 1927. Briand went on to present the League of Nations with a dramatic new proposal in 1929, designed to combat the so-called ‘menace of American economic power’:
‘I think’, he said, that among peoples who are geographically grouped together like the peoples of Europe there must exist a kind of federal link… Evidently the association will act mainly in the economic sphere… but I am sure also that from a political point of view, and from a social point of view, the federal link, without infringing the sovereignty of any of the nations taking part, could be beneficial’.
The idea gained traction and Briand circulated a ‘Memorandum on a European Federal Union’ proposing that Europe should be given ‘something in the nature of a federal organisation’ in the interests of peace and social well-being. It would be implemented through the League of Nations Framework and would ‘respect national sovereignties’ and focus co-operation on economic policy, transport, finance, labour health and intellectual co-operation’.
Winston Churchill welcomed these developments with an article in the New York Saturday Evening Post on 13th February 1930:
‘…the mass of Europe once united, once federalised or partly federalised, once continentally self-conscious, would constitute an organism beyond compare…’
But this was to be a means of uniting continental Europe; with Britain set apart acting as a sponsor:
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 Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America must be friends and sponsors of the new Europe.
Despite early momentum and the support gather the Briand initiative failed and the mood of Europe was changing dramatically. The utopianism of the 1920s was dying. Monnet and Salter had observed the fledgling movement and as it lost momentum, and the failings of the the ailing League of Nations, which had become primarily a European concern, became apparent; they developed their own ideas.
Salter proposed in his 1931 collection of papers entitled The United States of Europe that the League’s four core institutions — its ruling secretariat, a council of ministers, a parliamentary assembly and a court of justice — should be turned into a supreme ‘government of Europe’ to be run through its secretariat by technocrats above national loyalties.
The first step towards this new government would be a “customs union” – based on the model of how Germany had been politically united in the nineteenth century, through establishing a Zollverein, a ‘common market’ – which would raise funding through a common tariff on all goods imported from outside. This, like Germany, would need a “common political authority” that would become “almost as important as, or even more important than, the national Governments, and would in effect reduce the latter to the status of municipal authorities”.
Salter’s grand design was put on hold by the rise of Adolf Hitler but this was the model which three decades later would be the inspiration for the European Economic Community; the embryonic ‘United States of Europe’ that Monnet has worked tirelessly to bring about.
Monnet was a formidable behind the scenes operator who had promoted his ideas to men such as Paul-Henri Spaak who is now known as one of the “founding fathers.” He told future British prime minister Harold Macmillan in 1943 that the first step towards a federal Europe would be the creation of a “Higher Authority” to run the key war waging industries of steel and coal.
In the years after 1945 when Monnet was placed in charge of an economic modernisation programme in France, the battle of ideas between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism would emerge; with Britain firmly in the intergovernmental camp. Essentially the intergovernmental model entails democratic nations coming together in transnational organisations designed to facilitate equitable cooperation.
This was the model preferred by Britain at the time and endorsed by Churchill; with the Council of Europe and the United Nations being the institutions that would foster economic and political cooperation and thereby encourage unity and peace in Europe. The following is an extract from his speech at The Hague on 7 May 1948, when he chaired the Congress of Europe which led to the creation of the Council of Europe.
In that speech, he took great care to remind the Congress that:
Nothing that we do or plan here conflicts with the paramount authority of a world organisation of the United Nations. On the contrary I have always believed, as I dared in the war, that a Council of Europe was a subordinate but necessary part of the world organisation. I thought at that time, when I had great responsibility, that there should be several regional councils, august but subordinate, that these should form the massive pillars upon which the world organisation would be founded in majesty and calm. This was the direction in which my hopes and thought lay three or four years ago.
On 17 June, a month after the Congress, Churchill led a 19-strong delegation to meet the then Prime Minister Clement Attlee. Its purpose was to present for the favourable consideration of His Majesty’s Government the Resolutions passed at The Hague.
Churchill told the Prime Minister that the delegation “had no desire to trespass on the functions of executive Governments” and that unity and lasting peace “was the foremost object of European union”. It was “fully consistent with the objectives of the United Nations; for any European Union would be a subordinate and regional element in the United Nations organisation”.
Regarding the assembly that would become the Council of Europe, he “stressed the fact that those whom the Deputation represented had no desire to usurp the functions of His Majesty’s Government”.
The European Assembly was to be “a forum for the ventilation of ideas and a means of mobilising public opinion throughout Europe in support of the conception of European Union”. Churchill, however:
… did not contemplate any elaborate machinery: he envisaged an Assembly which would meet once or twice a year to review the progress made and to enlist public support for the policy of the national Governments. He did not suggest that resolutions passed at this Assembly should in any way be binding upon national Governments. The Assembly could not encroach on the executive responsibility of Governments.
So what Churchill advocated, and what was the dominant view in Britain at the time, was that it was undesirable for nations to surrender their sovereign rights. The European Union was envisaged to be “a subordinate and regional element in the United Nations organisation”. The idea was for countries to acquire an enriched sovereignty via membership of the Assembly and the UN; enhancing their influence and encouraging cooperation on an equal basis.
Jean Monnet, coming to the end of his four-year economic modernisation programme in France, had been unable to advance his plans for European governance and had seen the Council of Europe and the OEEC, created on the back of the Marshall Plan, come together based on the intergovernmental model. He was scornful of the Council of Europe; he predicted it would be an impotent talking shop hindered by national vetoes much as the League of Nations had been. He did not think that either could:
…ever give concrete expression to European unity. Amid these vast groupings of countries, the common interest was too indistinct, and common disciplines were too lax. A start would have to be made by doing something more practical and more ambitious. National sovereignty would have to be tackled more boldly and on a narrower front.
Events in the spring of 1950 would offer Monnet the opportunity to promote his “more ambitious” plans for Europe. With the Federal Republic of Germany having been formed and showing signs of a remarkable economic recovery, the question of how to assimilate the country into the western European community had arisen. With echoes of the catastrophic post-WWI policy, France sought to constrain Germany and divert part of its industrial production to her own benefit. Britain and the US objected and the US issued an ultimatum and gave France a deadline to offer a plan for international control of Germany’s coal and steel industries.
Monnet grabbed the opportunity to with both hands by adapting an idea first proposed inPan Europa in 1923. His idea was to place the coal and steel industry of France and Germany and, indeed, the whole of Europe under the control of a “High Authority”. Once again using his talent for persuading influential people to adopt his ideas, he put his plan in the hands of France’s Foreign Minister, Robert Schumann. He would be the front man for the ‘European Coal and Steel Community’; the first step towards a government for Europe.
Monnet defended the supranational power of his proposed “High Authority” to the hilt. A Court of Arbitration was added according to Belgian demands. The Dutch wanted an intergovernmental “watchdog” to oversee the “High Authority” and the French wanted an Assembly with the ultimate power to dismiss it. Monnet accepted the principles but insisted there could be no national veto, no majority voting and that the “watchdog” would be a forum through which the High Authority would ‘play an educating role vis-à-vis the governments’. The ‘Council of Ministers’ was born.
Monnet then created the “qualified majority voting’ system and secured an agreement that although the Council of Ministers could take part in decision making, it could not instruct the High Authority; it was to be supreme and immune from interference from national government.
British delegations to the Assembly continued to push the intergovernmental agenda but in a letter to Macmillan, Monnet denounced their proposals. He complained that if the ECSC were to be nothing more than an agency of the Council rather than an independent, supranational authority it would be: ‘merely a mechanism for coordination among nation states’. Which is exactly what he wanted to avoid.
Britain, therefore, did not take part. Macmillan stated:
…our people are not going to hand over to any supranational authority the right to close down our pits or steelworks. We will allow no supranational authority to put large masses of our people out of work in Durham, in the Midlands, in South Wales, or in Scotland.
There was anxiety about what the Coal and Steel Community would lead to, with one British diplomat advising:
British participation is likely to involve us in Europe beyond the point of no return, whether the plan involves some form of immediate federation in Europe or whether it is the first step in the federation of Europe, as the French statement puts it.
Final agreement was reached and formalised by the Treaty of Paris, signed on 18 April 1951. The Treaty was ratified in December 1951. There was however an atmosphere of doubt. Gaullist deputy Jacques Soustelle thought the Plan was ‘anti-European’:
We are all in favour of a European confederation, comprising Germany… But what worries us about the Coal-Steel pool is that instead of bringing us nearer to ‘Europe’, it is taking us away from it. Instead of delegating our powers to a democratic Assembly, we are asked to abandon an important sector of our economy to a stateless and uncontrolled autocracy of experts.
Professor Bernard Lavergne, a prominent political commentator, also expressed concern about the projects lack of democracy (a precursor of the lack of transparency and the distant and unreachable nature of EU politics and the inherent democratic deficit in its legislative process):
‘The French public could not make head or tail of the subsequent negotiations. Parliament, for its part, was presented with the project only very late in the day, and apart from twenty or thirty deputies and senators with sufficient general knowledge to form an opinion of the plan, few grasped its meaning… In most cases the thing was looked at through the distorting prism of a few slogans or electoral prejudices; in many cases, most of the deputies voted with their eyes shut and simply obeying the decisions taken by their party.’
Monnet had got what he wanted; his great project was finally launched according to the supranational model as he had long envisioned it. He was appointed as the High Authority’s first president, based in Luxembourg. Addressing the first session of the Community’s new assembly, he told the he told the delegates that they were taking part in ‘the first government of Europe’
Having implemented his plan with great patience and skill; Monnet then began to overreach. He and Spaak wanted to create a ‘European Political Community’ and even actively discussed a ‘Constitution for Europe’, but it was the European Defence Community that would prove his undoing. With Churchill offering British support but not direct involvement and many in the French government anxious about the supranational construct; it fell apart in the French Assembly. This prompted Monnet to resign in 1955.
The effect of the EDC rejection was to drive the political motives of the ‘project’ underground. According to Jean Monnet’s biogropher, François Duchêne:
Nobody after the first two years of Monnet’s presidency at the High Authority would again talk of it or its equivalents as a ‘European government’… Awareness that the French would have to be coaxed into further progress introduced caution into the European vocabulary. The word federal was reserved as the political equivalent of Latin for the rare religious occasion. Even supranational… tended to be used only when another fig-leaf could not be found. The idea of a Europe in some sense above the nations was no longer stated in the open.
From then on Monnet would work behind the scenes with his increasingly powerful friend Spaak. The new strategy was to build their vision of Europe incrementally through the progressive integration of economic sectors which would necessarily lead to further political integration. This would begin with the customs union that had been previously suggested by Salter: a ‘Common Market’.
The Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957; creating the European Economic Community. The institutions were headed by the European Commission, the new “High Authority”, and represented the formation of a form of government rather than what was needed to run a mere trading arrangement.
The aim was always centralisation and the elimination of national vetoes; the steady transfer of power from national governments to the supreme government in Brussels. Over the next 60 years the fledgling ‘United States of Europe’ extended its powers, treaty by treaty, over every area of government. At the core of the project is the acquis communautaire: the golden rule that once powers were acquired by the centre they could never be given back.
Understanding the origins and history of the EU is essential in the run up to the referendum. It explains why we were not able to achieve the fundamental reform that Mr Cameron set out in 2013. Nothing that is currently being said about the need to remain in the EU and push for reform has any relation to reality. We are not going to get a reformed EU and we are not going to repatriate powers back to Britain; the direction of travel is one way and we have to accept that or leave.
Whatever attempts are made to address the “democratic deficit” will be tinkering on the edges; the EU will never be a democracy; it simply was never meant to be. A supreme government headed by an unelected executive with monopoly over the legislative process ruling over 500 million people of different languages and cultures with no unifying demos and very little capacity to bring about change can never be democratic.
The focus on the economic benefits of the Single Market – forever conflating the EU and the Single Market and attempting to conceal from the wider public that we can leave the EU and remain in the market – is highly disingenuous. The attempt to portray it as an economic/trading arrangement is the same deceptive narrative that has prevailed since the 1950’s.
The EU is a supranational construct and the aim remains the same: to unify European states under a supreme government. All proposals for reform – such as the Bertelsmann Fundamental Law and Duff’s Protocol of Frankfurt and the Five Presidents Report – aim to deepen the integration of the Eurozone. We have three choices: accept second class status outside the core, commit totally to the project and seek integration or leave and relate to the EU as an independent nation.
What we cannot do is vote remain on false pretences or the deluded belief that the EU will become something else more in line with an intergovernmental organisation fostering cooperation. The EU’s central purpose is not to promote co-operation. The agenda is subordination. It always has been and it always will be.
This post was originally published by the author 16 May 2016 https://thescepticisle.com/2016/05/16/the-eu-is-not-just-a-trading-bloc-and-was-never-meant-to-be-a-democracy/