The prospects of European unity are here critically examined by a well-known British historian and expert on international affairs who has himself participated in European gatherings since the war.
The ratification of the “Euratom” and “Common Market” treaties, and the prospect of their coming into force in less than a year’s time, has given a new urgency to the problem of the form that the unity of Western Europe should take, and to the question of how far geographically its boundaries ought to extend. There is now an awareness of the possible obsolescence of postwar ideas of defense, and a hope that a new effort at understanding with the East might permit some lessening in the rigidity of the division separating the two halves of Europe.
Conversely, it is becoming more obvious that the basic questions of defense have to be settled in a non-European context, and that the development of federal or quasi-federal institutions in Western Europe is not likely to affect this issue in the way many people previously hoped that it would. In other words, the unification of Western Europe will not substantially relieve the United States of its share in the burden of defense. Even if the hope of relaxation be an illusion, the mere discussion of it has revealed that it is by no means only the Germans who cannot accept as a permanent political frontier the line of demarcation between the victorious armies of 1945.
In the present discussion we are concerned with the political and economic problems that are raised by the recent agreements between the six countries (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg) which already cooperate in the working of one supra-national body, the Coal and Steel Community. These six countries have, almost from the beginning of the postwar period, distinguished themselves from the wider Western European grouping (represented in such organs as OEEC and the Council of Europe) by their professed willingness to sink their national identities in an ultimately federal structure, and have sought to find a way toward this goal by creating institutions capable under certain conditions of overriding the national governments themselves. In the most ambitious of these arrangements, the recently signed “Common Market” treaty, they have undertaken—on the model of the Coal and Steel Community—to abolish by stages all internal barriers to trade and simultaneously to establish a uniform tariff against the outside world. At the same time, various institutions are to be set up to cushion the several economies against some of the changes that are bound to ensue, and to equalize conditions of competition within the Common Market.
This kind of arrangement conforms to the American idea that the European economies suffer from too restricted domestic markets, and since the ultimate aim is a total customs union and not “preferences,” it does not flout the American insistence upon non-discrimination. On the other hand, it would be well to realize that the market itself will be sheltered behind a tariff higher than that levied by several of its present members, so that its contribution to a general freeing of world trade—another American objective—is more dubious. And if a federal government did appear at the apex of these new arrangements, its general attitude would certainly not be one of laissez-faire.
Against the federal objective there has always been an alternative line of development, of which Britain and the Scandinavian countries have been the principal exponents. This has been based upon the assumption that political decisions would have to remain in the hands of individual governments, parliaments, and electorates, and that what was primarily needed was more regular consultation and the establishment of international agencies, rather than of supra-national institutions. This has sometimes been called the “confederal” approach; but the term has misleading connotations. The difference in the present phase is represented by the idea of an organization for cooperation in the use of atomic energy much looser than that envisaged by “the Six” in Euratom, and a “Free Trade Area” as a complement to the “Common Market.” Under the proposed “Free Trade Area” which would include the countries of the Common Market, its members would abolish the tariffs on goods produced in the Area, but would keep their separate external tariffs. Furthermore, they would not set up the elaborate supra-national machinery that the Common Market treaty provides for, largely on French insistence. Americans may feel that the larger area with its bigger internal market is the more promising of the two, though it can less easily be reconciled with the principle of non-discrimination. The point would seem to be that one cannot have both: if Europe is to be federal at all, it can only be on the scale of “the Six.”
Before considering why this is so, it is worth asking whether the way forward for “the Six” is as clear as their leaders profess to believe. Doubts are raised by a number of difficulties at very different levels. The most recent, at the time of writing, is the failure to agree upon a center for the new institutions that are being created. It is clear that if Europe is to have common institutions which are intended to be a government in embryo, then they ought to be situated in one city, which would gradually attain the status of Europe’s capital. But the arguments advanced in the discussions were primarily based on considerations of national convenience and prestige. Even more serious is the question why, if France and Germany are so anxious to merge their economies, they should find it so difficult to overcome the disequilibrium caused by the over-valuation of the French franc And there are yet more fundamental reasons for wondering whether the timetable envisaged for the coming into being of the Common Market will in fact be sustained. In the remarkable volume which M. Charles Morazé has contributed to the new French historical series, Destins du Monde (a volume significantly entitled Les Bourgeois Conquérants), he points out how close, from the beginning, were the links between French industry and the protective patronage of the French state. A great part of French economic life is based upon a highly involved system of protection and subsidy—the principles of Adam Smith are flouted at every turn—and one is entitled to ask whether the French will permit their own government to dismantle these barriers, or to transfer power to an international authority which will do it for them. The example of coal and steel, where the political frontiers have long been recognized as irrelevant to efficient organization by the producers themselves, is not perhaps a precedent which should be relied upon too much.
Again, there is a clear difference in emphasis between France’s desire to secure further capital for economic development in overseas areas under her control, and the unwillingness of her European partners to get caught up in the apparently insoluble tragedy of France’s relations with the North African countries. And to take a case with more political than economic significance, while Holland’s European partners may well sympathize with her in the dilemma created by the quite absurdly gratuitous claim of Indonesia to Western New Guinea, and deplore the impertinent attitude of a recently emancipated country that cannot even govern itself, they cannot feel as deeply touched by this as the Netherlanders themselves.
As soon as one begins to discuss any of these issues with people from the countries concerned—to say nothing of debating German reunification with a German—one sees that they are thinking in national rather than in European terms; if “Europe” comes in, it is likely to be as an adjunct to national policy, not as something which makes national aspirations and problems irrelevant. But even supposing these difficulties can be overcome—where do “the Six” get to then? With the Coal and Steel Community, the Common Market, and Euratom all functioning and all controlled by a directly elected European parliamentary body, the decisive steps toward political federation may well have been taken—if we assume (and it is a big assumption) that common defense will have been taken care of by NATO. But are the people of “the Six” really prepared for the consequences—would France or West Germany or Italy really envisage for themselves the political independence of California, or even of Quebec? If Strasbourg or Luxembourg or Brussels is to be the “capital of Europe,” will Paris and Rome agree to being assimilated to the status of Sacramento? If the protagonists of the Europe of “the Six” were to say “no,” it would not be possible to blame them for it. The trouble is that they say things which can only be interpreted as meaning “yes”; and one feels that either they are deceiving us, or more likely they are deceiving themselves and somehow believe that federation can add to the strength of the component units without demanding from them any parallel sacrifices of autonomy or prestige.
But taking it that they do mean what they say, and that they are determined upon federation, what then do they rely on as the motive force for overcoming these blocks in the road? One very general and generous sentiment that undoubtedly inspired the movement in its early period was the feeling that France and Germany must never go to war again. There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of that determination on either side. But other developments in the world have made such a war unthinkable anyhow, unless the two countries were to be swallowed up in rival power-blocs. The scale of France and Germany in the atomic age makes the whole issue of war between them as sovereign units an entirely anachronistic one; and it would not be necessary for them to enter into a federation in order to avoid it.
One has to look for something less specific but at the same time more relevant; and this can only be found in the desire to build up a new political unit based upon a common ideology. This ideology cannot be based on the European idea as such. “The Six” are an important part of the Continent, but Europe is not Europe without Britain, Scandinavia, and Switzerland, without the Iberian Peninsula, without Austria, Hungary, and Poland, without the Czechs, and indeed without the Russians. The ideology is in fact a narrower one: it is the ideology of Christian Democracy. The principal political leaders of the movement, and many of its leading spokesmen, have in common a belief in the possibility of deriving a democratic form of government and policies of social welfare from the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Now the Catholic Church is a powerful institution in much of Europe, and a movement which it supports has got to be taken seriously. But its support confers not only advantages on the movement, but also handicaps. And before one assumes that the movement is going to succeed one has got to see clearly what these handicaps are. Except in Northern Ireland, the Protestant cause is hardly a fighting one in Northern Europe, but Britain and Scandinavia (the countries that have been most unwilling to follow the lead of “the Six”) are the core of Protestant Europe. They have no political leaders who move easily in the world of ideas familiar to men like Dr. Adenauer, M. Robert Schuman, or the late Signor de Gasperi; and their peoples, except for a significant minority in England itself, are impervious to this particular ideology, since they largely equate Protestantism with their own democratic forms. Even in the more general forum of the Council of Europe, one can sense the delicacy of the religious issue.
But what is really more important than these outside repercussions is the fact that it is by no means clear that a Catholic ideology can function as a binding link within “the Six” themselves. If one takes the fact that Italy and Belgium and Luxembourg are overwhelmingly Catholic, and that France is nominally 80 per cent Catholic, one gets the impression that the Catholic Church should be able to command a very great measure of political authority in the area of “the Six.” But as soon as one starts breaking down these figures into actuality, one sees the weakness of this assumption. Not only are the Catholics actually in the minority in the Netherlands and Western Germany, but even in France practicing Catholics number only about a quarter of the population, and even in Italy only a third. Of the political parties in the three large countries that claim a Christian Democratic inspiration, only the Italian one is both a party of government and strongly Catholic. The German CDU only retains its great strength by refusing to become confessional and by including an important Protestant component. In a united Germany, where the percentage of Catholics would be considerably reduced, neither this position nor its majority status might be preserved. And in France, the MRP has to divide Catholic votes with the parties of the right, and is itself only capable of acting within coalitions which incorporate parties of a very different outlook.
Furthermore, in all three countries, but particularly in France and Italy, clericalism is a real issue in politics. Large sections of the population are not merely non-Catholic (and indeed non-Christian)—they are firmly opposed to any political party that does claim the support of the Church. And among the working class of France and Italy, this anti-clericalism is an undoubted part of the appeal of Communism. Even among the German Social Democrats, the “European” policy, which has at times looked like a guarantee of the perpetuation in power of the CDU, is deeply suspect. Again, one has to look to the future as much as to the past. The more successful the measures to improve the economy of these countries, the more marked will be the progress of industrialization, particularly in Italy; and industrialization will increase the numerical weight of those social strata where the Church has the least hold. Time works against Christian Democracy.
It is a fact not always faced by those who advocate the full federation of “the Six” and a directly elected parliament as a step toward it, that the present exclusion of the Communist parties from the European assemblies will no longer be possible. So far from the Christian Democratic parties having an obedient majority there, they will be faced by a large bloc of Communists, who will possibly find in a common anti-clericalism a basis for political cooperation with other parties on the left. But quite apart from calculations of this kind, it is difficult to see how a European political union, which is intended to have among its other purposes the raising of the general level of production and productivity, can come into being with no backing from any important section of the organized working class in any of the countries concerned. The support of certain political leaders and civil servants and the enthusiasm of some intellectuals cannot, in the long run, make up for the absence of mass support. And it is noteworthy that no election campaign has yet been fought in any country of “the Six” in which one side has put “Europe” in the forefront of its appeal. Thus the coolness with which Britain and the Scandinavian countries regard the more ambitious of the federal plans of “the Six” does not arise from an outworn belief in the capacity of the European nation-states to take care of themselves, but from the fact that the supporters of these plans seem so unwilling to face the immediate political problems of their own countries, and the deep divisions that these cause within their own peoples. To those familiar with the practice of federalism—and the Swiss are notable absentees from all these discussions—there is too wide a gap between what the European federalists say and what the governments they represent seem willing to do.
It is thus wrong to suppose that an irresistible movement is being temporarily held up by the unwillingness of certain countries to accept the necessity for a wider union. Yet any argument on this point from a British source is bound to seem a piece of special pleading, and it may therefore be worth seeing what the British position actually is.
“Fifteen years ago Britain was isolated from Europe. Fifteen years hence it may be part of Europe, in a manner unprecedented in modern times.” This was not said by someone enthusiastically committed to the ideology of European union; it is a quotation from a very hardheaded source indeed. It comes from a report prepared by the Economist’s Intelligence Unit, for the use of industrial concerns and trade unions, on the probable effect upon Britain’s own industry of the Common Market and the proposed addition to it of a Free Trade Area including the United Kingdom itself. The authors of this report (Britain and Europe, London, 1957) take the view that if the Common Market actually comes into existence without the parallel organization of the Free Trade Area, the result will be a decline in Britain’s economic strength relative to that of the rest of the world. Taking into account the political and economic consequences of the alternative, they declare themselves “strongly in favor of British participation in the movement for European Free Trade.”
It would be very misleading if one were to give an American audience the impression that Britain is deeply and tumultuously divided on the subject. Although some sections of the press, and some particular interests, occasionally let out a warning that Britain or the Commonwealth is being sold down the river by a European-minded government, the whole topic is far removed from what the ordinary voter, or even the ordinary Member of Parliament, has on his mind. Insofar as there is public reaction in Britain to the Free Trade Area negotiations, it is unfavorable—on the right because of domestic protectionism, or a preference for concentration on the Commonwealth; on the left because of a rather unformulated theory—which the statistics do not confirm—that the result of an agreement would be the flooding of the British market by goods produced by lower-paid labor; or at a more sophisticated level (Aneurin Bevan’s), because the project would limit the possible extent of economic interventionism by a future Socialist government.
The truth seems to be that the arguments adduced by the Economist’s Intelligence Unit have for some time been accepted by the Cabinet’s own economic advisers, and by the departments concerned. The civil servants at the Board of Trade and the Treasury, for whom “interdependence” is not a slogan but a fact of their daily work—men whose background is the Marshall Plan, OEEC, and EPU, and who are accustomed to working closely on economic matters with their West European counterparts—have been convinced (and have seemingly convinced the government) that Britain has no option but to go along with her European neighbors if they are really prepared for further far-reaching measures of economic integration. Nor do they believe that the projected Free Trade Area would interfere with the particular economic relationships that exist between Britain and the countries of the Commonwealth. They had probably already noted what the Economist’s report points out: “Intra-European trade is growing more rapidly than Britain’s trade with the Commonwealth. Between 1951 and 1955, Europe’s imports rose by over 20 per cent in value, the Commonwealth’s by only 2 per cent. Britain can swim with this tide or against it. The plan for a Free Trade Area offers, in the sphere of economics, closer association with Europe without abandoning Britain’s historical trading and financial relationship with the Commonwealth.” But the government has not done anything to make these conclusions known to the British public; so far from stimulating discussion on the issues raised, it has probably welcomed the relative lack of interest that has been shown.
Americans, and others, often assume that the reason is that Britain is not yet reconciled to her decline in international status. Is it not time, they ask, that Britain gave up pretending that she stands apart from the other European powers and can still argue, if not as an equal, at least on a special footing, with the United States and the Soviet Union? There is of course something in this argument, though much less than most Americans appear to believe. From the point of view of power politics, the lesson that Britain no longer stands where she stood has by now been rammed home; in that sense the failure at Suez has certainly had its effect. The idea of the Pax Britannica has been rather implausible ever since it was discovered that aircraft could sink ships. One may regret the disappearance of the old British Empire, but one can hardly fail to notice it. Insofar as there is a section of opinion in Britain that has not woken up to the consequences, it is not among the old imperialists but among the old anti-imperialists, among leaders on the left who assume that the weakened Britain of today can continue to produce an ever-rising standard of living for those members of the working class who have the good fortune to be protected by strong trade unions, without any corresponding effort to adapt the economy to a newly competitive world. And it is fair to add that they have their counterparts in management.
But in general it is not true to say that there is a refusal to recognize the facts. Nor is there anything like the fierce chauvinism that a similar decline in status seems to have brought about in France. Britain is not angry—though it does not take kindly to Mr. Dulles’s sermons on international morality. Instead, there is a certain tendency to feel that the whole situation is too complicated for anything useful to be done about it at all. The prospect of thermonuclear war has created not a sense of urgency about foreign policy, but a feeling of apathy. The Americans and the Russians will decide in the end; meanwhile let us cultivate our gardens! There are individual triumphs in science, technology, and production, particularly in the peaceful use of atomic energy where Britain leads the world; there is useful progress in some aspects of the movement toward the creation of a more civilized life for the masses of our people; but there is no general national sense of purpose. Political life is at a low ebb.
Since Britain cannot now retain its own position in isolation, those who have sought for some larger unity in which to seek integration have for long been balancing among three possibilities, sometimes regarded as mutually exclusive and sometimes as complementary. These are the Atlantic Alliance, meaning in particular a specially intimate Anglo-American partnership; a more tightly knit Commonwealth; and finally, “Europe.” The first of these has in fact been ruled out by a quite different trend in American opinion and policy. The third is our present subject. What of the second? Here again, though there is a certain pride in the evolution of a new and growing family of independent nations, and a sincere willingness to assist the newer members of it in their economic, technical, and administrative problems—the role of the British universities in this is particularly striking—it cannot be said that the Commonwealth is a very present reality in British political life. Patrick Maitland, a Conservative Member of Parliament, has recently published a book of absorbing interest expounding the ideas of the “Expanding Commonwealth” group, which is dedicated to the notion that the Commonwealth is now flexible enough for it to be possible to contemplate the addition of further members—republics or monarchies—who could enter without any sacrifice of their own individuality. The smaller countries of Northern Europe, and Israel, are often mentioned in this connection, But Mr. Maitland’s book has aroused nothing like the interest that it deserves. He calls it: A Task for Giants. And that is the trouble. The British do not wish to be giants.
For Britain’s relations with Europe, the importance of the Commonwealth is not only in what is ruled out—entrance into a European federation which would make the Commonwealth machinery unworkable, since it is based on the idea of sovereign nations, and a member of a federation cannot be sovereign; nor does it lie in the field of economics, since the Free Trade Area could be reconciled with the further development of Commonwealth trade with continental Europe, as well as with the United Kingdom. It is much more a consequence of the kind of approach to the question of European unity that Commonwealth experience itself suggests.
The British feel that they understand two forms of political organization in which the interests of individual units are reconciled with those of wider communities of which they form part. One is federal government in its classical form. The other is free consultation and cooperation, as between the Commonwealth countries themselves. From this point of view, the proposed Free Trade Area is simply an extreme example of a willingness to harmonize national policies for the common good. It may well be argued that in a situation where the boundaries of Europe are still indeterminate, and where no one wishes to close avenues to a wider future, arrangements of this limited kind deserve encouragement and support.