The Price of Victory, by Michael Charlton consists of a series of transcripts of BBC radio interviews the author conducted with civil servants and politicians involved with Britain’s diplomatic relationship with European countries following the Second World War. The theme of the book is Britain’s attitude to the project of European integration from 1945 to 1963. The book ends with a discussion of why president Charles de Gaulle of France vetoed Britain’s membership of the European Community in January 1963.
Michael Charlton was editing this book in the early 1980s, a decade before the Maastricht Treaty and the creation of the European Union, which makes The Price of Victory an interesting historical primary source containing the views of the people who were involved in setting up the early European institutions – such as the European Coal and Steel Community, and then the European Community – that would one day be brought together as the European Union. Many of the early architects of European integration wanted to eliminate the kind of divisions between the nation states of Europe which had caused the First and Second World Wars.
Although Britain did not initially commit itself to the formation of the European Communities, there were those in the government who saw that as the country went through the process of decolonization – a process that was also happening to other European colonial powers such as Belgium and France – Britain now had to form closer ties with Europe if it was to survive in the future. This was the opinion of Harold Macmillan, who was quoted in the book as saying:
They did what the Greek city states did. They tore themselves apart in two terrible wars, lasting ten years in my lifetime, in which they destroyed each other – for Africans, Asians, the Russians and all the rest to see.(Charlton, 1983, p.228)
Before the Second World War was even over, Winston Churchill was Writing to his Foreign Secretary about the possibility of a future single country of Europe made up of federal states. Charlton quotes Churchill’s ‘Morning Thoughts’ which the wartime Prime Minister was writing around the time of the Battle of Alamein in October 1942. If somebody read those notes without understanding the historical context, that person might not think that Russia was in fact Britain’s ally at that time in the struggle against Nazi Germany. Churchill was clearly thinking about a post war settlement once the Nazis had been defeated when he wrote the following words:
I must admit that my thoughts rest primarily in Europe, in the revival of the glory of Europe, the parent continent of modern nations and of civilisation. It would be a measureless disaster if Russian barbarism overlaid the culture and independence of the ancient states of Europe. Hard as it is to say now, I trust that the European family may act unitedly as one, under a Council of Europe in which the barriers between nations will be greatly minimised and unrestricted travel will be possible. I hope to see the economy of Europe studied as a whole. Of course we shall have to work with the Americans in many ways, and in the greatest ways, but Europe is our prime care … It would be easy to dilate upon these themes. Unhappily, the war has prior claims on our attention.(Charlton, 1983, p.13)
In the late 1940s it was not viewed as unpatriotic for an Englishman to advocate the formation of a United States of Europe. Churchill lost the General Election to Clement Attlee immediately after the Second World War, but from Charlton’s account Churchill spent much of his time criticising the Labour Government of Attlee, for its lack of commitment towards European Unity. Charlton has made some interesting observations in the following paragraph:
Sir Harold Wilson has reminded us that Churchill’s assault on Bevin and Attlee for their refusal to take part in the Schuman Plan negotiations had been ‘devastating’. But by 1950 Churchill’s broad generalisations about Unity and his view that it could be brought about by acts of concerted good will, as Monnet put it, had proved insufficient for those who, like the author of the Schuman Plan, were determined to go beyond all past practices and embark, step by step, on the real functional integration of Europe. Yet it had been Churchill, surely, who by his great speeches and the significance of his own presence upon ‘European’ occasions had largely formed the whole climate in which it was possible for Monnet and the Federalists, and the Americans too, to make the new concept of the Coal and Steel pool a matter of practical politics.(Charlton, 1983, p.125)
Many of the founding fathers of the European Community such as Jean Monnet were involved in the struggle against Hitler and Nazism during the Second World War. In 1940 Churchill had considered uniting Britain and France in what would have been the beginnings of a United States of Europe, as a means of creating a powerful state to resist Nazi Germany. Charlton said:
On 16 June Sir Robert Vansittart of the Foreign Office, General de Gaulle, and Jean Monnet sat down in London to draft those words and the declaration of Union. It was sent by de Gaulle to the French Prime Paul Reynaud. But it was too late. The French government collapsed and France surrended to the German armies. The architect of this proposal, which won the support of Churchill and of the British cabinet was Jean Monnet. Monnet was in London as chairman of the Anglo-French coordinating committee and, as such, was directly responsible to both Churchill and Reynaud.(Charlton, 1983, p.36)
Jean Monnet was also a man who had used his contacts in the United States to promote the case for European integration as Charlton explained:
Jean Monnet was, in reality, more than a Minister. He had been a British civil servant on the Joint Purchasing Commission during two world wars and had always worked closely with the Americans, with Roosevelt in particular in wartime. And, a fact of the greatest importance, the American support for the concept of ‘integration’ owed a good deal to the force and clarity with which Monnet was heard in Washington.(Charlton, 1983, p.80)
After the war the Americans thought that NATO and a fully integrated Europe would be a means of preventing Western Europe being attacked or taken over by the Soviet Union. The author interviewed Professor Richard Neustadt of Harvard who was an expert on Anglo-American relations. Charlton quotes Neustadt as saying:
To think that European integration was necessary and desirable for reasons of recovery, opposing the Russians and containing the Germans – but to include Britain not merely as another government but as an earnest of this European entity, sustaining allied relations with America, and sustaining a global view.(Charlton, 1983, p.213)
Michael Charlton ends the story of The Price of Victory in 1963, a decade before the United Kingdom joined the European Community and two decades before he wrote his book. The discovery of Charlton’s book by a Europhile today, would be very much like a Renaissance architect who discovered some medieval drawings of the original plans of an incomplete cathedral. The Renaissance architect knew that he could not use the original plans in their entirety to complete the cathedral as some aspects of the designs needed to be changed, but they would have helped him to carry on with the job of building the cathedral. Europe’s Cathedrals took generations to be built, likewise it will take generations to build a safe and united Europe.
©Jolyon Gumbrell 2013
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