The weeks news in Britain has centred upon the Great Repeal Bill and has therefore been very Brexit heavy, and so by association, very European Union heavy. For a historical story of relevance to contemporary events I have opted not for one regarding the European Union directly but one regarding what could have been; one of the first British proposals for a European Project.
The European project proposed by Churchill bares a very different likeness to that of the European Union today, a union of independent states in a federalesque cooperation focused mainly on defence. However, Churchills European dream was one born of a nightmare. Far from being driven by dreams of a utopian Pan-European future he was driven by the fear of further bloodshed within a continent which had been in a death spiral since 1917, as well as a fear of Europe fading into obscurity between the great powers of the United States and the USSR.
By June 1940 the full weight of the German war machine had come to bare on the French state and as the last British and Belgian troops to escape left from Dunkirk and a handful of other channel ports the French government found itself standing alone in a battle it was unable to fight (Jackson, 2003). Britain feared the imminent fall of France leaving it to stand alone against Nazi Germany, particularly the potential loss of the French navy, in the midst of this atmosphere an offer was extended from Churchill to the French state of complete political union with Britain. The proposal dissolved national sovereignty, with joint control of all aspects of the state through a formally joined parliament forming one Franco-British super state (Shlaim, 1974). It remains to this day the most radical plan of European integration to be forwarded by any government.
The background to this proposal had been an atmosphere of ever increasing cooperation since the start of the war, beginning with a Supreme War council in September 1939 and evolving to include central planning of the two nations economies by December (Shlaim, 1974). Such measures were created out of necessity and a need to coordinate resources for the greater good and it was through this spirit that Churchill’s proposal for union would arise. The final text for this proposal written with the usual amount of hyperbole and imperial grandeur associated with Churchill reads as follows:
‘At this most fateful moment in the history of the modern world The Governments of the United Kingdom and the French Republic make this declaration of indissoluble union and unyielding resolution in their common defence of justice and freedom against subjection to a system which reduces mankind to a life of robots and slaves.
The two governments declare that France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations, but one Franco-British Union.
The constitution of the Union will provide for joint organs of defence, foreign, financial, and economic policies.
Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain; every British subject will become a citizen of France.
Both countries will share responsibility for the repair of the devastation of war, wherever it occurs in their territories, and the resources of both shall be equally, and as one, applied to the purpose.
During the war there shall be a single War Cabinet, and all the forces of Britain and France, whether on land, see, or in the air, will be placed under its direction. It will govern from wherever it best can. The two Parliaments will be formally associated. The nations of the British Empire are already forming new armies. France will keep her available forces in the field, on the sea, and in the air. The Union appeals to the United States to fortify the economic resources of the Allies, and to bring her powerful material aid to the common cause.
The Union will concentrate its whole energy against the power of the enemy, no matter where the battle may be.
And thus we shall conquer.’
As we know the union was not accepted by the French and Britain and France remained independent nations, French capitulation followed and four years of collaboration with Nazism from the newly installed puppet Vichy government. Churchills last ditch attempt to keep France in the war failed but it is interesting today to look back and wonder what might have been. Could the baptism by fire and collective suffering of World War Two have bonded the two nations together or would the state have been slowly eaten away by the tides of nationalism? Regardless it is interesting to note today, in an environment of growing hostility to the European Union from the Iberian Peninsula in the west to Greece in the south east, that there are other models of European cooperation are out there. That unions are not limited to enabling the free movement of capital but that intra governmental cooperation can extend to defence, or even welfare in the interest of the greater good for all nations, for the benefit of the people and not of capital.
Shlaim, A. (1974) ‘Prelude to Downfall: The British Offer of Union to France, June 1940’, Journal of Contemporary Histor, [Vol. 9], number, pp 27- 63(s)
Jackson, J. (2003) The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940, Oxford, Oxford University Press