June 1940, Great Britain and the First Attempt to Build a European Union
Author Andrea Bosco, e-Book version 2016
Andrea Bosco has written a considerable number of books about federalism. This 2016 book may be his most impressive one. It is a detailed description of the manner in which many prominent Brits were committed to create a European Federation. This is all the more remarkable since Great Britain decided in 2016 to leave the European Union.
It is also striking that this process of federalization from the part of Britain occurred at the same time, with the same kind of actions, on the continent. Wim de Wagt mentions only incidentally that European federalization was also the focus of an enormous movement in England. And Bosco hardly pays any attention to the fact that on the continent Aristide Briand and Gustav Stresemann were occupied with European federalization.
This aside, both books offer a fascinating picture of strongly flaring up European unity in the context of federalism, derived from two sources of fire. Sources which flared up – though some hundred miles apart from each other – and kept burning for almost twenty years. Though without success. The political support to cover the existing societal foundation came too late; added to this was the arrival of World War II, which extinguished both fires.
Bosco opens by referring to the Brexit decision, pointing at the possibility that England itself might disintegrate if Scotland and North Ireland do not wish to follow England’s exodus from the EU. Then he states that this Brexit will accelerate the existing process of disintegration of the European Union (p. 7):
“The fundamental reason for the existence of the European Union has not been, in fact, the defence of a special cultural, racial or religious identity, but the creation of a definite method for resolving conflicts among States by peaceful and constitutional means. The first Community institutions were actually not imagined and created 65 years ago simply to establish a free-trade area and promote economic development among its members. They were conceived as the first step in a political process which, through the pooling of certain vital governmental functions such as economy and currency, aimed to achieve a federation, not a league of nations, establishing economic stability as a fundamental condition for political stability.”
In his introduction Bosco reveals an aspect that will surprise many readers. Moments before France surrendered in June 1940, Winston Churchill offered – with the assistance of Charles de Gaulle – the French government an indissoluble union, as the first step towards a European or even World Federation. With this offer England tried to persuade France not to surrender. This failed, however, through miscommunication when the Germans were on the brink of taking Paris. But strictly speaking Churchill’s offer was the logical conclusion of an almost twenty year-long vital process to have the English nation leading European federalism. A process that through its broad societal foundation also convinced the sceptical Churchill, influenced by advice from Jean Monnet.
The British thinking in terms of European federalization started in the twenties. Its societal foundation increased steadily, leading in 1938 to a Federal Union, established by three young men Charles Kimber, Derek Rawnsley and Patrick Ransome – “to favour the application of the federalist principle to Anglo-French relations”. Bosco’s book recounts the first eighteen months of this Federal Union. He summarizes the work of this organization as follows (p. 8):
“The contribution of the Federal Union to the development of the federal idea in Great Britain and Europe was to express and organise the beginning of a new political militancy: the aim of the political struggle was no longer the conquest of national power, but the building of a supranational institution, a federation (not a league) of nations. With Federal Union, the European federation was no longer an abstract ‘idea of reason’, but the first step of a historical process: the overcoming of the nation-State, the modern political formula which institutionalises the political division of mankind.”
Two aspects are important in this quotation:
a) the indirect reference to the weakness of the League of Nations; an aspect that De Wagt also addressed;
b) the danger posed by nation-states, the product of the Westphalian Peace in 1648; this is also stressed by Wim de Wagt, as the guiding motive of Briand and Stresemann, trying to eliminate the destructive nation-state mentality by establishing a cross-border common administration.
Just as Briand and Stresemann realized – together with many thousands other Europeans – that wars would wage as long as the domain between nation-states would not be covered by a cross-border administration – the so-called domain of anarchy – the same kind of thinking appeared in England, though differing in one respect: while on the continent the striving for European federalism was approached through attempts at creating intergovernmental co-operation, the British Federal Union was the prototype of correct federalism. Thus in conformity with the American federation with its vertical division of powers and the sharing of sovereignty between member states on the one hand and a federal authority on the other hand. In others words: the ‘Briands’ and the ‘Stresemanns’ of that time wished to work with the instrument of Treaties, supporting an intergovernmental/ confederal system, leaving the nation-states as they were. The British Federal Union – on the contrary – wished for a Constitution, and the required Institutions for a federal form of state for the whole of Europe, even tempting to get America included in such a federation.
This British Interbellum political history is remarkable in the context of Brexit: a broad societal movement supporting England to lead the process of European unity, citizenship and brotherhood through federalism. In the Series ‘Federalization’ in the Section ‘Strong with Europe’ I show that immediately after the Brexit-decision The Guardian contained pleas for upgrading the British devolution (Scotland, Wales and North-Ireland having their own stately institutes and domains of decision-making) to a fully grown federation. It might lead to a thrilling fight within the United Kingdom.
Through the tireless efforts of the three founders the Federal Union acquired broad societal support. Though not in the political arena. That is, the interest from the part of British politicians came too late, only after the failing of the Treaty of Munich of September 30th, 1938. By that Treaty Hitler had promised to waive the total annexation of Czech-Slovakia in exchange for the right to occupy the Czech Sudentenland, containing around three million Germans. Based on that affirmation by Hitler, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had the impression to have bought sustainable peace: Peace for our time. Instead he got a world war, which had to be won by Churchill.
So, only between Munich 1938 and the surrender by France in June 1940 a large number of British politicians – both from liberal and socialist parties – began to interfere with the idea of European federalism. Among them the famous Lord Lothian, Philip Kerr. Lord Lothian had been involved in drafting the harsh Treaty of Versailles (1919) and devoted his time – as of the twenties – at disseminating the idea of European federalism as the one and only solution to bridge the zone of anarchy between nation-states and thus prevent a new war. Lothian became an important oracle for the three young men who founded the Federal Union. However, as De Wagt has shown: a broad societal movement does not mean that it will soon be supported by a political movement as well. Briand and Stresemann benefitted of the presence of remarkably strong societal support pro European federalism, but they did not manage to get many political colleagues from other countries at their side. When both key figures died (in 1929 and in 1932) the continental federalization process came to a standstill. In England the work of the Federal Union acquired a strong political foundation – supported by Churchill, the media and the Anglican Church – not until the winter of 1939 and the spring of 1940. And that was too late as well.
At that moment Jean Monnet was in London. His role and significance in the context of European federalization should not be underestimated. Briefly his career:
– Son of a father who owned a Cognac-Co-operation in the French village of Cognac; the fact that a co-operation and a federation are ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ might have influenced his thinking in terms of federalism.
– He was sent to London – before turning twenty – to learn English. In London he became involved with businessmen who organized the military supplies (it was World War I) for the allied forces. Thus he soon operated within the environment of politics, diplomacy, bureaucracy, finance and trade.
– He became deputy Secretary-General of the League of Nations from 1919 until 1923, thus near Sir Eric Drummond who as the Secretary-General of the League became secretary of Briand’s Study-Commission, as I mentioned in the review of the book by Wim de Wagt.
– Between the two world wars he lived several times in the United States where he became advisor to President Roosevelt.
– During World War II he was in England to use his relationship with Roosevelt to provide Churchill with American military aid, even before America became involved in that war.
– Thus, operating near Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle he had easy access, after the war, to the influential political circles in France.
– This made him author of the Schuman Plan of May 1950, the birth certificate of the European Community for Coal and Steel in 1951, and therewith the birth of the intergovernmental system which carries to date the name European Union.
In the Series ‘Federalization’ of the Section ‘Strong with Europe’ I have already mentioned that the Schuman Plan contained a severe system error, through which the European Union is hollowed out, inevitably, arriving nowadays at the end of its political life cycle. But it is still unclear how Jean Monnet as advisor to Robert Schuman made the same mistake as Aristide Briand and Gustav Stresemann made, namely assuming that a confederal/intergovernmental administrating system in the long term will evolve into a federal system. That is out of the question. Mice cannot evolve into elephants, though they have four legs too.
One should expect that Monnet in the presence of Roosevelt would have learned about the elementary constitutional and institutional structure of a federation. Almost every American can explain this. Nevertheless, he put Robert Schuman in the situation to tell a story about the utmost importance of European federalism that had in fact nothing to do with the elementary conceptual framework of federalism. Though Schuman stressed twice the necessity of a European Federation he put the creation of this phenomenon in the hands of government leaders. These functionaries can only create intergovernmental co-operation in fields of policies. Such a system works as long as everything is okay. However, under the pressure of externally driven (geopolitical) problems internally driven conflicts between Member States automatically occur, leading eventually to the disintegration of the political life cycle of the intergovernmental system.
Therefore we have a weak European Union that has to be glued together artificially with an enormous amount of concessions (opt-outs) and compromises. I come back to this when reviewing Guy Verhofstadt’s book. Jean Monnet’s role in relation to Churchill’s offer to the French government to form together an indissoluble union will be dealt with later as well. The seriousness of this offer may be understood by this quotation (p. 10):
“It was this debate on federalism in general, and on Anglo-French wartime collaboration in particular, that brought the British Government to consider the application of the federal principle in order to transform Anglo-French war co-operation into a stable political union. Jean Monnet – then Chairman of the Anglo-French Coordination Committee, a body based in London and created on the initiative of Monnet himself in order to give greater effect to the war effort – had been strongly influenced by that lively debate. (-) From March 1940 the Foreign Office had seriously examined an ‘Act of Perpetual Association between the United Kingdom and France’ drafted by Arnold Toynbee and Alfred Zimmerman at Chatham House, and set up an ad hoc inter-ministerial Committee chaired by Maurice Hankey in order to translate it into a Constitution.”
I have underlined some words because they present essential elements of a federation. In England – it should be repeated – the striving for federalism as an instrument for European unity – carried the characteristic component elements of correct federalism, while at the same time, on the continent, federalism was phrased with elements of confederal/intergovernmental administration.
The escapades of the Federal Union
The first building blocks for the foundation of the Federal Union were laid before World War I. Led by Philip Kerr a federalist-orientated Round Table decided “…. that a quarterly journal dealing with foreign and imperial affairs would be published to educate the peoples of the Empire on federalism”. The first issue was published in November 1910. This magazine became the most important vehicle for carrying the debate about federalism in the British Empire, Ireland, India and Europe.
This initiative drew from a Federal Plan, launched by Prime Minister Lord Salisbury in 1892, an attempt to give England and its Dominions – together the British Empire – a federal form of state. It is remarkable that already at that time the notion existed that member states of a federation remain sovereign, transferring only a small part of their overall sovereignty to a federal authority that will take care of common interests and concerns. A status that is called ‘shared sovereignty’. At the arrival of Salisbury’s Federal Plan a federalist fire ignited, leading immediately to the establishment of thirty-one departments in England, Canada, Australia, South-Africa and New Zealand. However, Prime Minister Gladstone rejected in 1893 the concept of a federal form of state for the entire Empire. However, underground fires keep burning. The British fire of federalism flared up in 1910, and kept burning until 1940.
A second motive, around 1910, for the Round Table to once again flare up the fire of federalism was caused by national interest: it would bring back peace in the tensions between England and Ireland by assembling England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland in a federal form of state. This would be the only solution to stop the Irish striving for independence. The fact that history has the tendency to repeat itself may be drawn from the claims by Scotland and North-Ireland to leave the United Kingdom if Brexit is to become reality.
A third motive was the Round Table’s striving for world peace. That is why its successors in the context of the federalistic motives of the Federal Union always propagated the idea of a world government as well, strongly supported by the United States of America. But I shall leave this aspect aside.
Around 1917 the Round Table underwent an existencial crisis. But Lord Lothian kept the fire burning. He wrote – as the British reincarnation of Alexander Hamilton – one publication after another. Two special publications being The Prevention of War in 1922 and Pacifism is not Enough in 1935. Like Briand and Stresemann on the continent he was thoroughly aware of the dangers posed by the continuation of the formation of nation-states. This would always carry the source and seed for a new war. Nation-state crossing federalism – with a common administration, while preserving the members states’ sovereignty – was the only solution to prevent a new war.
Besides Lord Lothian, Lionel Curtis added considerably to disseminating the body of federal thought. He even became the dynamic leader of the Federal Union. Bosco writes about Curtis’ publications (p. 10): “The fruits of his political doctrine are offered in The Commonwealth of Nations and Civitas Dei, a philosophical work on the origin, development and end of history, identifying in federalism the final stage of historical development.” It would please Curtis if he would know that all the while 40% of the world population lives in twenty-eight federations. I share Verhofstadt’s prophecy that the world is evolving into ten to fifteen federations. The more perverse ‘own-country-first’ driven EU-disintegrating crises, the sooner we will reach that stage.
I resist the temptation to mention more names of prominent people and their contribution to the striving for a European and even global federalism. There are too many. I want to make an exception for Richard, count Coundehove-Kalergi, who influenced British federalism, though not up until the level of the Federal Union. Bosco refers briefly to the fact that Coudenhove, Herriot, Briand and Stresemann on the continent were busy with federalism, though of a confederal nature.
Bosco mentions, furthermore, that British historians hardly noticed the vividly flaring up of federalist fire between 1920 and 1940, only paying attention to its final phase: the moment in which also Churchill realized that only by means of a federalization – at first with France and later Europe-wide – an upcoming war could be prevented. But this notion came too late. The societal foundation for federalization already existed, but the political backing followed too slowly. Until it had no longer any sense. The Germans took Paris, Minister Pétain in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Reynaud convinced a majority of Ministers to surrender, France capitulated and the rest is history.
The Federal Union in a nutshell
In 1937 Clarence Streit, an American journalist of the New York Times (location Geneva), called in a publication Union Now for the establishment of a federal union with no less than fifteen countries: Great Britain, France, the United States, Ireland, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Isn’t it remarkable, a federation of countries of which some are even outside Europe? Streit explaines that only democracy on an international level would be able to resist the perverness of nation-state acting – often degenerating into National Socialism. He claimed that there would not be a more homogeneous group of countries than these fifteen to prove his statement.
The forementioned Streit knew the existence of Curtis’ publication Civitatis Dei, a document that was not appreciated by Streit – despite its federal nature – due to Curtis’ focusing on God. Curtis claimed that the inevitable worldwide federalization was God’s project, a status that would be accomplished sooner or later. Streit – operating in the midst of continental nationalistic movements – could not wait for that: federalization should be established within six months, in his point of view. Otherwise it would be too late. Curtis, on the other hand, was thinking in terms of generations. But he changed his mind after carefully reading Union Now. Moreover, he understood in this document – other than people who considered the nation-state as the final stage of political progress – the connection with a world government. Bosco (p. 23): “Mankind ‘will achieve world government’ Curtis concluded, but on the corpses of politicians, and professors of political science.” Quite a sharp statement.
Curtis took the initiative to disseminate Streit’s Union Now on a large international scale. Even Churchill was approached. This effort by Curtis resulted in a rapidly increasing societal foundation for federalization, even on a world scale. This drew the attention of four renowned think tanks: the Council for Foreign Relations in New York, the World Peace Foundation in Boston, the Institute of Pacific Relations and the Chatham House in London. Setting up a relationship with the League of Nations failed because this organization was already turning off the lights.
Lord Lothian was pleased by this development. Impressed with Streit’s work he began to support it as a lever of strengthening the British striving for federalization. Bosco refers to a letter by Lothian of February 28th, 1939, where Lothian stresses the importance of Union Now by the fact that it (p. 28):
“… penetrated through the jungle of political confusion and economic compromise which have befogged the world since 1920 to the only principle which can solve the problem of war and prosperity in de modern world. Only when the democracies grasp the profound nature of that principle and begin to give effect to it will they resume their leadership of mankind.”
Lothian perceived Streit’s publication as a follow up to the revolutionary way in which the American federation had been established at the end of the 18th century.
Again I feel the need to mention that the manner in which British federalists between 1920 and 1940 were thinking, talking and writing about federalism was based on the same conceptual framework of the Convention of Philadelphia of 1787: federalism in conformity with correct component constitutional and institutional elements. Thus differing considerably from the thinking, talking and writing about federalism in the same period on the continent. From the beginning until the end that continental type of ‘federalism’ had a confederal/ intergovernmental character. Thus, using the term ‘federalism’ idly. Just like it had been the case in the May 1950 Schuman Plan.
Lothian realized that the value of the Union Now of Streit would disappear quickly if it was not sustained by a strong organization. Therefore he sent Streit’s work to influential friends to test if this might lead to a societal movement in England and in the United States as well. At the end of February 1939 the Round Table, still alive, discussed this matter. At the time when Hitler violated the Treaty of Munich Lothian published, in May 1939, some editorial comments in The Observer. He pleaded for a federal Atlantic block of democracies to guarantee continued ruling of the seas. By putting the centre of gravity of western civilization – in the form of a federation – at the North-Atlantic side, their democracies would be able to defend themselves against the inevitable attempts of National Socialism to take over the power in the West. Thus clearly meant as a permanent federal union. The New York Times adopted this point of view, knowing that Lord Lothian was nominated for the post of British ambassador in Washington. With a man like him, as the newspaper’s thinking went, a closer relationship between England and America would be possible.
In May 1939 Lothian presented Union Now to an influential group of people, again by stressing the theme that the problem of nation-stately anarchy should be attacked with actions, not with propaganda. He heralded the claim that the world would be forced to establish a federal union sooner than one might think. The following discussion proved that he was right and that the situation at that moment resembled strongly the status of the thirteen confederal states between 1776 and 1787 in America, and (p. 31): “…. that the enemy to beat was primarily the cult of ‘unlimited sovereignty’”. This meeting led to strong debates, also far beyond influential gatherings. About that development Bosco says (p. 33):
“The British people began to understand the full intrinsic value of the federalist alternative, albeit in general terms, and that was the starting point of a conversion that, in the space of fifteen months, would entangle the great majority of the vital forces of the country. It is true that large portion of British public opinion was persuaded to adopt a federal policy only because they felt threatened by the impending outbreak of a new war, but it is also true that without that project the British people would have slipped into war without a specific plan for post-war order, and therefore without positive motivation for facing that desperate struggle. Federalism was certainly not everybody’s horizon, but it offered to most open minds a coherent interpretation of the root causes of international anarchy and war, by advancing, in principle, a permanent remedy. It was this need for radicalism to attract the attention of many young people, who were psychologically preparing themselves for a moral rearmament unprecedented in the history of the country.” [underlining LK]
The present unmistakable tendency by certain EU-countries of withdrawing within the borders of the nation-state, the artificial creation of enemies and therewith inflaming fear and thus the call for a strong man, positioning themselves with their back to the EU, based on a nationalistic agenda of ‘own-country-first’ is understood by an increasing group of Europeans as the new danger that is threatening our democracy and that can only be stopped by a radical adaptation of the present intergovernmental administrating system of the EU: replacing the intergovernmental system with a European Federation.
Lothian and his thousands followers believed in May 1939 that an extensive federal union would be realized very soon (p.34): “The Union will come about with miraculous speed when it does come … My reasoned belief is that none of us shall be able to stay out of war for another two years unless we create this Union, and that if war does come without it, the USA will not enter it except on the Union basis.”
Unfortunately, the hope and expectation of people like Lothian, Streit and Curtis was not followed by an adequate political respons. The societal foundation was there, the politicians however, hesitated (just like their counterparts on the continent) to start preparing the required conditions for establishing such a federation. Meanwhile two young men had taken over part of the endeavors
of Lothian, Curtis and Streit. In the summer of 1938 Charles Kimber and Derek Rawnsley (both 26 years old) began a movement to promote the idea of a federation of European democracies. Bosco describes their efforts as an example of the extraordinary capacities of the British people to commit themselves to universal values and the courage to use all means to guarantee these values. It became a movement that rose far above the opportunism by Neville Chamberlain who had accepted, after the failed Treaty of Munich, that Hitler would never stop his annexation plans.
Kimber and Rawnsley understood that the confederal League of Nations would fail to stop Hitler and Mussolini. They began designing a plan to strenghthen the democratic values by establishing a European Federal Union in such a way that National Socialism could not win. They got company by Patrick Ransome, ten years older. Backed up by a large group of friends they began to disseminate federal publications. Support from all over the country followed, even from Lothian and Curtis. The latter invited the three men in January 1939 to meet with him, when he explained that considerable work had already been done by Streit’s Union Now. They responded by the immediate establishment of the Federal Union.
This initiative met with great enthusiasm. However, it contained one flaw that eventually would lead to the downfall of this Federal Union. By creating the Federal Union as a derivative of Streit’s Union Now this federation was not feasible due to its large scale. Streit’s work (keep in mind that he was an American) dealt with a federation between the United States, European democracies and the British Dominions. Bosco writes (p. 41):
“Europeanists and Atlanticists had then to find a compromise advocating a union of democracies open to any country to join. This compromise was however later to be one of the main causes for the movement’s eventual disintegration.”
Lothian too tried to explain to the three founders of the Federal Union that they should focus on clarifying the essence of federalism. Bosco (p. 41):
“The future movement should have promoted ‘the idea of federation’, highlighting the devastating consequences of national sovereignty, and the need for international cooperation, by demonstrating that the federation was the only institution capable of ‘limiting national sovereignty’ enough ‘to allow cooperation to become creative and not repressive.’”
Enriched by this advice they began broadening and deepening the variety of aspects of federalism. They would publish a draft of a federal Constitution, submitting that draft to politically mature and geographically-apt states to ask for their approval, followed by a referendum. If this referendum would turn out positive, they would ask one of these states to take the lead in organizing an Institutional Conference in order to establish that Constitution and therewith the constitutional foundation of the federation. They themselves – as the leaders of the Federal Union – would not participate as a political party, but rather organize and support that Conference.
This set-up is almost identical to the manner in which the successful Convention of Philadelphia worked in 1787. This stimulated Herbert Tombeur and me to organize such a process of giving birth to a European Federation in 2013 after we had published our European Federalist Papers (www.europeanfederalistpapers.eu). We would hold in November 2013 – under the auspices of the Jean Monnet Association in Bucharest – a Convention of three days, with the participation of about fifty prominent European federalists, assigned with the task of improving the draft federal Constitution that had been designed by Tombeur and me, and to submit this draft for ratification to the people of Europe. We had organized many practical elements, even the location – notably the Presidential Palace of the former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Due to lack of finances this attempt failed. Fortunately we still have the script for such a Convention.
In order to support the drafting of a federal Constitution, plus Convention, plus Referendum, Lord Lothian wrote in March 1939 an article titled Federal Union Now. Again he emphasized the danger of international anarchy as a consequence of rigid nation-state thinking. Stressing furthermore the importance of a federation to stop such a process. No league of governments, because by then it had become clear that intergovernmental co-operation would end as soon as one of the co-operating countries felt its interests were threatened. It should be a federation of peoples. Bosco (p. 43):
“Leagues of governments were necessarily concerned to ‘perpetuate national sovereignty and not to make the world safe for democracy and for the people’”.
“The League of Nations had failed because, as an Assembly of sovereign states, it had neither the power nor the authority to formulate a common policy.”
The three young men organized their Federal Union into three departments: a Research Institute, a Public Relations Department and a Central Office, being the nucleus of the societal movement pro-federalization that was already vividly operating but could use more strengthening. Lothian and Curtis supported them to the utmost.
Jean Monnet, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle
Now I skip some chapters of Bosco’s book, chapters in which he writes detailed:
– how Kimber, Rawnsley and Ransome continued their operations;
– how the societal movement pro-federalization increased – also supported by the Anglican Church – but …
– how the three friends slowly but surely grew apart – due to incompatibility of characters and diverging ideas from Curtis and Streit;
– how Lord Lothian left the scene to become ambassador in Washington;
– how an increasing number of enthusiast followers burdened the Federal Union with diverging ideas;
– how their federal Convention was held from 23-24 September 1939 in Oxford, though weakened by the clearly diverging points of view;
– how the too rapid growth of manifold departments led to organizational chaos and the loss of contact with the Central Office;
– how internal fights for important posts started;
– and how the weakening internal organization of the Federal Union slowly but surely succumbed under the weight of the increasing societal foundation.
Nevertheless, in February 1940 the Federal Union consisted of 204 departments with over 8000 members. The war was spreading westward, to the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Monnet, Churchill and De Gaulle came into action to stop the war with a federal initiative before France would fall.
Bosco begins Chapter VII, titled Jean Monnet, Churchill’s proposal and the downfall of France with an extensive quotation from a telephone conversation by De Gaulle in London with the French Prime Minister Reynaud in Paris at 16.30 hours on June 16th, 1940. I cite this quotation fully. This deals with the indissoluble union that Churchill offered to France that I mentioned at the beginning of this book review.
“At the most fateful moment in the history of the modern world, the Governments of the United Kingdom and of the French Republic desire to make this declaration of indissoluble union and unyielding resolution in defence of liberty 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. There will thus be created a Franco-British Union. Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain; every British subject will become a citizen of France. The devastation of war, wherever it occurs, shall be the common responsibility of both countries and the resources of both shall be equally, and as one, applied to its restoration. All customs are abolished between Britain and France. There shall not be two currencies, but one. During the war there shall be one single War Cabinet. It will govern from wherever it best can. The two Parliaments will unite. A constitution of the Union will be written providing for joint organs of defence and economic policies. Britain is raising at once a new army of several million men, and the Union appeals to the United States to mobilise their industrial power to assist the prompt equipment of this new army. All the forces of Britain and France, whether on land, sea or in the air, are placed under a supreme command. This unity, this union, will concentrate the whole of its strength against the concentrated strength of the enemy, no matter where the battle may be. And thus we shall conquer.”
With increasing amazement and joy Reynaud took notes about this Declaration of Union, as De Gaulle called it through the telephone. Suddenly Reynaud paused to ask De Gaulle: “Does he agree to this? Did Churchill give you this personally?” De Gaulle handed the telephone over to Churchill. He affirmed that this was a decision by the British War Cabinet. Reynaud ‘transfigured with joy’.
This moment was preceded by a bold action by Jean Monnet. Bosco explains how Monnet – floating on pro-federal enthusiasm in the British society – had transferred his federal knowledge to Churchill. And Churchill had to listen to Monnet because Monnet operated – through his relationship with Roosevelt – as the middleman to acquire war materials for Britain while America was still neutral. Due to this important position he dared to approach Churchill at the beginning of June 1940 with a bold proposal. Bosco describes this as follows (p. 300):
“It was however only at the beginning of June that Monnet understood the necessity of ‘a bold stroke that would fire the imagination of the two peoples on the edge of despair,’ a ‘total union, an immediate merger, that seemed necessary if we were to face together the choice between tyranny and freedom that was now being thrust upon us.’ France and Great Britain had to ‘join forces, in war and for the future.’ Persuaded that they should begin from a merger of the two air forces, Monnet appealed to Churchill on the 6 June:”
“If the forces of our two countries are not treated as one, we shall see the Nazis gain mastery of the air in France, overpowering her, and then concentrating all their strength against the United Kingdom. The Allied aircraft now operating in France are outnumbered by several to one. But if we combine the two countries’ air forces, the ratio becomes about one to one-and-a-half; and with our proven superiority when evenly matched we should then have a chance of winning. In a word, victory or defeat may be determined by an immediate decision to use our respective aircraft and pilots in the present battle as a single force. If that in turn requires a unified command for our two air forces, then this problem should in my opinion be studied, and studied now.”
This interaction between Monnet and Churchill took place while the French troops withdrew and the British invading army tried to escape from getting slaughtered on the beaches of Dunkirk. In that chaos Churchill’s offer came too late. Also due to the fact that he hesitated – at first – about the usefulness and necessity of a federal union between England and France. Just like De Gaulle. But eventually both understood that it would be possible to end that war by introducing a radical stately renovation, at least to bring Hitler’s advance to a halt. Provided …. and that was the clue, that France would derive as much courage from this British offer that it would refuse to surrender and would fight until the bitter end.
On this thrilling day of June 16th, 1940 De Gaulle had telephoned Reynaud some hours earlier, to inform him that he would receive an important message from Churchill and that he – Reynaud – should postpone any decision before having spoken with Churchill. With this De Gaulle meant a decision to surrender before talking with Churchill, who was still busy in his War Cabinet drawing the contours of a French-British government, to offer to Reynaud later that afternoon.
And then everything went wrong. On that day Reynaud received two messages from the British War Cabinet. Contradicting messages. One gave Reynaud complete authority to offer Hitler a truce, provided that the French fleet was brought to a safe area. The other message was Churchill’s offer – also coming from the War Cabinet – to establish a joint federal union, provided that France would not surrender. Due to the fact that the first message arrived earlier than the second, it achieved a majority in the French Cabinet where Pétain had already pleaded for offering Hitler a truce. France surrendered. Churchill received that sad message at 18.30 hours, by then already on a train to Southampton, from where a British delegation would travel to a war vessel to meet Reynaud and his government in order to sign together the Act of the Union. Bosco quotes Clement Atlee (p. 306):
“We knew it was all over and Reynaud had lost. We got out of the train and drove back to Downing Street and went back to work”.
You may draw any conclusion from this Episode of flaring up of European unity in the context of federalism. To me, one element specifically is important to add to the scheme of necessary conditions as shown in the Introduction to this essay. It is an element that is part of number 7 of that scheme.
In order to establish a European Federation it is not only necessary to have a broad societal foundation but also that this foundation operates as a united front. More than had been the case with the eventually failing of flared up continental federalism, the weakening of the British Federal Union – added to its lack of capacity to canalize the enormous power and energy of societal support in such a way that it could become a foundation for political decision-making at an early stage – became the causes of its downfall. The war did the rest. After World War II Churchill held – again – some famous speeches, pleading for the United States of Europe, but the theme disappeared from the political agenda when six government leaders in 1951 established the intergovernmental European Community for Coal and Steel. Based on the May 1950 Schuman Plan.
How this type of government – a confederal/intergovernmental system – evolved, will be explained by Guy Verhofstadt’s book De ziekte van Europa (Europe’s last chance).
Part 1, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, The Federalist Papers
Part 2, Wim de Wagt, Wij Europeanen
Part 5, Frans Timmermans, Broederschap. Pleidooi voor verbondenheid