Sunday, 22 May 2016

What Did EU Do In The War, Father?

from 1870
The European Union has in recent weeks come under more scrutiny than ever as the British referendum on membership draws closer. Yet, as Conservatives fight a bitter proxy leadership battle through the respective Remain and Leave campaigns, much hysterical rhetoric has rained down from both sides.

But perhaps one of the most appalling fables has been the comparison of the European Union to the attempted Nazi conquest of the Continent under Adolf Hitler. Boris Johnson, as widely reported, drew this analogy and it has informed the thinking of a good number of Brexiters for some time.

Yet the whole purpose of the EU, from its very conception and no matter how befuddled it has become in its support of multinational big business, was quite the opposite; and perhaps it is our only deeply flawed hope for the Continent remaining at peace. For Johnson and his colleagues' lazy history does deep disservice to the generation that faced the great conflagration that took tens of millions of European and other lives between 1939 and 1945, and to the people who worked to establish a different means for European states to settle their differences.

That we have not had a war between any of the major European nations, or any members of the EU, for over 70 years now is unique to our troubled continent's history. The so-called Pax Europa is unparallelled not only in recent times but in all time. Where there have been conflicts involving member states, such as Britain in the Falklands or France in Algeria (or both in Libya), these have been about their pursuit of national (and corporate) interests outside of Europe.

So, who were the people who set up this project?
The EU has eleven so called Founding Fathers (sadly reflecting their more patriarchal times). None of them could be seen as having any sympathy at all for the ideas of the Nazis; and quite the opposite. In their different ways, each of them either fought or suffered (or both) in the struggle against Hitler's Reich. Politically they ranged from conservative Christian Democrats to Communists.

Here they are along with their respective war records:

Konrad Adenaur (Germany)
Arrested twice by the Nazis and imprisoned following the 1944 July Valkyrie plot (though he was not personally involved in it).

Joseph Bech (Luxemburg)
When Germany invaded in 1940, he escaped to London and later served as Foreign Minister in the Government-in-exile.

Johan Beyen (Netherlands)
After the German invasion, he fled to London and served as a member of the Government-in-exile.

Winston Churchill (United Kingdom)
Well, what can you say? Architect of the war against Hitler, he called for a United States of Europe in 1946 to prevent future wars. In 1948, he was foremost in advocating a European Charter of Human Rights, backed by a European Court, on which the European Convention on Human Rights was later based. It is this which his Tory successors now wish to scrap.

Alcide de Gasperi (Italy)
Headed an anti-fascist group within the PPI predecessor of the Christian Democrats. In 1927, after severe harassment, he was jailed by Mussolini for 4 years - the Vatican negotiated his release when he became seriously ill after 18 months, and he lived inside the Vatican until the overthrow of Mussolini in 1943.

Walter Hallstein (Germany)
He was an academic in Nazi Germany. He declined to join the Party and his appointment to a professorship at Frankfurt was opposed by local Nazi officials (his colleagues prevailed however and he was given the post of Faculty Dean). He was drafted into the army in 1942 but he surrendered to the Americans in 1944 and worked as a teacher in Project Sunflower, an early denazification programme among German prisoners of war.

Sicco Mansholt (Netherlands)
He was a farmer who became an active member of the Dutch Resistance during the Nazi occupation, helping to hide people wanted by the invaders and organising a massive clandestine food programme in the western provinces.

Jean Monnet (France)
In London in 1940, he worked with Churchill on the British PM's proposal for a political and military union with France, which was thwarted by the German invasion that spring. Monnet remained in London as a member of de Gaulle's National Liberation Committee, returning to Paris following the 1944 flight of the Nazis.

Robert Schuman (France)
Resigned from the Reynaud Government in 1940 over its collaborationist stance with the Nazi invaders. He was arrested and, after initially being marked by the Gestapo to be sent to the Dachau concentration camp, was instead imprisoned by the Gauleiter of Occupied France. In 1942, he escaped and joined the French Resistance, speaking at secret meetings to organise political opposition to the Nazis and the Petain regime.

Paul-Henri Spaak (Belgium)
He was Foreign Minister in 1940 when the Germans invaded and conquered Belgium. He fled across France and from there to Portugal, concealed in the false bottom of a truck along with the Prime Minister (Hubert Pierlot) to avoid capture by pro-Hitler Spanish fascists. He reached London and served in the Belgium Government-in-exile.

Alberto Spinelli (Italy)
A Communist writer, in 1927 he was imprisoned for ten years by Mussolini's fascist regime. Then again, in 1940, he was interned with 800 other political prisoners on the island of Ventontene. While there, at great personal risk, he and a fellow anti-fascist prisoner, Ernesto Rossi, wrote a manifesto secretly on cigarette papers concealed in a tin, calling for "A Free and United Europe." This was smuggled out and circulated by the Italian Resistance.
Spinelli himself was released in 1943 and at a clandestine meeting in Milan in August he and others founded the left wing European Federalist Movement. He argued that a new settlement was needed or else Europe would soon see war again.

No one can convincingly argue that the European Union is not deeply flawed, nor that it isn't in trouble. But before Britain rushes to exit, a step where we would almost certainly be just the first of many leavers, do we really want to unravel the whole thing?

Brexiters say we will leave and establish a new relationship with the EU. But what if there is no European Union and instead thirty or forty nation states with nothing to settle their differences but guns and tanks?

We might do well to remind ourselves of the reasons the Founders had for doing what they did, and why, taking a lesson from history, we should not mistake the fury of debate between EU members and the difficulties of joint decision-making for the existential, life-and-death struggles of the not-so-distant past.

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