In the frenzied battle of words over the future of Britain’s membership of the European Union, the real values that inspired the foundation and development of this European Movement seem to have been entirely lost. After the Second World War Churchill declared that Europe could not afford to drag forward the hatred and revenge which sprung from the injuries of the past, and that the first step was to create a “European family of justice, mercy and freedom”.
In 1950 Robert Schumann urged European countries to work together towards a merger of their economic interests. He was convinced that when these were tied together, it would render war “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”. Jean Monnet and others were equally eloquent – they did not propose greater European unity and co-operation in the interests of creating more jobs, but to change something that had been the cause of untold misery and injustice for the whole of recorded history: conflict between the peoples of Europe. There had been no period in history when wars of some sort were not taking place in Europe.
Churchill, Schumann, Monnet and the others were not the first to recognise that greater European unity was the only way to prevent further wars and to give peace and the opportunity decent lives to the peoples of Europe. As far back as 1693 William Penn wrote his proposals entitled ‘Towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe by the Establishment of a European Parliament’. How much unnecessary suffering could have been prevented had his ideas been taken up at that time. Even the ‘War to End Wars’ that started in 1914 did nothing to end anything – and seemingly served only to make things worse.
Doing things together is not easy – mistakes are made, there have to be re-thinks about the best way forward and adjustments have to be made. But with thousands of years of wars, cruelty, enmity and destruction behind us, a few decades is a very short time in which to get everything right. Those who talk about a ‘failed’ European project, and who wish Britain to get out now when in reality we have hardly started, seem to have no understanding of history, nor any interest in the ideals that led to the founding of what deserves to be trumpeted as one of the noblest of projects in human history.
Do we in Britain have nobody with the belief and eloquence to inspire the nation with the ideals of the founding fathers of European co-operation and unity?