The country continues to mark the outbreak of the First World War.
In 2018, we will, with nationalistic fervour, celebrate the end of the ‘war to end all wars’, only it didn’t, did it?
J M Keynes believed that, in the economic settlement in the Treaty of Versailles, lay the seeds of an even more terrible conflict, while Marshall Foch, of the French and allied armies, described it as ‘not a peace, merely a 20-year truce’.
As young men, Monnet, Schuman, Adenauer, De Gasperi and Churchill all lived through the horrors of the First World War.
They were all leading political figures during the descent into the even greater horrors of the Second World War, which brought with it a huge loss of life (both military and civilian) and catastrophic economic destruction. All came separately to a decision that never ever again should the people of Europe butcher each other in conflict.
They all believed that only through friendship, co-operation and democracy could Europe develop the kind of mutual respect which, over time, could diminish nationalistic hostility.
They believed that the people of Europe shared a belief in liberty and freedom, and a wider common cultural and spiritual heritage, and that this was the basis on which to build a new peaceful Europe.
Economic nationalism was identified as a major force of national antagonism, so economic competition between the European countries was eliminated by the creation of a ‘common market’ and certain criteria to protect it from external free trade.
The UK found itself envious of the economic success achieved by the common market’s founding states; they had achieved robust economic growth, stability in employment, increased prosperity and rising living standards.
This provided a stark contrast to the UK’s rapid economic decline, brought about by inefficient industries, under investment, falling productivity, uncompetitive pricing and appalling industrial relations.
Coupled with the UK’s declining international standing, the Suez fiasco, Sterling’s loss of reserve currency status and the collapse of imperial pretensions and transformation in the Commonwealth to a more egalitarian relationship, membership of the common market was suddenly much more attractive to the UK.
The initial economic success of the EU owed as much to the long duration of the recovery from the Second World War’s destruction of Europe’s pubic infrastructure, social infrastructure (particularly housing) and private business capital, as well as the need for investment in new technologies.
Responsible capitalism and internal free trade were perceived as beneficial for the EU economy.
I am no pacifist. Like Theodor Roosevelt, I believe in ‘speaking softly but carrying a big stick’ – a sentiment shared by Churchill, but I passionately support the EU’s commitment to ensuring that never ever again should Europeans succumb to nationalistic fervour.
Those who now say that they didn’t sign up to the European political project must have been so infatuated with the economic success of the common market that they remained blind and deaf to the vociferous warnings from those UK politicians, whose integrity, honesty and courage I respected even though I did not always agree with their views.
Enoch Powell and Tony Benn offered clear, lucid arguments against joining the EU because, by doing so, the UK would commit itself to an increasing erosion of its sovereignty.
All voluntary agreements between freely consenting individuals or groups or nations are built on compromise, a social contract, without which ‘there can be no arts, no letters, no society; and, worst of all, continued fear and danger of violent death and the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ (Hoboes Leviathan).
UK politicians, the PM, cabinet and junior ministers, civil servants, regional governments, national business and professional associations and unions, all contribute to achieving compromising agreements in the EU which then have to be agreed by national parliaments.
These compromises are time consuming to reach and the outcomes rarely totally satisfy the aims of any participants but they create situations the consenting parties can live with. As Churchill said, ‘jaw jaw is better than war war’.
Democracy embraces the right to seek to persuade others to your point of view and to achieve changes to existing arrangements by any peaceful means.
Having full participation in reaching the compromises embodied in EU directives, it is anticipated that national parliaments would approve EU directives and, as the outcomes, which may not be ideal but can be lived with, are generally approved, national parliaments can always refuse to accept EU directives.
There are procedures for facilitating an orderly withdrawal. Whether in or out of the EU in today’s world with its global problems, self governance is an illusion.
It is time the British woke up to this reality. Total national sovereignty is an unattainable dream.