‘Let Europe Arise’: Britain in Europe
Andrew Adonis, British Academy, 12th December 2018
‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’, the Book of Proverbs tells us. We haven’t been over-endowed with European vision of late, so as a pro-European who just took for granted that we would stay in the EU two years ago, and carelessly said and did little about it, I want to help try and put that right.
My considered view is this, rather to my surprise as my thinking has developed since I embarked on the anti-Brexit cause a year ago: the European Union is the greatest international venture for peace, prosperity and freedom in the history of civilization.
‘Let Europe Arise’, the title of this lecture, are the last words of Winston Churchill’s Zurich speech of September 1946. Churchill saved Europe and – at Zurich and elsewhere - inspired the European Union. At Zurich, in words fashioned deliberately by the master wordsmith, he called for “a kind of United States of Europe”. This is what he said more fully, just 16 months after VE day:
“I wish to speak about the tragedy of Europe, this noble continent, the home of all the great parent races of the Western world, the foundation of Christian faith and ethics, the origin of most of the culture, arts, philosophy and science both of ancient and modern times. If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance there would be no limit to the happiness, prosperity and glory which its 300 million or 400 million people would enjoy. Yet it is from Europe that has sprung that series of frightful nationalistic quarrels, originated by the Teutonic nations in their rise to power, which we have seen in this 20th century and in our own lifetime wreck the peace and mar the prospects of all mankind.
…We must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living.
…I must give you warning, time may be short… If we are to form a United States of Europe, or whatever name it may take, we must begin now.
…The salvation of the common people of every race and every land from war and servitude must be established on solid foundations.
…Therefore I say to you ‘Let Europe arise!”.
To those who say Churchill intended Britain to stay out of this European Union, which is the name it did take, note that throughout he says “we” not ‘you’:
“We must build a kind of United States of Europe. If we are to form a United States of Europe… we must begin now.”
Churchill’s riff on the tragedy of Europe is also faultless.
Since Europe took recognizable shape in the tribes and then nations succeeding the Roman Empire on this continent, it has never, before the EU and its sister defence organisation NATO, enjoyed 70 continuous years of peace, as has been the case within the entire territory of the EU for its entire life, even as it has expanded dramatically. In preparing this lecture I assembled a list of Europe’s wars and conflicts. Let’s just take the 11th and the 18th centuries; respectively just 30 and seven generations ago:
1002–1018 German–Polish War
1014–1208 Byzantine–Georgian wars
1015–1016 Pisan–Genoese expeditions to Sardinia
1015–1016 Cnut's invasion of England
1018 Battle of Vlaardingen
1024 Battle of Listven
1024 and 1043 Rus'–Byzantine Wars
1048–1064 Invasion of Denmark
1050–1185 Byzantine–Norman wars
1060 Battle of the Theben Pass
1065–1067 War of the Three Sanchos
1066 Norwegian invasion of England
1067–1194 Norman invasion of Wales
1067 Battle on the Nemiga River
1068 Battle of the Alta River
1073–1075 Saxon Rebellion
1077–1088 Great Saxon Revolt
Rebellion of 1088
1093 Battle of Schmilau
1093 Battle of the Stugna River
1097 Battle of Gvozd Mountain
Finally, 1067 – 1194, is the Norman invasion of Wales, and 1099 until 1204, the Georgian–Seljuk wars – that’s wars of 127 and 105 years respectively. There are a lot of European wars that span decades and even centuries.
Fast-forward to the 18th century:
1700 Lithuanian Civil War
1700–1721 Great Northern War
1701–1713 War of the Spanish Succession
1714–1718 Ottoman-Venetian War
1715–1716 Jacobite rising in Britain
1716–1718 Austro-Turkish War
1718–1720 War of the Quadruple Alliance
1727–1729 British-Spanish War
1733–1738 War of the Polish Succession
1737–1739 Austro-Turkish War
1740–1748 War of the Austrian Succession
1740–1763 Silesian Wars
1745–1746 Jacobite rising in Britain
1756–1763 Seven Years' War
1757 and 1710 Georgian-Ottoman Battle
1768–1772 War of the Bar Confederation
1775–1783 Britain’s American Revolutionary War – in large part, of course, a war between Britain and France.
1778–1779 War of the Bavarian Succession
1784 Kettle War
1784–1785 Revolt of Horea, Cloșca and Crișan
1785 Battle of the Sunja
1787 Dutch Patriot Revolt
1788–1791 Austro-Turkish War
1788–1790 Russo-Swedish War
1790 Saxon Peasants' Revolt
1792 Polish–Russian War
1792–1802 French Revolutionary Wars
1794 Kościuszko Uprising
1795 Battle of Krtsanisi
The Irish Rebellion of 1798
The prize for longest European war I can find goes to one which spans the 18th century by many hundreds of years: the Serbian-Ottoman war whose dates appear to be 1371 to 1913. That’s 542 years; time for 271 Brexits, or a very long extension of Article 50 on the rules of war.
And of course, it didn’t get any better after the 18th century. The apogee of all these wars and revolutions were the two European-cum-world wars of the 20th century, 31 years which virtually destroyed Europe in a modern Dark Age of stupefying savagery and barbarism, including the return of mass slavery in Europe for the first time since the abolition of serfdom across most of the continent in the Middle Ages. As a student I remember being astonished to learn that there were more slaves in Europe in 1943 – including whole peoples and nations – than at any time in its history. That was just 75 years ago.
The 70 years of the EU has ended Europe’s last Dark Age. And it so obviously isn’t a co-incidence. Taking the EU and NATO together, and they go together, today’s European Union has at its heart democracy, conciliation, trade, respect for borders, nationalities and minorities, and collective non-aggressive security. The EU is the greatest international force for civilization because it is so successful as an engine of peace, prosperity and freedom.
I want here to provoke my good friend Timothy Garton-Ash into a dialogue. Tim has done more to explain and extoll Europe than anyone in Britain. His book ‘The Uses of Adversity’, on the struggle for liberation and democracy in Poland, had me in tears as a 26 year old. But he is quite down on the EU. He puts it thus: “to adapt Churchill’s famous remark about democracy: this is the worst possible Europe apart from all the other Europes that have been tried from time to time.”
I want respectfully to counter this this grudging view of the EU. If the EU is weak, where in the world today, or in history, is there an international union as strong or stronger in pursuit of peace, prosperity and freedom?
Certainly not the United Nations. Certainly not the Greek, Roman, American, or British empires, measured by the peace, prosperity and freedom of the generality of those governed. Having just watched Ken Burns’ heart-rending 15 hour masterpiece on the Vietnam War, I don’t think our American friends have improved on our or the Romans’ attempts at reconciling imperialism and civilization, let alone peace, prosperity and freedom.
I am now watching Ken Burns’ equally good account of the American Civil War, a conflict up there with the First and Second World Wars in mechanised carnage and savagery. It is striking how our American friends have combined fervent belief in the manifest destiny of their union as a beacon of liberty with the reality that it spent its first century half slave, half free, its second century fighting then coming to terms with its civil war, and much of its history colonising others with corrupting effects on itself and devastating effects on those it colonised similar to our experience of imperialism.
In an earlier life I was an academic historian. By far my biggest controversy of that life came quite unexpectedly when 23 years ago I reviewed for the FT David Herbert Donald’s life of Abraham Lincoln. I made what I thought was the unexceptional point that the civil war, as military conflict, was started by Lincoln himself in order to regain a South which had already seceded by arguably constitutional means and I was surprised that this issue wasn’t even mentioned, let alone discussed by Donald. I went on to suggest that there was an argument that the war might not have been such a good idea given the scale and impact of the bloodshed, and its inconclusive aftermath, noting even on the issue of slaves, Russia abolished serfdom in 1862, Brazil abolished slavery in 1888, and it was improbable that a small independent South would have perpetuated the evil for more than a generation longer and if it had abolished slavery of its own volition the end result might even have better. The United States might then have literally re-formed.
My point was that, for all his brilliance as a historian, David Herbert Donald, like virtually all Americans, did not even discuss these issues.
After publishing this review, the heavens opened, and my correspondence with Americans became as emotional as many of the tweets I now receive from Brexiteers. Few of the dozens who wrote to me engaged with the issues beyond simply stating their violent disagreement, often with personal abuse. Criticism of Lincoln was beyond discussion. I was arguing with manifest destiny, and I was on the wrong side of it.
I think the same, by the way, of another book on American history which has achieved cult status – Doris Kearns Goodwin’s ‘Teams of Rivals’, which for similar reasons of innate American ideology fails even to consider the glaring point that Lincoln’s team didn’t include the rivals who really mattered in 1861: namely Jefferson Davis and Robert E Lee.
My desire is not to open another front for twitter trolls, but to make the comparative point that no reputable mainstream American historian on a par with Tim Garton-Ash would dream, even dare, describe the United States of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln as “the worst possible America except for all the other Americas that have been tried from time to time”. Yet virtually no-one in Britain ever speaks more positively then that about the European Union. The key point here is that in the US any criticism of the founding fathers and their great deeds is beyond the pale – despite the obvious the violence – whereas with the EU it is the reverse, the only thing we do is to be hypercritical, although its record is in many ways superlative.
David Cameron described EU law as “monstrous”, and accused it of seeking to “break down national identities”, even as he who tried to persuade us to stay in! Even my former boss Tony Blair generally made his positive speeches about the EU when he was out of the country. His one unalloyed hymn of praise was on receiving the Charlemagne prize - in Aachen Cathedral.
Politically, this Euroscepticism ended in the tears of June 23rd 2016. But far more importantly, the scepticism is wrong.
On a fair assessment – maybe I should make this my next book –the European Union has been at least as successful as the United States as a force for peace, prosperity and freedom. How about talking about the manifest destiny of the European Union, and its mission to lead a free Europe and inspire a free world? How about quoting the founding treaties in the way Amercians so reverentially quote their founding fathers? The Treaty of Paris of 1951, in many ways the Magna Carta of the EU, opens with these words:
“Considering that world peace can be safeguarded only by creative efforts commensurate with the dangers that threaten it; Convinced that the contribution which an organised and vital Europe can make to civilisation is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations; Recognizing that Europe can be built only through practical achievements which will first of all create real solidarity…; Resolved to substitute for age-old rivalries the merging of their essential interests to create… the basis for a broader and deeper community among peoples long divided by bloody conflicts… Have decided to create a European Coal and Steel Community.”
Well, apart for the coal and the steel, that’s up there with the opening of the US constitution:
‘We the people… in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty…”
And to be frank it’s rather more elevated than the references in the US constitution to “free persons”, “those bound to service”, “excluding Indians not taxed” and representation of blacks in Congress being calculated as “three-fifths of all other persons”.
It is an interesting question why, unlike Americans, we Europeans neither get emotional about the EU nor read emotion into the EU’s great achievements and declarations. Maybe it is because of the very fact that the EU is international, whereas the United States was founded as a nation. However that does not fully explain why we in Britain have an almost uniquely unfavourable view of the EU. I think this has to do more with the inability of England, as opposed to the other parts of the UK, being able to celebrate multiple identities and the sharing of sovereignty. I have more to say about this at the end of my lecture.
We should celebrate the success of the EU at spreading and extending democracy. It is astonishing that the EU, the only successful large international union of democracies, has become, in much of Britain’s media and the popular imagination, as assault on democracy itself, and ‘we the people’ are being seriously scarified into taking back control from ourselves.
I say all this, not only as British and proud of it, but equally as a Cypriot and proud of it. My father literally fled to London as an 18 year old when Cyprus was part of the violently disintegrating British Empire in 1959, to be followed in 1974 by invasion by Turkey and an occupation of half the island which has still not ended 44 years later. Like virtually all Greek Cypriots, my family regards the EU as a golden zone of peace, prosperity and freedom, and infinitely better than our recent past under the colonial rule of Britain and Turkey.
To my friends on the left, I want to make a similarly ungrudging argument about the EU as a positive good not a necessary evil. I have in mind particularly a far left friend of mine, Jeremy in Islington, who in a little noticed speech to the Party of European Socialists in Lisbon last weekend made it clear that he doesn’t much like the EU because it isn’t a Latin American liberation movement.
Quasi-violent revolutionary thought of course has a long tradition on the European left. Marxism, syndicalism, anarchism, the list goes on. For most of recent European history since the French revolution it has indeed been the dominant mode of left ideology, just as before it over many centuries Europe’s rival Christian ideologies were violently revolutionary.
However, here is my point: the goals of the socialist idealists of the 19th and 20th centuries, many of them followers of that Germanic Londoner Karl Marx, now a near neighbour of Jeremy’s in Highgate, have to a remarkable extent been achieved, or are being struggled for, in and by the European Union. Recall that the First International was formed in 1864 as a congress of German, Italian, French and British workers in solidarity with Polish workers rising against Russian imperialism. Today, Poland is free and European, and one Donald Tusk – an ex-Solidarity trade union leader who helped bring down the Soviet empire – is President of the European Council.
The Second International dissolved at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 when the hopes of European socialists - including Keir Hardie here – were dashed that the German and French working classes would strike in unity instead of joining armies to fight one another. Whereupon arguments for ‘socialism in one country’, which had previously been rejected by most leaders of the Second International as they had previously been by Marx himself, took over, courtesy of one Vladmir Lenin in the depths of war. My Marxist friends might reflect that the later division between Stalin and Trotsky was based on Stalin’s continued belief in socialism in one country, while Trotsky maintained that Russia could sustain itself in the vanguard only if other European countries were pushed to follow rapidly.
Fast forward sixty years to the 1980s, and Jacques Delors as President of the European Commission proclaimed ‘Social Europe’ – which indeed became the trigger for Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech of 1988, thirty years ago this year, which was essentially a declaration of war on the EU for its new socialist tendencies. The EU, one might argue, is properly conceived as the Fourth International of the working people of Europe, and rather more successful than the first three put together in actually advancing the cause of working people.
Astonishingly, Jeremy’s speech at Lisbon last week did not mention the EU’s Social Chapter or environmental agenda, achievements as great as the Customs Union and Single Market. The philosophy that underpins this Fourth International of the EU is essentially an extension of the social market and social democratic ideas of Ludwig Erhard and the Bad Godesberg SPD congress of 1959 which underpinned the extraordinary renaissance of Germany under Christian and Social Democrats from Adenauer to Merkel and is now the governing philosophy of the EU too. Workers of Europe don’t any longer need unite in revolution to lose their chains: they have united in their EU, and it works. It needs to work better, of course. But meanwhile, here in Britain, Brexit is a political project of the right, by the right for the right – and mostly the far right at that, inaugurated by Margaret Thatcher.
Let’s also be clear that the EU is not collapsing any time soon, whatever Britain does with Brexit.
Since its creation the EU has been constantly beset with nay-sayers questioning its viability and solidarity – as of course was the United States for its first century and more. Every time the EU faces a crisis, it is heading for the rocks; every time it embarks on a new project, it is a step too far; every time it plans for the next project, it is pie in the sky. Except that the pies in the sky are mostly now the facts on the ground – including, crucially, the Euro – and the ultimate will to navigate the slings and arrows of outrageous failure is there and has won through.
Consider the Greek crisis, easily the most serious EU crisis of the last decade, devastating for the idea of the EU as a union for prosperity and widely thought to be the death knell for the Euro, at least in its current form. To quote the philosopher of Brexit, Dominic Cummings:
“The Euro is a nightmare, the EU is failing, unemployment is a disaster, their debts and pensions are a disaster… As the Euro crisis hit, millions saw Greece in chaos, even flames, for month after month. This undermined confidence in the EU as a modern successful force – ‘it’s so bad even Germany’s in trouble now because of the euro’, ‘not even Germany can afford to sort this out’”
Except that none of that turned out to be true. To keep it factual, yes, the Greek economy suffered badly and Pasokification – the complete wipe-out of a governing party –took place. But Greek democracy is intact with Alexis Tsipras now a mainstream left leader; Greece never sought to leave either the Euro or the EU; Germany isn’t in any greater trouble than it’s ever in; and of 20th August the Greek three-year $62 billion emergency loan programme has concluded.
So can I make a revolutionary suggestion. Instead of seeing the Euro currency union as a failure, or even the worst currency union except the others which have been tried from time to time, could we pronounce the Euro as here to stay and a long-term success for Europe as a whole? Maybe one that Britain will ultimately join?
In making the case for championing the success and strength of the EU, I am not complacent. The challenges facing the EU are innumerable, and like all human institutions the EU needs vast improvement.
I could devote the rest of this lecture to these themes, including a plan for EU reform including my absolutely brilliant schemes for HS3 to HS99, tackling the European refugee crisis, for expelling Victor Orban’s authoritarian Hungary from the EU pour encourager les autres, and for creating a new European Senate bringing together leading members of the EU’s 28 parliaments to strengthen European democracy and solidarity. But I’m not going to do any of this today because I want to reinforce the argument that Europe works and we should be in not out – and not half-in but fully in.
I want to say more about why the European Union has been so successful. The EU’s particular genius is in one key respect remarkably similar to that of the United States: it started with a small inner core of like-minded continental states intent on forming a democratic association of equals, and extended both its association and its values, norms and policies across an entire continent in the space of two generations.
The Continental Congress of 13 colonies which met in Philadelphia in 1774 became the United States of 1787 and, 60 years later, with the acquisition of Texas, California, and the American Southwest, extended across 33 states and the entire breadth of the continent, with the same basic constitution and institutions as at its foundation. The sum was much more than the parts from the very beginning, and became still more so as the US expanded. What began with 3.9 million inhabitants in the first United States census in 1790 is today a population of 325 million; with the highest GDP per capita of any large country in the world.
The EU started with six nations and a population of 160 million in the European Coal and Steel Community of 1951. Thirty years later, in 1981 it was nine nations with a population of 260 million. Today the European Union comprises 28 nations and a population 510 million, yet with institutions and a legal ‘acquis’ which have remained intact as they have extended across this territory. Furthermore, the EU, like the US, has deepened as it broadened, and continues to do so – in contrast to the conventional British view, and Eurosceptic hope, that broadening and deepening would prove irreconcilable. A view, I should say, that I used unthinkingly to share.
Furthermore, one clear result of Brexit, whether it happens or not, has been to inoculate even populist movements across the rest of the EU against similar exits. Eurobarometer surveys show that the EU has almost never been more popular. Across the whole EU, 68% now say their country has benefited from EU membership and 62% - a record number – consider their country’s membership of the EU to be a good thing.
In all three key respects that I set out earlier – peace, prosperity, security – the EU is far far more than the sum of its parts, and so obviously so that everyone who can wants to join, particularly after experiences of dictatorship (Portugal, Greece, Spain), occupation (Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltics), colonialism (Cyprus, Malta), and civil war (Croatia, Slovenia). The statistics are extraordinary: every new country entering the EU gets a significant bounce and an on-going benefit: In the 5 years after the 2004 accession, average GDP growth in the new Member States rose by over 50%. In 1989 Poland had roughly the same GDP per capita as Ukraine. Today it is five times higher.
The mirror image indeed of Project Fear.
For new members of the EU, it is straightforwardly Project Prosperity.
When Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, trying to appease the Brexiters at this year’s Conservative Party Conference, likened European Union to the Soviet Union, the striking thing as how furious was the response from European leaders who knew the Soviet Union was from the inside. This was Donald Tusk:
“Comparing the European Union to the Soviet Union is as unwise as it is insulting.
The Soviet Union was about prisons and gulags, borders and walls, violence against citizens and neighbours. The European Union is about freedom and human rights, prosperity and peace, life without fear; it is about democracy and pluralism, a continent without internal borders and walls.
As the president of the European Council, and someone who spent half of my life in the Societ bloc, I know what I am talking about.”
To rub it in, he added, apropos of Putin’s attack on Salisbury:
“The Soviet spirit is still alive. You will know best where to find this spirit - not in Brussels. And I am sure you will also remember who was the first to declare full solidarity with the UK at that critical moment.”
More succinctly, here is Lithuania’s EU commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis:
“Dear Jeremy Hunt, I was born in Soviet gulag and been imprisoned by KGB a few times in my life. Happy to brief you on the main differences between EU and Soviet Union. And also why we escaped the USSR. Anytime. Whatever helps.”
Can I make a related point, about the United Kingdom which is also the fruit of my last year campaigning against Brexit. My travels and meetings have taken me regularly to Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales for the first time in my life, and in the process I have got to understand a lot more about what Theresa May calls ‘our precious Union’.
What I have learned is this. England, as the predominant cultural, economic and political partner in the United Kingdom, isn’t very good at getting on with its neighbours inside the UK, which may go a long way to explaining why we are even worse at getting on with our neighbours in the larger democratic union of the EU.
As a historian, I knew from books that relations between England and Ireland ended in tears - many tears - a century ago. I saw, but from a distance, as Anglo-Irish relations improved after we both joined the EU 45 years ago, and then when John Major and Tony Blair undertook maybe the greatest act of statesmanship ever within the UK in conducting the negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement and then carrying it through. However, spending time in Dublin, Belfast and travelling the length and breadth of Ireland by train I now feel, as well as understand, the failure of empathy and statesmanship that once led England and Ireland to break, and have witnessed in horror the deterioration of Anglo-Irish relations and the rise of really serious new tensions in Northern Ireland under the pressure of Brexit.
I also feel the huge political and cultural distance between England and Scotland, as Scotland too has been ruthlessly subordinated by the Brexiters to an English nationalism which, it is now clear, would rather sacrifice the Union than continue it on the basis of England being a team player in both of the democratic unions to which Scotland belongs and wants to continue to belong.
England is now essentially half-in and half-out of the British Isles and the United Kingdom. And if we abdicate from Europe I suspect we will also end up destroying the United Kingdom, and maybe even forcing the rest of the British Isles – Ireland, Scotland, and Wales – into a new democratic association of equals.
When I was in Dublin recently, after really depressing meetings with political and business leaders, I had an hour before the train to Belfast and went into the General Post Office, scene of the bloody 1916 Easter Rising. On the wall are these words of Seamus Heaney:
History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme
Today, we have a once in a lifetime moment to hope that we might do the right thing for our country.