On June 26 th and 27 th 1950 The Brititsh House of Commons [1. This is obviously not an academic piece, nevertheless I shall be decorating it with footnotes to give a references when they are easily available, to give some bibliographical information, and in places to make some additional points. All the quotes from debates in The House of Commons have been taken from Hansard which now available on line. I have found that the the handiest of getting access to it is to go Wikipedia, and from thence to contribtions made by the individual members of Parliament. ] debated a motion introduced by The Conserative and Liberal oppossition parties which criticised the then Labour Government for not being sufficiently keen in its support Robert Schuman’s proposal to set up a High Authority to coordinate the production of coal and steel in western Europe- entity from which The European Union grew.
For today’s reader the debate is full of surprises. Most curiously senior members of the Labour Party then occupied the Euro- Sceptical space which is now filled by Conservatives, and even- or is this to strech the point too far?- by UKIP.
Churchill’s ambivalance is also wonderful to behold. One the one hand he ached to unleash his inner imp- an ever present, and insufficiently repressed part of his personality- on the government; but on the other it is also clear that he had his doubts about the proposal- which he rightly attributed to Monnet rather than to Schuman. [2. I have based my understanding of the background to the debate on three secondary sources all of which are written from different perspectives. Hugo Young’s contribution “This Blessed Plot, Britain and Europe from Churchill to Blair ” ( London, 1998 ) is the work of an uncritical Eurozealot. On the other side is “The Great Deception, The secret history of the European Union” ( London, 2003) by Christopher Booker- and Richard North who are strongly Eurosceptical. I have also had acces to a more recent contribution by an insider, Luuk van Middelaar, “The Passage to Europe, how a Conitnent became a Union” ( Yale, 2013) ]
However it is also clear that there was a part of him which did indeed believe that some sort of federation was in Europe’s interest. Embarrasingly for today’s Eurosceptics the old gentleman’s’ conclusion does really seem to have been that Britain should be prepared to share its soveriegnity in the right circumstances.
In common with almost all Parliamentary debates the major historical themes with which it dealt are embedded in the politics of the moment. That said, there are passages in the official record of the debate in which the larger picture comes into focus quickly. For example there was the moment when the Labour M.P. A.J. Irving ( Liverpool Edge Hill ) pointed urged the country to take note of the “crucial and important division which exists within the Conservative Party on this issue- on what they think of the [ i.e.Schuman’s ] plans and what they think ought to be done [about them].” This division still exists.
The debate was also notable for the fact that it was the occassion of Edward Heath’s maiden speech. Heath was not eloquent. But European project was his one passion. ” We ” he said “on this side of the House feel that, by standing aside from the discussions. we may be taking a very great risk with our economy in the coming years -a very great risk indeed. He [ Sir Stafford Cripps the Chancellor of the Exchequer ] said it would be a great risk if we went in and then withdrew. We regard it as a greater risk to stand aside altogether at this stage.” “I appeal tonight” he concluded ” to the Government…to go into the Schuman plan to develop Europe and to coordinate it [ Europe? ] in the way suggested [ by the plan ]”
However not all members of the oppossition shared the enthusiasmm of their leaders and Major E. R. Heath for the motion. For example on the following evening when the votes were taken Sir Robin Turton was absent from the division lobby. Among this minority was Sir Harry Legge -Bourke ( 1914-1973 ) Member of Parliament for The Isle of Ely.
Legge Bourke’s contribution was important; important not simply for what he said, but because also he was the first person to articulate what was to become the British Euro- Sceptical tradtion. Just as Churchill in his speech manifested the ambivalence of many Tories for the European project, and Clement Davis, the then leader of the Liberal Party, expreessed the veiw of what was tho become under NicK Clegg “the party of in”- so Legge Bourke stands behind Enoch Powell, Bill Cash, and the rest. And this despite the fact that, as we will be noting, he was to change his mind on the subject – although for a most surprising reason.
When Legge – Bourke spoke though he certainly did not believe that he was saying anything new. So far as he was concerned he was merely articulating a more venerable tradition of what it meant to be a nation; and what it was to be a conservative. He did this by quoting the passage from Disraeli’s ” Life of Lord George Bentinct ” which has already appeared on this web site.
Legge Bourke realised that what Schuman planned was political although his analysis could hardly be rigorous because neither he, nor any one else, at Westminster knew exactly what Schuman intended- precisely because at that early stage the proposal was indeed vague.
Euro-Sceptics often say that that the European project is deceptive. By this they mean that while it claimed to be about economics it was always really about building a European nation or in their language a “Superstate.” And certainly this is how the project was sold in Britain where, indeed, it was for many years known as “The Common Market”- which was in fact a term properly used to describe only a part of the total project. But the charge of being deceptive in this way cannot justly be made against Robert Schuman. His ambitions were widely understood at the time. Indeed in the debate one Conservative supporter of the plan ( Col Claud Lancaster ) who was an expert on the coal industry argued that it would only be providing “a political umbrella” over a Europe which was already economically cartelized! And some later defenders of the project saw absolutely nothing wrong in this. [3. I am thinking here of Stuart de la Mahotiere, “The Common Market, a comprhensive guide” (London, 1961) p. 60-61. de la Mahotiere’s perhaps untentionally revealing little book was published as part of the effort to sell the project at the time of Britain and Ireland’s first application to join.]
Although the various drafts of what became the Schuman declaration became progressively less precise [6. See Booker and North, Op cit. p. 48.] about the final political structure that he envisaged, no one who listended to what he was saying can really have any doubts that he was seeking to take the first steps on the road which lead to a politically united Europe. Certainly Legge-Bourke knew that he was dealing with a political operation. “Let us be in doubt that the purpose of pooling steel and coal production, although in itself an economic step, is in fact political.”
What Schuman left unclear was not then what he wanted to do; but how he proposed to go about it. This made the task of the plan’s defenders ( i.e. the Conservative Front bench, their supporters on the back benches, and the Liberals ) much easier. They could happily accept that the devil would be in the details, and then say that since these details had not yet been fixed that that there was no good reason not to participate in the discussions which would determine them.
Given the pragmatic and empirical caste of the British- and especially the British conservative mind- this argument would have been easily decisive had it not been for the fact that the French government had insisted that only those who had acccepted the supranational aspects of the plan could participate in the discussions. In other words by accepting the invitation the British government would at the same time be accepting the idea that at least some pooling of British sovereignity would be involved in the arrangements which were ultimately to be arrived at. Supra- nationalism was the essence of the Schuman plan.
Perhaps indeed it was because the Labour Party was more accustomed to thinkng in wider idealistic terms that they instinctively understood what Schuman was planning in a way that was more difficult for those in the Conservative Party whose approach tended to be more short term and narrowly business orientated. It is almost as if many conservatives could not really believe that they were dealing with an essentialy utopain project. Monnet and Schuman were thinking in the long term. However most of the conservative speakers who supported the proposals were thinking only of the immediate future- Heath for example spoke about the minutae of the German and French steel industries, and David Eccles of unemployment- Legge-Bourke approached the matter more philosophically. In doing he reflected the dynamic aspects of the Monnet Schuman proposal better than did, for example, Sir Anthony Eden in his eloquent if superfical speech with which he had started the debate. “We are,” Legge Bourke began “debating the wisdom of whether or not we should set out on a voyage the end of which we cannot possibly see and which as yet is lost in the haze of hazard and speculation.”
Eden [4. It is disappointing that Eden’s memoirs does not deal with the with the time when the Conservative party was in oppossition between 1945 and 1951, and consequently does not deal the episode in question. It would be intersting to know whether Eden’s refusal to have any thing to do with the Conservative Party after he retired ( personal knowledge) has anything to do with its later enthusiam for the European project, or had ,as is probably more likely some other cause.] had, of course, recognised the importance of the proposals, but for him they were to be judged as much by the motives of its proponents as they were by the facts of the case. For Eden the proposals could not be allowed to fail because they sought to build peace between France and Germany. Legge -Bourke knew took a different line. While Eden and Heath had responded to the spirit of Schuman’s proposals- and at that stage there was of course little more to go on- Legge- Bourke implicitly rejected the idea that the proposals should be judged on the basis of the motives of those who had come up with them. He did not question these; but instead he posed the question as to whether they could ever really bind the nations of Europe together in the way intended without having profoundly illiberal consequences even more damaging consequences than the evils they were intended to to prevent.
Whereas Heath had concluded by quoting Burke on the importance of magnanimity in politics Legge- Bourke made use of Disraeli’s understanding of the nature the political communities ( i.e. the various nations ) of Europe. For Disraeli – and hence also for Legge -Bourke who appropriated his words on the subject – it was possible to know the various characeristics of the nations concerned. These characteristcs were fundamenatly different from each other, and meant that there was too little sympathy and identity between the various nations of Europe to make the proposed federation feasible.
Moreover these differences could not not subsumed into a greater whole by references either to the need to preserve peace in Europe, or to any shared human characteristics. Nor was it any use for the supra-nationalists to claim that because it was necessary for the nations of western Europe to colaborate for their own defence against the threat from the East, that this military collaboration provided any template for the kind of political unity which Schumann was ultimately advocating- “What goes” Legge Bourke remarked ” for strategic defence does not necessarily go for things political, for armed forces need not be run democratically.”
For Legge Bourke it was clear, even self evident, that the the voters in the various countries of Europe would want to do things differently, or perhaps rather that there was no guarantee that they would ever want to do them in the same way. And if indeed this was the case, then the Monnet Schuman propoals were deeply flawed. Flawed, moreover, in a way which was likely to have profoundly dangerous consequences, which had been referred to by Disraeli.
The difficulty can in fact be best illustrated by reference to The American Civil War which incidentally took place some eight years AFTER Disraeli wrote the passage which Legge- Bourke quoted. The outbreak of the American Civil War is nearly always attributed to the fact that slavery existed in the Southern States, but not in the Northern. And obviously this is an unavoidable part of the story. But to use the terms of the realist philosophers slavery was the “accident” [5. In describing slavery as an “accident,” I am not, of course, attempting to justify that institution, or indeed trying to minimise its importance.] in the case and federalism the “substance.” The crucial point was not the rights and wrongs of slavery; but the fact that ( white ) public opinion in the Southern states believed that the existence of slavery was crucial to to their survival ; and that they felt that this vitally important interest was threatened by the election of Abraham Linclon in the Presidential election of 1860. The “substance” of the matter then was that, within the terms of how federalism was understood in the North, that the South felt that that they had no choice but to dissolve the Union. In other words there are interests which trump federalism. Or, put the other way round federalism can only survive when people do not believe that their immedaite local interests are not theatened by it.[9. My treatment here has been influenced by M.E. Bradford, “A Fire Bell in the Night: The Southern Conservative View.” “Modern Age” Vol. 17 no. 1, Winter 1973. The writings of Southern Conservatives are directly relevant to the European issue. The place to start gaining understanding the Southern view is in the works of Richard Weaver, for example “The Southern Tradition at Bay, A history of Postbellum Thought.” ( New Rochelle, N.Y. 1968) which Bradford co-edited. However Southern conservative writings need to be balanced by other accounts for example, W.J. Cash “The Mind of the South” ( London 1971- although it was first published in 1941 ) and, the writings of those such John Hope Franklin- pictured at right with unidentified friend- whose wonderful, and for the conservative challenging, book , “From Slavery to Freedom, A History of Negro Americans” (first published in1947 but frequently revised ) is indispensible. What I have learnt and borrowed from Bradford is his sense of the ideological nature of the egalitarian drive in The United States, which matches integrationist dynamic that is so clear in the European project. Both are linked with big governments.]
This at least was the conclusion which Legge Bourke derived from Disraeli’s discussion of the issue. But to grasp the full import of his point we have to return to the start of his remarks. When I first read his speech I was puzzled by the way in which it began with a sentence which seemed to be full of nothing but abstractions. Then I wondered if the way in which he began – “We are today debating..whether..to set out on a voyage..the end of which we cannot possibly see lost in a haze of hazard and speculation”- was a reference to the abstract way in which Schman began the declaration which was the subject of the debate. And certainly I do think that this was in Legge Bourke’s mind. I think too that there was an element of parody here. But he was also hinting at the real dangers that he foresaw in the proposal.
However before he could do this he had to define the nature of the communities which were to be subject to the control of the high authority. Here we should remember that Schuman ( and apparently Heath ) had explicitly called for the coordination of Europe by the high authority in the same way that the regions of the various countrues were in his mind properly controlled by the national authorities concerned. For Schuman France was to be to the high authority what Surrey was to London. ( Although in fact, I suspect, he believed that a combination of selective law enforcement and expert diplomacy would always save the day for French interests.)
Legge-Bourke rejected this approach. For him the nations of Europe- although situated beside one another- were marked by far greater differences than Schuman supposed. Or rather while Schuman- as was to put it a little later- thought that the divisions “anachronistic and absurd” [8. In a speech given in Febuary 1951, quoted by van Middelaar, Op. Cit. p.146] Legge Bourke believed that they were stil,l and would remain, vital facts that had to be taken account of in the orgnisation of Europe. These differences were not skin deep. They were essential. Consequently he believed they could not be accomodated by a federal solution. He thought that coordination of Europe could only be brought about by an overly powerful central government. To understand this we have to probe into his understanding of the role which he thought that The Conservative Party should have in The British body politic.
[5. While Legge Bourke devoted some important passages of his speech to this theme they are caste in a language which we will be unfamilar to many readers of this site. But the challenge is to “unpack” such passges so that their deeper meaning can be apprehended by those for whom the forms in which they are caste have become a barrier to understanding them. There is then an element of what we might term “demytholisation” in what follows.]
But first then the passage itself. According to Legge -Bourke the British government and hence also by extension the Conservative Party, must hold “certain things sacrosanct.” It must speak for those “who though they wish the whole world well, are first proud to call themselves subjects of His Majesty, to whose Crown they they give their first loyalty.”
Probably the most important word here is “Crown,” because it is the clue that we are not here talking about the person of King George V1 ( much loved though he was !), but of what he represented. Perhaps then we should translate the sentence into the follwing “modern ” terms:
“We must hold certain things sacred, among them our duty to speak for those who while they wish world well identify themselves as being members of a community which goes about doing political stuff in certain ways which work well for them / us.”
We have here, of course, a reference to the “traditionary influences” ( we should probably use the word “traditional” here ) of which Disraeli had spoken of in the passage which Legge Bourke had quoted earlier. “I hope” he said of the next conservative government- which was in fact to be elected the following year- ” that it will be a government which will not sap the energies of our own people by attempting the impossible task of bringing about a state of affairs in Europe contrary to all the traditionary influences of the nations that form that continent”- influences, let it be noted, the product of history and geography which were specific to individual nations of Europe
Here we reach what must be described as the most serious weakness in Legge Bourke’s exposition. While he place great importance on the traditional influences which he believed would always shape the politics of the individual nations of Europe; he never made any attempt to define what these influences were, or indeed to descibe how they had rooted themselves in British institutional life.
For him it was evidently enough to refer to the Crown by which he apparently meant the whole panoply Parliamentary activity, of the formation of legislation and in the enforcement of legislation, and the way in which under the Westminster syestem the actions of the executive were minutely accountable to Parliament which has the distinguishing hall mark of the way in which Britain had been run for three hundred years. For Legge -Bourke these were the reality- not just symbolic froth – that would, and should, always trump federalism, although as we have hinted he left the task of defining exactly what they were to later Euro-sceptics. [6. See for example, Sir Derek Walker Smith, “British Sovereignity and the Common Market” contained in “Britain, not Europe, Commonwealth Before Common Market” edited by R. Hugh Corbet, for The Anti-Common Market League. ( London, n.d but probably 1961 or 1962 ) This by the way is a fascinating collection, which captures the flavour of the early Anti- Common Market movement extremely well.]
In Legge Bourke’s defence it can be said that in this he was being no more vague than Schuman had been when he had launched his Declaration early in the previous month. The contrast between the views of the two men was that while Legge -Bourke’s first sentence had criticised the project because its end could not yet could not, or even in pronciple, be discerned; Schuman had used his own studied vagueness about what he really intended was as a way of persuading others to adopt it. Schuman’s trick was to suggest a teleological view of what was to come, and then to combine this utopian vision with an practicical proposal in order to make the whole scheme or plan seem sensible, even unavoidable. ( In fact, of course, the “plans” of politicans rarely have much in common with for example business plans. At the best Schuman and Monnet were proposing something like a military plan, with all the uncertainties inherent in that. )
Schuman’s though was a teleology [3. To some this talk of “teleology” in this context may sound esoteric even absurd. But I’m not the only one, van Middelaar writes “The power of the European telos is such that it is revived by every crisis. ” Op. Cit. p. 311.] grounded in bureaucratic imperatives rather than from the deep dynamics of history. While Marx had believed that economic motives were the motor of history, and various ideologues of Nazism had identified race as being the crucial factor, Schuman identified no similiar logos residing beneath the surface of present. Yet at the same time he wanted to reach of phase of history radically different from the one in which he resided. Here was a profound puzzle. For Schuman for Europe to remain unchanged, was for Europe to be always subject to same kind of wars which had engulfed it three times in last seventy years. And yet he knew of no mechanism that would transport him to the promised land? But how was this agenda to be advanced, and how was a new and more peaceful state of affairs to be brought about? Was “Europe” always to be just a talking point.
The solution to this puzzle given to him by Monnet was was ingenious. The break through was to harness the tendency of bureaurcratic agencies to gain power to the supposed need for European integration. More particularly it was to create a High Authority- which was later to become the Comission- which would act an institutional and bureaucratic facilitator of a broader European integration; [9. The historian James Joll has written that the emergence of a “self confident bureaucracy” was an essentai part of the development of the community’s institutions after 1957 without which its limited progress towards unification would not have been made. James Joll, “Europe since 1870, An International History” (London, 1983) p. 463. ], that and which at the same time and absolutely crucially served to solve an immediate practical problem.
From the end of the war onwards policy makers in Europe had been much excerised by the problem of the Saar.[9. See Booker and North, Op cit p.48 ] This was the vital industrial in the far west of Germany bordering on France. At the end the First World War it had been occupied by the French with the unhappy consequences that their occupation- which was foolishly conducted without regard for German susceptibilities- had fanned German nationalism. Nevertheless in 1945 the French government had tried to arrange for the Saar to be run by a puppet government of Saar separatists which they could easily control. By April 1948 the area and its indusrial wealth had been in all but name annexed by France. [10. For the outrageous details of how France behaved in the Saar in the years after 1945 – see Terence Prittie, “Konrad Adenauer 1976- 1967.”( London, 1972 ) p.175-176 ]
Unsurprisingly this produced an extremely hostile reaction in Germany. Relations between France and Germany became strained and the situation has been described as an “impass.” The Americans demanded an immediate solution. [9. American influence in the early days of the European project was vital. See, for example, Ambrose Evans- Prichard, “Euro-federalists financed by US spy chiefs” “Daily Telegraph” (London) 19th Sept. 2000. Young suggests that it was because the Americans and British were about to allow the Germans to produce more steel that Schuman was forced to act with the speed that he did. See also Young, Op cit, p. 45, although he goes on to say that “economics was not the largest consideration.” See also van Middelaar, Op Cit. p. 141-142, and p. 146. For an early sceptical “take”on the American role in European integration see Sir Clifford Heathcote-Smith “American Influence in European Union” in R. Hugh Corbert, Op. cit. p. 16-19. It is worth noting that the sort of the American influence which came to bear came from- to use geographical short hand- Boston rather than Charleston.] And it was at this moment that Monnet emerged from the shades in which he tended to operate, with his proposal for a High Authority to control the Saar’s industrial output, which was what was what the French were concerned about, but which at the same would also to allow the area itself to be once more a part of Germany, thus satisfying German nationalist aspirations.
However, as we have already indicated, for Monnet the problem was not really about the future of the coal mines and steel rolling mills of the North West Germany. He was playing a far bigger game. For him, and indeed for Schuman, the dispute about the Saar was a spring board from which they wished to unite Europe. Consequently despite their moderation, the terms of the Monnet Schuman declaration were drawn far more broadly than was demanded by the relatively limited nature of the dispute it was ostensibly intended to solve. The genius of Monnet and Schuman was to see that meta historical teleology about European unity could be injected into the practical problem of the future of the Saar, and then as if by magic extracted from it, as the key to providing a solution not just for the problem they were immediately concerned with, but all possible problems which could be attributed to Europe’s divisions.
The Schuman declaration- which marked the public launch of their project- must, of course, be read along side the other documents with which it was associated. These include the its preface, the press guidance which was issued by the French Foreign Ministry at the time, an obviously planted story in La Monde by the sociologist Maurice Duvergier, and the speech which Schuman gave in Strasbourg at the end of the following week. All stress the federal implications of scheme; which was to some extent played down by the declaration itself and by British Europeanist thinkers.
Of especial interest is the speech which Schuman gave in Strassbourg- some of which we have some of which we already reproduced on this site – because in it Schuman explicitly places his “plan” within the Utopian tradition of European thought. ( He refers specifically to Sir Thomas More and to “property is theft” Proudhon as well as Kant, and Erasmus. ) And it was to this element of the project that Legge Bourke was instinctively and adamently opposed.
The operative sentence in Schuman’s remarks reads as follows:
“Our century, that has witnessed the catastrophes resulting in the unending clash of nationalities, must attempt and succeed in reconciling nations in a supranational association.”
So far as Legge Bourke was concerned there was no “must” about it. !Schuman, Legge- Bourke implies, had simply taken refuge in incantation. To grasp this more fully we should return to the point with which Legge Bourke had started his speech. He had stressed that the future of the project was lost in a haze of speculation. The point here being that he unlike Schuman and the other advocates of Europen integration, did not believe that the future of Europe could be foretold. They were Utopians. He was not. The unexpected was certain to happen; and it was exactly these unpredicable developments that would break the plan that Schuman was proposing apart unless the whole thing was very tightly controlled. Indeed Legge Bourke detected the potential of authoritarianism within the proposal. “No plan” he said ” which aims at the establishment of a high authority that can bind governments can, in my view, ever be practical wih men as imperfect as they are, save in the cause of setting up an international tryanny and totalitarianism.”
For Legge Bourke the difficulty with the Monnet Schman proposals was that there were core values about the nature of government which diivided the nations of Europe. These values were bound to express them,selves in differing views about how political and other problems were to be addressed. This meant that the only way in which a centralised “high authority” could advance the policies which it favoured ( which must necessarily be the same for all of Europe ) and indeed to maintain its own position as a credible source of political power, was to impose these policies reagrdless of the wishes and interests of the individual countries concerned. There were in short issues, values, and things, which trumped federalism, and if federalism was to survive; there would have to be a banging of heads togther which would be quite incompatible with liberalism. Thus he believed ( although he didn’t put it quite like this) that if the Schuman plan was enacted it would ultimately lead to a clash between one or other of the nations and the high authority which would either break up the system or the lead to the imposition of a solution by force. To arouse the hopes of the people of Euruope that such an arrangement would bring peace was to mislead them. For him- as we have already indicated – no greater sin could be imagined.
In truth Legge Bourke probably confused the “hard” totalitarianism of Hitler, Stalin, and the rest, with the mere disdain with which European “functionalists” like Monnet and Schuman felt for the democratic process as it had evolved North of La Manche. What Legge Bourke saw as totalitarianism ( I am sure he had read “The Road to Serfdom” [7. “The Road to Serfdom” ( London, 1944) had been circulated in large numbers by Conservative Central Office prior to the General Election of 1945. Hayek writes “one only has to visualise the problems raised by economic planning of even an area such as Western Europe to see that the moral bases for such an undertaking are completely lacking.”- p. 165. The whole chapter from p 163 ff is very relevant here, and makes some of the points which Legge- Bourke was to develop.] and was interpreting Schuman through its lens.) was really their sense that ultimately peace was more important than what they saw as being merely the details of the democratic procedure,. These were to them no more than an expression of an eccentric Anglo- Saxon distrust of executive power. For the early Europeanists peace was well worth the price of centralisation. Indeed this centralisation, which Legge Bourke saw and feared, but misidentified, was for those who were driving the European project exactly what attracted to them to the idea. The belief then in a “Europe of the offices,” as it has been called,[9. For “the Europe of the offices” see van Middelaar, Op. Cit. p.3 where he writes ” the concept of a Europe of Offices”- his capitalisation- “emerged after 1945. Its spokesmen were senior civil servants…” Well quite! See also p. 16 and 329.] in which the central bureaurcracy acts as the guardian of integrationist purity is not then new. Rather it was from the very start built into the very foundations of the construction which was to emerge. Indeed to a great extent the whole process of integration turned out to be bureaurcratic.[6. A an example of this was they way in which the Community’s colonisation of the nascent nuclear power industry reinvigorated it in 1955. See van Middelaar, Op. Cit. p.153.]
All this was grounded in Schuman’s perception that the differences between the peoples of Europe became less and less important. Indeed for Schuman the “aspirations” of various nations could only differ from one another if the high authority deemed them to to be inessential. Such an understanding was quite alien to Legge Bouke. For him the differences between the nations of Europe were crucial and permanent. Above all they could not be wished away by incantations however well intentioned these were.The another crucial part of Legge Bourke’s speech ( which have we have already quoted on this site ) read as follows:
“I believe that federation in Europe can never work, because, although the geography is very often the same, there is not sufficient common ground in sympathy and characteristics to make it work. To hold out hopes of federation, I therefore consider to be dishonest at this time, and I feel there is no greater sin than falsely raising people’s hopes that something can be achieved which is impossible or impractical.”
To bring this thought into greater focus it is instructive to contrast it with what was to be what was to be one of Sir Harry’s last interventions in the House of Commons ( October 21 st 1971) during the debates which preceded Britian’s ultimately successful application to join the community at the start of 1973. On that occasion Sir Harry- as he had by then become- once more drew attention to the traditional differences which separated the nations of Europe. However he then argued that these differences were far too deep seated for any federation to become a realiy. And that he therefore argued that joining the European Economic Community, as it then was, posed no threat to British soveriegnity. He asserted, moreover, that it was impossible to have a political federation unless it also had a single currency, and then went on to ridicule the whole notion of what has since become the Euro ( although the word was as yet unknown) “Surely” he asked “we are not near to a single currency in Europe.” And he then quoted the work of Professor Triffin of Columbia University who. he said, had been working on the idea of a single currency since the treaty of Rome was signed ( i.e. March 1957), but emphasied that that he (Triffin ) had not got very far, and that his ideas were in any event unacceptable to the other countries in the community. In both the seventies and in 1950 for him they key to problem was the durable characteristics of the European nations. In 1950 he had claimed that they made all talk of federation impossible, and so made it unwise for Britain to become associated with the project, but later used the same reality to suggest that they posed less of a threat to Britain and by extension also the other nations of the continent. Curiously then for Sir Harry the project had stopped being sinful; because it was so impractical! [3. In fact he was to some extent misinformed about the activities of the Community. According to de la Mahotiere, ( “Op Cit. p. 37) the Communities Monetary Committee had already sought to play a role in in monetary policy by criticizing the “decision by Germany and Holland to revalue the Deutschmark and Guilder respectively without consulting the European Commission.”]
“Therefore” he continued ” the things which I had the greates anxiety [ about] in 1957 and 1951 have largely diminished rather than intensified…We may move towards what president de Gaulle has described as [ a Europe of the Nations]. That has fewer objections [ to it ] than a close knit federation.” “There are those who say that, whether we like it or not, the destiny of joining the Common Market [ note the use that term] is inevitably and eventually political federation in Europe. I do not believe it. If I did believe it, I could not support the Government on Thursday next. The more one studies the way in which Europe is working out the less likely it is that there will be a close knit federation. That is not to say that I am entirely happy about all aspects of the problem. Who is? Who fully understands the problem?”
With hindsight, of course, there were two groups of people in Britain who did understand the problem. The Europhiles such as Ted Heath know very well what they were planning or at least what they were prepared to live with, although they were not- if one may be as tactful as possible, always fully frank with either themselves or with the electorate. Equally up to speed on the reality or in Sir Harry’s parlance “the problem” were the “Anti- Marketeers” as they were then called. They knew just what was intended and what was going on. In this connection it is worth noting that one of the first Biritish Euro- sceptics Sir Piers Debenham ( 1904-1964) was an economist who had worked for the Control Commission ( that word again) in Germany after the war. It was left to those in the soft centre of the Conservative Party to be persuaded by the sort of reasoning which as we have seen led Sir Harry to change his mind, or at least to modify it it sufficiently greatly to allow him to support the Government in the lobby.
The interesting question is why? How was it possible for someone who had apparently identified the realities of the case as early as 1950 been persuaded that the threat of a federal Europe had “diminished” by 1971, and who in his final contribution to the House of Commons ( 23 rd October 1972 ) described Britain’s entry into the Community as being “one of the greatest achievements this country has ever known. ” This last remark is somewhat puzzling and it is possible that the what he intended to say was that the passage of the legislation was one of the greatest parliamentary achievements that the country had ever seen. It is even possible that the remark was satirically intended, although from the context this last does not seem likely.
There may, of course, have been in Sir Harry’s case, other more personal explanations for his change of mind. In the first place- and this is something which I missed when I first wrote this, that he was by then chairman of The 1922 Committee in effect the senior Conservative back bencher- a role which would have made outright rebellion very difficult if not quite impossible. Moreover loyalty to the leader of his party was a strong element in the political, even psychological, make up of traditional ruling class figures like Sir Harry. And Heath had more than earned such loyalty by unexpectedly winning the General Election of 1970 in a campaign which he had fought along very personal lines. We should also not ignore the power of the government whipping operation. Tory whips are not squeamish; and Sir Harry as we have seen had a history of unreliability so far as the European project was concerned- he had also expressed doubts about Britian’s first application in the early sxties. Indeed we may ( perhaps ) speculate that his very election to the post he occupied may have been at least in part engineered by those who wished to excercise control over his activities in respect of Europe. Additionally while he was not old. he may have been frail ( he died the following year) and although the Whips may have feigned, and perhaps even felt, sympathy, but they will not have been sentimental as they suggested where the path of loyalty lay. There could too have been the thought in his mind that the liberals were gaining traction in his constituency something that may have made overt anti- Europeanism less than politic- and in fact the liberal Clement Freud ( pictured campaigning below) gained the seat from the Conservatives in the bye- election which followed his death.
I think though that we need to penetrate deeper here. The explanation may be that while Sir Harry had proved himself to be a shrewd analyst of the dynamic Utopian aspects of the European project as it existed in 1950, he nevertheless underestimated the powerful institutional forces Monnet and Schuman had created and unleashed. While British Europhiles in the late sixties and early seventies were not forthcoming about the political ambitions inherent in the project, it did then seem as if the wilder federal ambitions of the original projectors were not likely to come about. In the seventies the European project appeared becalmed. “The middle 1970’s” writes the Euro- enthusiast Hugo Young “were a time of stasis in Europe, for reasons which transcended any one country’s power to overcome them.” [4. See Young, Op. Cit. p. 255]
How then were they overcome? What is the driving force which has pushed the integrationist excercise onwards since Sir Harry spoke in the seventies. He saw that the project was essentially political rather than crudely economic But what he did not see was the extent to which it was bureaucratic and drew both its form and its formidable capacity for growth from this fact. As we have seen Schuman’s vision was one in which Europe was to be co-ordinated. In American terms the whole exercise was far closer to The Tennesse Valley Authority than it was to a New England Town Meeting.
A glance at the Treaty of Rome shows that an integrationist teleology was built into the very structure of the institutional arrangements that were arrived at. As early as 1961 an advocate of the project had written that “by and large the Commission favours a federal structure for the Commuinity” [9. de la Mahotiere, Op. Cit. p. 53] and in this connection we must remember that it is the Commission which alone in the Community enjoys the right of legislative inititiative. Consequently there could be no stasis. Legislation of the Community was always bound to a advance a federal agenda. Or to put it the other way round it is very difficult to see the Commission proposing anything that would return power to the national parliaments. At very heart of the project is the thought that Europe is always to be in a state of becoming. But more importantly, indeed crucially the European Community as currently envisgaed has at its centre a bureaucratic agency which is absolutely dedicated to “deepening” Europen integration. The advocates of the project have always feared that without continuous action towards the distant but ill defined goal of European unity that the project would dissolve back into its national components, with dire consequences for all. And in the Brussels apparatus they have a powerful machine for preventing this.
Several ways have been perfected for achieving this aim. We cannot describe them all in detail here. But several immediately suggest themselves. Most obvious is the Commission’s propganda. which in a cynical way is often aimed at children. In a way the most interesting, and certainly most subtle is the occasional use of “free market” analysis and rhetoric. Although the proposals prompted by such analysis are in an economic an sense beneficial, this in not their role in the project. They serve the central bureaucracy by eroding the power of the various parliaments which introduced the pieces of national legislation which may indeed have been anti- competitive. ( In this respect naive free market economists become in effect the “useful idiots” of the excercise.) The more positive regulations, which flow from the Commission in an endless cascade, serve the project by forcing those potentially affected by them to act on the European political stage to protect their interests. This leads us of course to the European Parliament which while it may be making some modest gains in influence, is nevertheless really about building a sense of European identity, and engineering consent, rather than, as would be a real Parliament, about holding the Council and the Commission to account. The democratic deficit is not one which is likely to be paid off!
Much of this though was, of course, hidden from Sir Harry. But reading his contributions though one senses that he was a man, who without the elaborate reseearch facilities of the modern legislator, armed only with the what he read in the newspapers, a typewriter, and an inherited sense of what was fitting, was nevertheless able to penetrate deeply into the core of the matter. Above all unlike the Europhiles of his own party he realised that he was dealing with an intensely political project that went far beyond the mere details about coal mines in the Saar.
His judgement was sometimes badly awry, as when he attacked The United Nations. He understood all to well that his vision was limited. He knew that the end of the project he sought to understand was lost in the future; and he realised too that his understanding was finite. Most vitally both in1950 and later he missed the full implications of the bureaucracy which grew up in Brussels. No was he quite fair or accurate when he spoke of authoritarianism as being the hall mark of the project. (The problem in Brussels not the growth of Fouth Riech, but just a sense that democracy is not REALLY all that important.) [9. A curious literature has grown up in Britain which identifes the European Union as being in some sense a Nazi project. See for example, Rodney Atkinson ( Mr. Bean’s brother!) “Europe’s Full Circle, Corporate Elites and the New Fascism” (New Castle on Tyne, 1996). Booker and North, Op. cit. p.18 are right to dismiss such claims. See for example, W. B. Currey, “The Case for Federal Union” ( London, 1939) where much other “progressive” literature is cited. The fact is that the idea of a politically united Europe long predated Nazism. The facts seem to be that some Nazi publicists used some of this previously existing language for their own purposes. See Robert Herzsein “When Nazi dreams come true, The Third Reich’s Internal Struggle over the Future of Europe after a German Victory, a Look at the Nazi Mentality 1939-45.” (London, 1982) a book, by the way, that should be much better known. It is suggestive that Herzstein taught at The University of South Carolina- never a centre of federalist enthusiasm!]
Nor, as we have seen was always consistent. But very fact that he was not a member of the awkard squad- or “bastards” as they came to known in the elegant Europhile parlance, and above all no nationalist ideologue obsessed with abstract soveriegnity and inherently fearfull of all and every change ( at one moment he spoke about a broader Atlantic Free Trade Area) makes his doubts, which were clearly born of a deep and transparent honesty , all the more troubling and relevant. His Euro- scepticism and his insight wavered- who can blame him for that? – but at the same time his contribution to the debate on the Schuman plan, modest and understated though it was, marked the start of the British Euro- sceptical tradition. Just then as Schuman’s proposal and the speech which followed it, are hailed bizarrely by Europhiles as the moment when their project ceased to be utopian and became practical ( as if wishing made it so!) , so then in a similiar manner those of us who are are doubtful about the wider project they have embarked on should perhaps do more to celebrate the legacy, flawed though it was, of Sir Harry Legge-Bourke’s engagement with Europe. Sometimes there is no greater lack of wisdom than to forget.
FOOTNOTES AND REFERENCES.