Britain’s greatest war leader, Sir Winston Churchill, was one of the first to call for the creation of a ‘United States of Europe’. He is recognised as one of the 11 founders of today’s European Union.
In the immediate years following the Second World War, Churchill was convinced that only a ‘united Europe’ could guarantee peace. His passionate aim was to eliminate the European ills of nationalism and warmongering once and for all.
Even before the war, back in 1930, in an article for America’s ‘Saturday Evening Post’, Churchill concluded that:
‘The concept of a United States of Europe is right.’
In that prescient article, which today reads like an early blueprint for the European Union, Churchill imagined:
A Europe without internal barriers or tariffs, or passports, or multiple currencies, which would enable ‘the free interchange of goods and services’ and ‘the free travel of people’ across the continent.
The idea of ‘European unity’ was not new, he asserted. Reminding his American readers of the Roman Empire, Churchill wrote:
‘Europe has known the days when Rumanians lived on the Tyne and Spaniards on the Danube as equal citizens of a single state.’
‘Everywhere, in every age, in every area however wide, our every grouping of peoples however diverse, unity has made for strength and prosperity for all within its circle.
‘Why should Europe fear unity?’
It was clear from this article, however, that at that time Churchill did not envisage Britain – which then headed a huge Empire and Commonwealth straddling the world – needing or wanting to be part of a ‘United States of Europe’.
‘We are bound to further every honest and practical step to which the nations of Europe may make to reduce barriers which divide them and to nourish their common interests and their common welfare.
‘We rejoice at every diminution of the internal tariffs and the martial armaments of Europe. We see nothing but good and hope in a richer, freer, more contented European commonality.
‘But we have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not comprised. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed.’
However, Churchill’s view in 1930 would be bound to change after 1945, by which time Europe had suffered two world wars and was desperate to avoid another.
Churchill was never a ‘little Englander’. He supported an ambitious union of governments, and even called for a “world super-government” without which, he said, the prospects for peace and human progress were “dark and doubtful.”
During the Second World War, it was Prime Minister Churchill who announced in June 1940 the ‘Declaration of Union’ between Great Britain and France.
With the full backing of his Cabinet, Churchill stated:
‘The two governments declare that France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations, but one Franco-British Union…
‘Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain; every British subject will become a citizen of France.’
An Anglo-French stamp was even designed to commemorate the proposed Anglo-Franco union, but the Nazi invasion of France scuppered those plans.
The proposals did demonstrate, however, that Churchill was in favour of political union between European countries.
After the first British victory of the Second World War at El Alamein, Churchill wrote to his foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, on 21 October 1942:
‘Hard as it is to say now.. I look forward to a United States of Europe, in which the barriers between the nations will be greatly minimised and unrestricted travel will be possible.’
In a lecture about this in December 2011, Oxford Professor of Government, Vernon Bogdanor, described Churchill’s letter as, “remarkably prescient” adding that he thought the comment, “would get him expelled from the Conservative Party today”.
After the Second World War, Churchill strongly believed that a united Europe was the only way to avoid future conflicts and wars on our continent.
In his famous Zurich speech of 1946, Churchill said:
“We must build a kind of United States of Europe..
“The structure of the United States of Europe, if well and truly built, will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important..
“If at first all the states of Europe are not willing or able to join the union, we must nevertheless proceed to assemble and combine those who will and those who can.”
In May 1948 Churchill said in the opening speech to the Congress of Europe in Holland, that the drive towards a United Europe, “should be a movement of the people, not parties”.
Churchill, who also proposed a European ‘Charter’ and ‘Court’ of Human Rights, continued:
“We aim at the eventual participation of all the peoples throughout the continent whose society and way of life are in accord with the Charter of Human Rights.”
During this momentous speech, Churchill proclaimed:
“We cannot aim at anything less than the union of Europe as a whole, and we look forward with confidence to the day when that union will be achieved.”
And Churchill went much further than the idea of the immediate and urgent creation of a United States of Europe. Looking boldly to the future he stated,
“We must endeavour by patience and faithful service to prepare for the day when there will be an effective world government resting on the main groupings of mankind.”
In August 1949, at the first meeting of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Churchill delivered his speech in French, and said:
“There is no reason for us not to succeed in achieving our goal and laying the foundation of a United Europe.
“A Europe whose moral design will win the respect and acknowledgement of all humanity, and whose physical strength will be such that no person will dare to disturb it as it marches peacefully towards the future.”
The following year, in 1950, Churchill called for the creation of a European Army ‘..under a unified command, and in which we should all bear a worthy and honourable part.’ (France objected to this plan).
In an article for The Independent newspaper in 1996 by former UK prime minister, Edward Heath – who I interviewed when I was a teenager – he wrote:
‘I knew Winston Churchill, I worked with him, I stayed with him at his home, and I have read his speeches many times. I can assure you that Winston Churchill was no Eurosceptic.’
On Churchill’s call in 1946 for a ‘United States of Europe’, Edward Heath clarified:
‘I readily accept that at that time Churchill did not envisage Britain being a full member of this united Europe, but in gleefully seizing upon this point, Eurosceptics have misunderstood or misrepresented the nature of Churchill’s attitude to full British participation in Europe.
‘This reluctance was based on circumstance; it was not opposition based on principle. And the circumstances have changed in such a way that I am sure Churchill would now favour a policy that enabled Britain to be at the heart of the European Union.’
‘Churchill would be the first to realise that in the world today, where an isolated Britain would be dwarfed by five great powers, the United States, Russia, China, Japan and the European Union, Britain’s full participation in the European Union is vital, both for Britain and the rest of the world.’
MY OPINION? When read fully and in context, my view is that Churchill not only enthusiastically believed in the ever-closer union of Europe, in which the UK would play a leading role, but also eventually a world government.
He was, at the least, a confederalist, but I would also argue, even ‘a kind of’ federalist too. He had great vision for a political ‘union of nations’ which it seems few today fully recognise or acknowledge.
And although it seems that Churchill didn’t at first envisage Britain being a full member of ‘a kind of’ United States of Europe, it’s clear that Churchill’s views later changed, as the British Empire and Commonwealth diminished, and Britain’s world influence shifted.
(Churchill was renowned for changing his views according to circumstances: he started his political life as a Conservative MP; then resigned to become a Liberal MP; then resigned from the Liberals to become a Conservative MP again).
Churchill made his last speech about Europe at London’s Central Hall, Westminster in July 1957, some four months after six founding nations – France, Italy, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg – established the European Economic Community by signing the Treaty of Rome.
Churchill welcomed the formation of a ‘common market’ by the six, provided that ‘the whole of free Europe will have access’. Churchill added:
“We genuinely wish to join a European free trade area.”
But Churchill also warned:
“If, on the other hand, the European trade community were to be permanently restricted to the six nations, the results might be worse than if nothing were done at all – worse for them as well as for us.
“It would tend not to unite Europe but to divide it – and not only in the economic field.”
(Source: Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches Vol. 8 page 8681)
During the 1960s Churchill’s health rapidly declined, but his support for a united Europe didn’t. According to Churchill’s last Private Secretary, Sir Anthony Montague Brown, in August 1961, Churchill wrote to his constituency Chairman:
‘I think that the Government are right to apply to join the European Economic Community..’
In this letter, Churchill supported the ‘welding’ of West Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg into ‘an organic whole’, which he described as a ‘happy outcome’ of the European Economic Community.
‘We might well play a great part in these developments to the profit of not only ourselves, but of our European friends also.’
Sir Anthony also confirmed that in 1963, just two years before Churchill died, he wrote in a private letter:
‘The future of Europe if Britain were to be excluded is black indeed.’