Upon assessing the European project, the British people don’t necessarily spring to mind. However, a British politician played a crucial role in the launching of the EU: Sir Winston Churchill. So how did he contribute to the founding of the European Union?
Sir W. Churchill (1874 – 1965) was many things: a politician and head of government, an army officer, a reporter and also the 1953 Nobel Prize for literature laureate. He is best remembered for serving as British Prime Minister and successfully leading Great Britain through World War II, however it is often forgotten that he played an important role in founding the European project.
Indeed, he was convinced that the only way to eradicate war and tensions on « the continent » was for the European nation states to unite and work together, this way insuring peace. His position was that the only solution to past and future conflicts, and in order to efficiently face the threat of the Soviet Union, was for the French and German nation to profoundly reconcile. His aim was truly to repress once and for all the nationalistic and belligerent passions within Europe.
He thus became a driving force behind European integration and an active fighter for its cause. This is clearly visible in his numerous speeches. In what has become his most famous speech, held at the University of Zurich in 1946, he called for the creation of “a kind of United States of Europe”. This particular speech can be seen as shifting point of the general public in favour of a united post-war Europe. At the same time, various pro European militant associations were created, directly benefiting from the echo of the Zurich speech.
In 1942, Churchill wrote to his foreign secretary, Anthony Eden: “I look forward to a United States of Europe, in which the barriers between the nations will be greatly minimized and unrestricted travel will be possible.” This expresses well Churchill’s vision and will to actively build the EU.
In May 1948 Churchill opened the Congress of Europe at The Hague, making him one of the main protagonists of this new regional organization that then became the Council of Europe in 1949. He was also one the founders of the College of Europe, the world’s first institute of postgraduate studies and training in European affairs, which produced many high flying politicians, such as David O’Sullivan or Nick Clegg.
Nevertheless, he did not want the United Kingdom to be included directly in the “United States of Europe” (he supported a little further down the line his country’s absence from the European Coal and Steel Community) because he saw the United Kingdom at the centre of a world, composed of the United States, the Commonwealth and a European Union. Ha was also strongly was opposed to any notion of supranationality. He preferred the vision of cooperation between sovereign nations rather than the notion of integration. In this sense, his views on the path that the EU should take differed greatly from his pro-European counterparts.
In recent times, Churchill has been used as an icon against the European Integration in British politics, a clear example of this is previous UKIP leader Nigel Farage (mis)using quotes from his speeches to plead for Brexit. However, regardless of the ambiguous British involvement in the EU project, Churchill is included by the European Union as one of its founding fathers and used as an example of British support to the European Union.