Europe : The great debate : How a Big Idea became a Bad Thing

Share
Related Topics
1. Origins. The Second Great European Misunderstanding (1939-45) is generally judged to have been a Bad Thing, and a number of people decide that to have a third might be rather de trop. They found the Council of Europe, a means of stopping war by having meetings. It works. But some want to go further, notably the visionaries Jean Monnet, Paul-Henri Spaak and Robert Schuman. They are called the Founding Fathers, even before they have founded anything. All of them are foreign, something which the shrewd British notice very quickly.

2. Early Days. The Six (France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) set out on the road to federal union. Showing an early preference for acronyms, the Fathers found the ECSC (the European Coal and Steel Community) in 1951, a device to prevent war by making it all much too complicated, and the EEC (European Economic Community) in 1957, a means of preventing conflict by giving large amounts of money to farmers. It works. Still no war.

3. British Reserve. With that steely-eyed insight and unyielding vision for which they are famed, the British decide that this Europe thing will never work. They invent, instead, their own Europe thing in 1960, with its own even better acronym, EFTA (the European Free Trade Association). This unites Scandinavia and Britain with Switzerland, a historic union of countries which have only one thing in common: they are members of EFTA. English is the common language, however, so the organisation has some good points, despite the number of foreigners involved.

4. The drive to federalism. General De Gaulle, a devoted fan of the European Vision, shows his dedication to the idea by deciding in 1966 that the French will boycott meetings, which demonstrates the eternal French commitment to Europe. It results in the Luxembourg Compromise, which means that, henceforth, France can do what it wants, especially in Luxembourg. The ECSC and the EEC are united with something called Euratom to create a Single European Acronym, the EC (or CE if you are French). Federalism starts to move into action, or, as they say in Brussels, the train is leaving the station.

5. British Reserve Drops. With that steely-eyed insight and unyielding vision for which they are famed, the British decide that EFTA has no future and join the EC, or the Common Market as they prefer to call it. They are rebuffed by General De Gaulle. He dies, however, and in 1973 both Britain and the other Europeans run out of excuses for not going ahead. A referendum fails to change this, to the unhappiness of many on both sides of the Channel. Margaret Thatcher is elected to power in Britain, to the unhappiness of many on both sides of the Channel.

6. The New Boys. Having accepted Britain, Ireland and Denmark, Europe gets an appetite and swallows up Greece in 1981, followed by Spain and Portugal. To prevent war with these countries, it is necessary to pay them quite large sums of cash. So the EU goes looking for some richer countries not to fight wars with, bringing in Sweden, Finland and Austria in 1994. Norway and Switzerland remain aloof (and extremely rich, but with the ever-present threat that they may fight a war with each other). The Six have by now become the Fifteen, and everything gets more complicated. There isn't enough car-parking space, and it takes up to half an hour to get a steak and chips in the staff canteen.

7. The Great Leap Forward. The Single Market is to be created by 1992, allowing a light bulb made in Essen to be sold in a shop in Ealing. This exciting vision is acclaimed throughout the continent as an obvious way to stop war. However, in order to do it, national vetoes are removed in some policy areas and majority voting starts to become the norm. Margaret Thatcher is apparently not looking when this is done, but later on someone tells her and she is furious. The possibility of war starts to appear more attractive in London.

8. The Second Great Leap Forward. The EC decides to create the Maastricht treaty, and the Dutch town of the same name seems the obvious place to do it. Subsidiarity is acclaimed. There is to be a single currency for Europe, vetoes are further reduced, and the EU starts to create a joint foreign policy. It is deemed a good time to change acronyms again, and so the EU is born. John Major says that it is Game, Set and Match, introducing a confusing tennis metaphor just when everyone had started to understand all the stuff about trains leaving the station.

9. Look Before You Leap. Denmark nearly scuppers the Maastricht treaty, France seems not very keen, Britain huffs and puffs and Germany consults the constitutional court. So it is not Game, Set, and Match at all, but Rain Stopped Play. The train is stuck in the sidings. The Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) of the European Monetary System (EMS) blows up, probably because it has two acronyms. Recession, unemployment, and racist violence stalk the continent. There is, worst of all, a war in Bosnia. The EU is furious, though of course Bosnia was not a member and so that just proves how effective the EU is at preventing war.

10. The Third Great Leap Forward. By the end of the century, there is to be a single currency for Europe; central and eastern Europe are to join (probably); and there will be an Ever-Closer Union. All of this is to be decided in another treaty in 1996 which some people call Maastricht II, although this time it is thought unnecessary to actually go to the Netherlands, what with the food not being that great. Then there is beef, and there is a war. This is a Bad Thing.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn