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

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough, Cam...

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - (C#, VB.Net, SQL, Git, TDD)

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Developer (C#, VB & ASP.Net, SQL Server, TSQL) - Pe...

Ashdown Group: Business Relationship Manager

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Business Relationship Manager - Enfield, North Lond...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Benedict Cumberbatch attends a special screening of his latest film The Imitation Game  

Benedict Cumberbatch race row: What's the actual difference between 'coloured' and 'person of colour'?

Matthew Norman
Pressure is growing on Chris Grayling to abandon the Government bid to advise Saudi Arabia on running its prisons (Getty)  

What in sanity’s name is Chris Grayling doing in the job of Justice Secretary?

Matthew Norman
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea