Zürich +70: Churchill on Europe

by Richard Langworth on 25 September 2016


Churchill in Zürich, 19 September 1946 (AP)

Zürich, 19 September 1946

Scarcely more than a year since fighting had ended in Europe, Churchill spoke at Zürich University. There he stunned his audience with words that perhaps only he was able to say at that time:

I am now going to say something that will astonish you. The first step in the re-creation of the European family must be a partnership between France and Germany. In this way only can France recover the moral leadership of Europe. There can be no revival of Europe without a spiritually great France and a spiritually great Germany.

Zürich, 19 September 2016

Seventy years to the day after Churchill’s Zürich speech, Zürich University sponsored a distinguished seminar. Its focus was that famous oration, and Churchill’s views on Europe. The event proved more poignant than expected in the wake of Brexit, Britain’s June vote to leave the European Union.
Beautifully conducted, with an array of outstanding scholars, this seminar offers high educational value and insight into Churchill’s philosophy. The introductions are by Zürich University Rector Dr. Michael Hengartner, and by the skilled and versatile Allen Packwood, director of the Churchill Archives Centre. Concluding remarks are by Sir Winston’s great-grandson, Randolph Churchill.  I recommend it highly to anyone interested. To listen on desktop or mobile, click here.
Being interested in Churchill’s attitude toward Europe, I was taken by the presentations by Felix Klos (who thinks Churchill would support today’s European Union and Britain’s membership in it), and Andrew Roberts (who, like me, thinks not). It was an able and forthright exchange between scholars who have done their homework. (To find it, scroll to minute 34.)
Readers will make their own judgments and their thoughts are welcome. Klos argues that Churchill liked the idea of a European army, and that such a thing is now the proper defense against Russia’s Putin. He believes the Brussels bureaucracy was something of which Churchill might have approved.

Profoundly Blended, Not a Member

Roberts, however, offers Churchill’s actual words—not only his telling 1951 remark, cited on this site, but many others:

[After the war] there would be a United States of Europe, and this Island would be the link connecting this Federation with the new world and able to hold the balance between the two. —10 August 1940 (Colville Papers)

We help, we dedicate, we play a part, but we are not merged with and do not forfeit our insular or commonwealth character. … It is only when plans for uniting Europe take a federal form that we ourselves cannot take part, because we cannot subordinate ourselves or the control of British policy to federal authorities. —29 November 1951 (House of Commons)

I do not myself conceive that federalism is immediately possible within the Commonwealth. I have never been in favor of it in Europe. —8 July 1952, to Woodrow Wyatt MP.

We are not members of the European Defence Community, nor do we intend to be merged in a federal European system. We feel we have a special relationship to both. —11 May 1953 (House of Commons)

When he became a statesman with real power, rather than a utopian dreamer, Churchill’s final attitude emerged. Relentless and irrefutable, Roberts pounds home what Churchill really believed: European recovery, trade and freedom, with Britain “profoundly blended”—an ally, a friend, but not a member. At the end he asked for a show of hands by the Zürich audience: how many would today join the EU, how many would not? One guess as to the result.  Trust the Swiss.

Current Contentions

Lord Watson of Richmond, whose new book Churchill’s Legacy discusses Churchill’s 1946 Fulton and Zürich speeches, is, I think, a bit too alarmist over a U.S. presidential candidate who says he wants NATO members to pay their share and has questioned Clause 5 (an attack on one is an attack on all).
As Roberts points out, what politicians say out of office (e.g., Churchill, 1945-51) is often starkly different from what they do in office (e.g., Churchill, 1951-55). And what’s wrong with NATO members paying their agreed share of the bills? Particularly if the latest plans for a European Army, as I suspect, fizzle? The candidate in question is a self-confessed deal-maker. He stakes out a starting position and goes from there. If elected, a likely deal would be confirming Clause 5 provided the derelict NATO members cough up. Which would be a very congenial deal indeed.
Lord Watson is outstanding at the end of his remarks. Eloquently he highlights the tremendous refugee problem Europe is facing. Plainly, he says, Europe cannot be the repository for all of North Africa. Perhaps the derivative of that is the concept of safe zones, where people can be secure in their own homelands. I have heard at least one presidential candidate endorse this.
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