Pre-1945 ideas on European unity

Pre-1945 ideas on European unity

The idea of European unity is a historically recent idea.

The word 'Europe' originally referred to the south-eastern part of Europe, in the same way that 'Asia' originally referred to western Anatolia, and 'Africa' referred to northern Africa, and it was the ancient Greeks who used the words to mean the continents as they do today.

After the Fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 A.D., the first proposal for peaceful methods of unifying Europe against a common enemy emerged. George of Podebrady, a Hussite king of Bohemia proposed the creation of a union of Christian nations against the Turks in 1464. However, there is no evidence that he viewed Europe as being anything other than a geographical place where those Christian nations resided.

The Frankish Empire of Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire united large areas of Germany, Italy and France under a loose administration for hundreds of years without articulating an 'idea of European unity'. However, the idea of Western Europe, of those parts of Europe occupied by Germanic peoples, representing 'Europe' had become common by the 19th Century. That the 19th century idea of Europe was essentially a Germanic one can be witnessed from the counterblast by the Russia philosopher Danilevsky in his "Russia and Europe". The idea of Germany and Europe being coterminous was taken to its fateful conclusion under Hitler.

Pre Napoleon

In 1693, William Penn looked at the devastation of war in Europe and wrote of a 'European dyet, or parliament', to prevent further war, but further defining how such an institution would fit in to the political reality of Europe at the time.

In 1728, Abbot Charles de Saint-Pierre proposed the creation of a European league of 18 sovereign states, with common treasury, no borders and an economic union.

After the American War of Independence the vision of a United States of Europe similar to the United States of America was shared by a few prominent Europeans, notably the Marquis de Lafayette and Tadeusz Kościuszko.

Some suggestion of a European union can be inferred from Immanuel Kant's 1795 proposal for an "eternal peace congress".

19th century

In the 1800s, customs union under Napoleon Bonaparte's Continental system was promulgated in November 1806 as an embargo of British goods in the interests of French hegemony. It demonstrated the flaws of a supranational economic system for Europe. Felix Markham notes how during a conversation on St. Helena, Napoleon remarked, "Europe thus divided into nationalities freely formed and free internally, peace between States would have become easier: the United States of Europe would become a possibility." [Felix Markham, "Napoleon" (New York: Penguin Books USA Inc., 1966), 257 as quoted in Matthew Zarzeczny, "Napoleon's European Union: The Grand Empire of the United States of Europe" (Kent State University Master's thesis), 2.]

The French socialist Saint-Simon and Augustin Theirry would in 1814 write the essay "De la réorganisation de la société européenne", already concurring up some form of parliamentary European federation.

In the conservative reaction after Napoleon's defeat in 1815, the German Confederation (German "Deutscher Bund") was established as a loose association of thirty-eight sovereign German states formed by the Congress of Vienna. Napoleon had swept away the Holy Roman Empire and simplified the map of Germany. In 1834, the "Zollverein" (German, "customs union") was formed among the states of the Confederation, in order to create better trade flow and reduce internal competition. An extension of this customs union may have been become the model for a unified Europe, as alluded to by Fritz Fischer in "Germany's Aims in the First World War". The then current ideas of geopolitics and a Mitteleuropa were also influential in providing an intellectual framework for European Union in Germany.

United States of Europe was also the name of the concept presented by Wojciech Jastrzębowski in "About eternal peace between the nations", published May 31 1831. The project consisted of 77 articles. The envisioned United States of Europe was to be an international organisation rather than a superstate.

Italian writer and politician Giuseppe Mazzini called for the creation of a federation of European republics in 1843. This set the stage for perhaps, the best known early proposal for peaceful unification, through cooperation and equality of membership, made by the pacifist Victor Hugo in 1847. Hugo used the term 'United States of Europe' ("États-Unis d’Europe") during a speech at the International Peace Congress, organised by Mazzini, held in Paris in 1849. Hugo favoured the creation of "a supreme, sovereign senate, which will be to Europe what parliament is to England" and said "A day will come when all nations on our continent will form a European brotherhood... A day will come when we shall see... the United States of America and the United States of Europe face to face, reaching out for each other across the seas." However, he was laughed out of the hall, yet returned to his idea again in 1851. Victor Hugo planted a tree in the grounds of his residence on the Island of Guernsey he was noted in saying that when this tree matured the United States of Europe would have come into being. This tree to this day is still growing happily in the gardens of Maison de Hauteville, St. Peter Port, Guernsey, Victor Hugo's residence during his exile from France.

The Italian philosopher Carlo Cattaneo wrote 'The ocean is rough and whirling, and the currents go to two possible endings: the autocrat, or the United States of Europe'. In 1867 Giuseppe Garibaldi, and John Stuart Mill joined Victor Hugo at a congress of the "League for Peace and Freedom" in Geneva. Here the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin stated "That in order to achieve the triumph of liberty, justice and peace in the international relations of Europe, and to render civil war impossible among the various peoples which make up the European family, only a single course lies open: to constitute the United States of Europe". The French National Assembly, also called for a United States of Europe on March 1, 1871.

After the First World War

Following the catastrophe of the First World War, some thinkers and visionaries again began to float the idea of a politically unified Europe. In 1923, the Austrian Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi founded the Pan-Europa movement and hosted the First Paneuropean Congress, held in Vienna in 1926. The aim was for a specifically Christian, and by implication Roman Catholic, Europe. In contrast Trotsky raised the slogan "For a Soviet United States of Europe" in 1923, for a non-Christian but communist Europe.

In 1929, Aristide Briand, French prime minister, gave a speech in the presence of the League of Nations Assembly in which he proposed the idea of a federation of European nations based on solidarity and in the pursuit of economic prosperity and political and social co-operation. Many eminent economists, among them John Maynard Keynes, supported this view. At the League's request Briand presented a "Memorandum on the organisation of a system of European Federal Union" in 1930.

In 1931 the French politician Edouard Herriot published the book "The United States of Europe". The British civil servant Arthur Salter published a book of the same name in 1933.

Between the two world wars the Polish leader Józef Piłsudski envisaged the idea of a united states of central Europe (called Międzymorze translated as "Intersea" or "Between-seas"), a Polish-orientated version of Mitteleuropa.

The Great Depression, the rise of fascism and communism and subsequently World War II prevented the inter war movements from gaining further support.

Impact of the Second World war

In Britain the group known as Federal Union was launched in November 1938, and began advocating a Federal Union of Europe as a post-war aim. Its papers and arguments became well known among resistants to fascism across Europe and contributed to their thinking of how to rebuild Europe after the war.

In 1940, following Germany's early military successes in World War II and planning for the creation of a thousand year Reich, a European confederation was proposed by German economists and industrialists. They argued for a "European economic community", with a customs union and fixed internal exchange rates.

Among those who were early advocates of a union of European nations was Hungarian Prime Minister Pál Teleki. Hungary had lost over two-thirds of its territory at the end of World War I in the 1920 Treaty of Trianon. In early 1941 during the Second World War, he was striving to keep Hungary autonomous. Internally, he tried to satisfy national pride which demanded a restoration of the lost territories, which Germany had supported in the First Vienna Award of 1938 and the Second Vienna Award of 1940. Externally, he was striving to preserve his country's military and economic independence in the face of Germany's coercive pressure to join in their invasion of Yugoslavia. In the book, "Transylvania. The Land Beyond the Forest" Louis C. Cornish [cite book |tite=Transylvania. The Land Beyond the Forest|publisher=Dorrance & Company |date=1947|author= isbn=B000WUMLQO] [cite book |title=The Evolution of Hungary and its place in European history (Central and East European series)|author=Pal Teleki|date=1923] described how Teleki, under constant surveillance by the German Gestapo during 1941, sent a secret communication to contacts in America.cite book|title=Toward a New Central Europe: A Symposium on the Problems of the Danubian Nations|author=Francis S. Wagner (ed.)|publisher=Danubian Press, Inc.|location=Astor Park, Florida |date=1970|accessdate=2008-10-08]

Journalist Dorothy Thompson in 1941 supported the statement of others. "I took from Count Teleki's office a monograph which he had written upon the structure of European nations. A distinguished geographer, he was developing a plan for regional federation, based upon geographical and economic realities." Teleki received no response from the Americans to his ideas and upon Germany's military advance into Hungary on April 2-3, 1941, committed suicide.

In 1943, the German ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop and Cecil von Renthe-Fink eventually proposed the creation of a European confederacy, which would have had a single currency, a central bank in Berlin, a regional principle, a labour policy and economic and trading agreements. The proposed countries to be included were Germany, Italy, France, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Greece and Spain. Such a German-led Europe, it was hoped, would serve as a strong alternative to the Communist Soviet Union.

The later Foreign Minister Arthur Seyss-Inquart said: "The new Europe of solidarity and co-operation among all its people will find rapidly increasing prosperity once national economic boundaries are removed", while the Vichy French Minister Jacques Benoist-Mechin said that France had to "abandon nationalism and take place in the European community with honour." These pan-European illusions from the early 1940s were never realised because of Germany's defeat. Neither Hitler, nor many of his leading hierarchs such as Goebbels, had the slightest intention of compromising absolute German hegemony through the creation of a European confederation. Although this fact has been used to insinuate the charge of fascism in the EU, the idea is much older than the Nazis, foreseen by John Maynard Keynes, and later Winston Churchill and various anti-Nazi resistance movements. [Mark Mazower, "Dark Continent," 1.30] Indeed, the founders of the post-war movements for European unity were firmly anti-fascist and emphasised that unity must be based on democracy and partnership, not domination and conquest.

One of the most influential figures in this process was Altiero Spinelli, co-author with Ernesto Rossi of the "Ventotene Manifesto" entitled "Towards a Free and United Europe" and smuggled out of their internment camp - the island of Ventotene - as early as 1941, well before the outcome of the war was safely predictable, and widely circulated in the resistance movements. Spinelli, Rossi and some 20 others established, as soon as they were able to leave their internment camp, the Movimento Federalista Europeo (MFE). The founding meeting, secretly held in Milan on the 27/28 August 1943, adopted a "political thesis" which, inter alia, stated: "if a post war order is established in which each State retains its complete national sovereignty, the basis for a Third World War would still exist even after the Nazi attempt to establish the domination of the German race in Europe has been frustrated".

In 1943, Jean Monnet a member of the National Liberation Committee of the Free French government in exile in Algiers, and regarded by many as the future architect of European unity, is recorded as declaring to the committee: "There will be no peace in Europe, if the states are reconstituted on the basis of national sovereignty... The countries of Europe are too small to guarantee their peoples the necessary prosperity and social development. The European states must constitute themselves into a federation..."

Polish government-in-exile proposed the idea of Central European union. The talks with Czechoslovakia were already quite advanced, but negotiations died a natural death once Czechs decided to rely more on Soviet Union promises and Polish relations with USSR worsened [ [ CEJSH Publication information ] ] [;jsessionid=WUVJHqjCpEf7Biu2?docId=kt8v19q5c3& "The plan for a confederation was born of wartime exigency and constituted a bold step for two countries that had no history of close ties between them. In 1940, both wished to prevent, once and for all, their history of occupation and division from repeating itself. They sought not only to strengthen their security but also to create friendly relations as a guarantee of a new post-war order. One must also note that Poland, although hoping for stronger ties with other central and eastern European countries as well, considered Czechoslovakia the most important strategic partner, given that its level of industrial development was extremely high." ]

See also

* Federal Europe
* Pan-European identity
* Europeanism
* European integration
* History of the European Union
* Universal Monarchy


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