Referendum Blog: May 6

Referendum Blog: May 6

MORE HISTORICAL BIAS:  Newsnight has been looking this week at the history of the EU in a three-part series called The European Dream.  As in other similar programmes – Europe Them or Us on BBC2, and The Inquiry on the World Service – it was pro-EU propaganda closely mirroring myths projected by the EU itself.

Gabriel Gatehouse claimed that the moves towards what became the EU were led in 1950 by a man who had a vision, Jean Monnet, who ‘in the broken remains of post war Europe’ set that vision ‘in motion’ by working with the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman.   He said the idea was ‘to bind the economies of Europe so tightly that war would become impossible’.

Gatehouse also maintained that his goal was ‘a continent prosperous and at peace’ and that Monnet and Scuman took the first steps towards ‘de facto solidarity’. He then spoke to Georges Berthoin, who was said to have been with Monnet as the plans for what became the EU were put together. Berthoin amplified the EU myths. He said that the ‘dream was to make peace among European countries stable and credible’; and that the aim was ‘not only to rebuild Europe but also to modernise Europe’.

Outside this EU version of its history, for example in The Great Deception by Christopher Booker and Richard North, a very different picture emerges.  It is true that Jean Monnet played probably a crucial role in founding the Iron and Steel Confederation – the body that laid the foundation stones for The Treaty of Rome in 1957 –  but his motivation is strongly challenged in other sources.

First, Monnet’s vision was not formed after 1945. He had been advocating European unity since at least 1917, and his ideas were rooted in socialist Utopianism.  Second, his methodology was based entirely on ruthless realpolitik rather than starry-eyed idealism. At the heart of his mission was the creation of a federal Europe. A crucial part of his plans was a supranational body that took away powers from national governments. He wanted that body to be run for the benefit only of ‘Europe’ by civil servants, and to be outside the democratic process.

Second, the reality was that in 1950, Monnet’s plan was only adopted because France, Germany and the United States could not agree how to move forward towards a more harmonious economic future. Monnet pitched his plan for the Iron and Steel Confederation into a policy vacuum, but it was carefully phrased so that the true intent was disguised. Schuman adopted the plan out of desperation rather than ideological desire.

The UK – then under the socialist Attlee government – was kept in the dark until the last minute, and when it did grasp what was being proposed, immediately said it could not support Monnet’s plan. The Cabinbet was deeply alarmed that it presented a huge threat to British sovereignty, and that it would severely compromise national security to hand over control of the iron and steel industries (then employing more than 1million Britons) to an unelected supranational body.

Gatehouse, of course, did not have time to go into such detail. But his version of EU history glossed over vital facts and presented simplistically the EU version of its own history. At a time of intense debate about the UK’s role in the EU, this was serious bias in that he presented a picture of a benign EU only there because its purpose was to create and maintain peace.


The transcript of the first programme is below:


EVAN DAVIS:      Well we all know that while this Thursday is important, there is another vote coming along on Thursday, June 23rd, which will have a big shape on party politics too. To help you think about the EU, we’re taking a step back this week, with three films that look at the grand vision of the EU founding fathers, and what has been achieved. The themes of peace and prosperity were to be delivered by among other things, ever closer union, free movement of people and monetary union. How’s it going? Well, we sent our reporter Gabriel Gatehouse in search of the European dream.

GABRIEL GATEHOUSE:   If the European Union has a birthplace, then it is here. In this little cottage in a woodland west of Paris. If the EU has a founding father then it is this man. Jean Monnet. In the broken remains of post-war Europe, together with a trusted circle of advisers, over coffee and cognac and fireside chats, they dreamed of a continent prosperous and at peace. Jean Monnet had a vision in this house. And from here he set the whole European project in motion. But what has become of that original vision? Over the next three nights we’re going to be asking what state of health is the European dream in today? (TITLE CARD: THE EUROPEAN DREAM Part One: Ever Closer Union.) Jean Monnet had an idea. To bind the economies of Europe so tightly that war would become impossible. He took his plan to the French Foreign Minister. Together they formulated the Schuman Declaration.

ROBERT SHCHUMAN 1950:           Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.

GG:        Those early Europe builders began by pooling production of coal and steel, it was the first step towards that de facto solidarity. It would lead, they hoped, to a federation of Europe. There aren’t many of that generation left today, but in an apartment in the 17th arrondissement of Paris, we found one. Georges Berthoin is the last surviving member of Jean Monnet’s original cabinet at the European Coal and Steel Community .It was the first institution out of which would grow the European Union.

GEORGES BERTHOIN Jean Monnet’s Chief of Staff:            The dream was to make peace among European countries stable and credible. Then there was another element, the element was prosperity. So the problem was not only to rebuild Europe but to modernise Europe and in this respect we were looking at the example of the United States of America and especially the size of the market.

GG:        Peace and prosperity, that was the goal. Five years later, six countries would sign the Treaty of Rome, establishing the European Economic Community. But the ambition was for a much closer union.

GB:         The Schuman Declaration was the first step towards a European federation. When we started, we thought at the time that we were going to start something and we thought at the time that we were going to accede to all things including political development, within ten years.

GG:        And so it happened that France and Germany formed the central axis of a European Union. And they enjoyed decades of peace and prosperity. A de facto solidarity among member nations. This is Breisach on the Rhine in Germany. Across the river, Neuf-Brisach in France. The French built these fortifications to guard against attacks from the German side. These two towns that saw three wars in 70 years are now the heartland of the European Union. Here then are two towns from opposite banks of the Rhine. They are living together in peace, their citizens can travel freely backwards and forwards across this bridge. And whatever side they happen to find themselves on, they can pay for stuff in a common currency. In so many ways this is exactly what the European project has always hoped to achieve. Over the decades Europe brought with it all sorts of benefits. Jobs, common rights and protections for workers, but you don’t have to dig very deep here to discover that the river still divides. On the French side, around Neuf-Brisach, there were once many factories. This one used to produce pistons for the European car industry. But in 2013 high labour costs forced it to close.

FABIENT SIMON Demolition worker:        Taxes in France are too high. Labour costs are too high. That’s why businesses here are moving to Eastern Europe.

GG:        Unemployment in this part of France is around 10% and rising. GDP is well below the European average. For these French workers overseeing the demolition of their own factory, the EU today means seeing their jobs move to new member states in Eastern Europe. There was a dream, a European dream, in the 1950s, 1960s, about peace and prosperity. Do you think that dream is still alive?

DOMINIQUE GERBER: Demolition Worker:             I think no, peace is here in Europe, but prosperity I think no. In Germany I think a little prosperity but here in France, no.

GG:        Indeed, back across the river in German Breisach, they have full employment. The citizens of this region, Baden Wurtenberg, are among the richest in the EU. Just up the road from Breisach, we stumble across what appears to be the most pro-European place on the continent. Is this the stuff that dreams are made of? Welcome to Europa Park. Meet Euro Mouse, the mascot of this Europe in microcosm. Nestled among the roller-coasters are many of the member states. Scandinavia, Portugal, Greece, which includes Pegasus, Cassandra’s curse, and the flight of Icarus. There is even a British section. Black cabs, fast-food, and Shakespeare. Who knew the EU could be such family fun? Which is your favourite bit of the park?

VOX POP FEMALE:           Our favourite bit is Scandinavia, I think. Scandinavia, all right. The wooden roller-coasters. I like England, but the thing is you haven’t got a lot of variety.

GG:        The history of Europa Park reads like a sort of German industrial fairy tale. It was founded by the Mack family, stalwarts of German manufacturing since the late 18th century. The park opened its doors in 1975, inspired by the vision of a United Europe.

MICHAEL MACK Europa Park We chose Europe and we think it was the best way to go, even though nobody believed that that time Europe would be as big as it is today.

GG:        As much of Europe struggles with an economic crisis, in Germany the dream of prosperity still burns brightly. Today nearly half the park’s workers are from other EU nations.

MM:      We are growing really fast. We are about to open a water park in 2018. We need another 700 employees, so it is quite difficult because the unemployment rate is so low in this area.

GG:        You cannot find the workers?

MM:      You cannot find the workers.

GG:        Despite Europe’s economies pulling in different directions its nations are today united in peace. Back on the road, we drive through Verdun. Verdun is to the French what The Somme is to the British. 100 years ago hundreds of thousands of young men lost their lives in these fields. Along the roads that wind through Europe’s heartland, history lurks around every bend. Strasbourg. The city was once fought over. It is now at the heart of the European project. The home of the European Parliament. Throughout the EU’s development, from its beginnings in coal and steel, through the Treaty of Rome, the single European act, the Maastricht Treaty, the direction of travel has been one-way. Towards ever closer union.

GEORGES BERTHOIN:     Maybe it was a bit naive but we thought we were in a position to change European history. It sounds a bit stupid. But we believed in that. You know, at that time, we had the backing of public opinion on the continent. Because the experience and the tragedy of the war was in everybody’s personal history. I use the expression, but it was not one we used at that time, to build a kind of United States of Europe.

GG:        These days, if you say you support a United States of Europe, you might as well commit political suicide. Even here, in Strasbourg. These young activists are handing out leaflets for a by-election later this month. Last time round they took a third of the votes. This time they’re hoping to win. They are the Front National.

JULIA ABRAHAM Front National You know, I was born in 1992.

GG:        You were born in 1992?

JA:          And it was the year of the Treaty of Maastricht. And so we have not known this European dream. All we have known it’s only unemployment, the taxes, and all the disadvantages of this European Union. We have not known this European dream. For us it has been a failure.

GG:        The Front National is booming. A year from now, its leader Marine Le Pen could become president of France. She has promised to follow Britain’s lead and hold a referendum on EU membership. Julia says she will vote out.

JA:          We need to find back our borders, our sovereignty, our national freedom. To respect our own laws, which are not the same as in Germany or in Italy or Spain.

GG:        Some people worry that a party like yours is leading Europe back towards nationalism, back towards the place where it was in the 1930s.

JA:          You’re right, the European Union is leading us back. That is the problem. It is the European Union that creates unemployment and violence and insecurity.

GG:        The original founders of the EU had a dream. Of creating peace and prosperity through an ever closer union of nation states, based on common interests and common values. The thing about ever closer union is that it presupposes a corresponding weakening of individual national identity. Now it may be that the founders of the European Union thought that by the time we got to the second decade of the 21st century, the nation state would be a concept that had had its day. Well, it looks like they were wrong. Across Europe the politics of identity is on the rise. Tomorrow night we will be looking at borders. How the fall of the Iron Curtain led to a Europe more united than ever and how a quarter of a century later, the continent is in crisis over one of the cornerstones of the European dream, freedom of movement.

ED:         Gabriel Gatehouse there, Europe past and present.

Photo by waltercolor

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