Britain and Europe in the Modern World

Idealism on the part of a few men of vision plus massive transatlantic aid have been the major factors in the reconstruction of a Europe ravaged by the second world war. That destruction wreaked not only a material devastation but also a ruination of political systems as well as a shattering of lives for many who survived.

European idealism has been channeled toward replacing former hatreds and rivalries with a new and closer cooperation in many important fields. Financial aid has enabled the former warring nations to build from their rubble a prosperity of unimagined proportions.

One still might ask, though, whether Europe has emerged from the holocaust revitalized like a rosebush just pruned or whether history will show that Europe has been warped like a distorted record to play the same tune over again.

A superficial answer might suggest—pointing to West Germany’s economic miracle—that the most devastated areas are those that seem to have made the most progress, perhaps because industry has been forced to make a completely new start.

It is politically significant that the four countries that were occupied, together with two former axis powers, are the ones that have revamped their systems of government and have chosen to organize themselves within a European context. Britain, on the other hand, did not suffer the political upheavals of an occupation and has stayed out of any full-scale cooperative commitment. History may show that this “bonus” for being on the victorious side may have been detrimental to both Britain and Europe.

To better understand the interacting roles of Britain and Europe today, several questions might be raised. How has Europe developed since the war? Can a single country, like Britain, play an independent role? Can Europe really patch up her historical cracks and become a tangible force in aiding former colonies and the developing countries, as well as herself? Or will Europe succumb to what U Thant warningly described as “prosperous provincialism,” supported and directed by American capital and dynamism?

The reaction to World War II, the presence of the iron curtain, a period of political and economic bankruptcy, the total lack of dollars and loss of overseas investments, and the feeling of a need to safeguard a common cultural heritage were all elements that crystallized the need for uniting Europe after the war. Count Coudenhove-Kalergi summed it up this way at the Congress of the Hague in 1948:

“We wish to unite Europe, to raise, by means of a continental market and a stable currency, the standard of living of millions of Europeans from their present state of utter misery. We wish to unite Europe to protect every single European man and woman against murder and deportation by secret police, against torture and concentration camps.”

In achieving these aims, a multiplicity of international organizations has been created. The accompanying chart shows the membership in various international organizations concerned primarily with European affairs.

Undoubtedly the most important of these organizations has been the six-member European Economic Community (EEC), usually known as the Common Market. After years of failure in attempts to gain membership, Britain has finally been invited to join. The Common Market was originally established to create a continental market, raise the standard of living of member nations, and stabilize the currency.

Other economic organizations with differing but sometimes overlapping memberships include the European Free Trade Association, composed of nations not affiliated with the Common Market, and the Organization for European Economic Cooperation.

In the area of defense, Europe has really failed to combine her own efforts. Apart from the Western European Union, which consists of the six nations in the EEC plus Britain (and which tends to get diverted from defense to other matters at its infrequent meetings), there is no unified European contribution. Attempts to encourage Europe to take on greater responsibility for defense have failed, largely because of complacent reliance for its safety on a comfortable and dependent relationship with the United States.

Such complacency is also engendered by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), through which an area extending from Alaska to Turkey is coordinated for defense purposes and basks under the hegemony and “nuclear umbrella” of the United States. France alone has recently made an effort to initiate a European independence movement in defense by its dissociation from NATO. France’s withdrawal from the integrated military organization was not a withdrawal from joint defense obligations under the NATO pact; rather, it was an attempt to show the way to a more flexible European role in the face of the immobility of the two superpowers.

The question that concerned Europeans ask is whether total reliance on a friendly power is wise and fosters European integration, or whether an attempt should be made to develop some kind of parity, with the United States becoming a big brother of its major defender. Constitutionally, activation of the nuclear umbrella requires the consent of the president of the United States. The question, then, is whether a shared umbrella, which in reality belongs to another country and can only be used jointly and with its consent, is sufficient to keep the rain off. One does not need extrasensory perception to appreciate that on the western side of the Atlantic there is a growing feeling that spending huge sums of money on the defense of Europe is becoming harder for the U.S. government to justify. Although there are very sizable U.S. investments in Europe, nuclear defense is a global matter, and large ground forces are an anachronism as a defensive deterrent, unless the nuclear option is merely a showpiece.

The protection of fundamental human rights is one of the basic aims of the Council of Europe, which, through its assembly of parliamentarians, has become the voice of Europe. It also sponsors international agreements on legal, scientific, educational, cultural, and other matters of impact on the way of life in Europe. The European Convention on Human Rights has been one of the council’s most noteworthy achievements, affording the citizens of several European countries the right to bring before the European commission a case against the state, alleging a violation of the rights listed in the convention.

Coming back to the Common Market or the European Economic Community, it was organized to serve the collective interests of its member states in its fields of competence through a system of divided powers to some degree comparable to a federal structure. The community is directed by a commission, an executive body, composed of “eurocrats”—experts in European affairs. Each country has a single representative on a council of ministers, representing the interests of each member with a single vote, regardless of size. The council elects the members of the commission, who serve for a fixed period. On all matters concerning community laws and the validity of community actions, the European court may give a final ruling. The people of the member states are represented in the European Parliament by a number of representatives proportionate to the country’s size and population. However, the Parliament is deficient in power and the system for election by direct universal suffrage remains to be implemented.

As in the case of a federal government, the areas in which the community may act and legislate with supremacy are laid down in a constitution, which in this case consists of the treaties setting up the European Community. The community started out by being limited to coal and steel. The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) set out to pool the coal and steel resources of the participating countries, thus enabling the growth in production of these two crucial commodities by removing restrictions on trade and enlarging the market.

So successful did this venture prove that within five years a further treaty was signed to enable unrestricted trade in all products. Rules to ensure fair competition were established, free movement of labor and capital was allowed, common policies in transport were implemented, and in the important field of agriculture, markets and prices were stabilized.

Such an outline of the organization of the European Community can no more explain why the idea has had considerable success than reading the Constitution would explain why the United States developed from a loose grouping of colonies to her present position of wealth and power. Although there are many good reasons to warn against making too much of any comparisons with the U.S.—the European states have had a much longer independent existence—optimists predict a similar amalgam of differing ideas and techniques in Europe and a sharing of resources on a large scale of operation that, under unified direction, could be expected to contribute to their mutual growth and prosperity.

The experience of the Common Market to date has not, however, been entirely one of promoting the independence of Europe. It has been strongly argued that the greatest beneficiary of the Common Market has been the U.S., which alone has the experience to benefit from operations on a grand scale. In spite of the protectionism that Europe is alleged by the United States to exercise, the United States still has a surplus of trade with the continent, and dividends being sent back to the U.S. already exceed the amount of new funds coming into Europe in the form of U.S. capital investments.

U.S. interest in Europe is largely dictated by the sheer amount of capital invested—about $14 billion in fixed assets was the figure for the late 1960s. In the period 1958–67 American corporations invested $10 billion in Western Europe, more than a third of their total investment abroad.

Membership of International Organizations Concerned Primarily with European Affairs(click to view larger)

Membership of International Organizations Concerned Primarily with European Affairs

Nine-tenths of U.S. investments in Europe are financed from European resources.

Thus it has been predicted that unless Europe combines to use her own resources to the full, in fifteen years from now the world’s third greatest industrial power, after the USA and the USSR, may well be American industry in Europe. Even now the United States’ European production increases every two years by an amount equal to Britain’s total annual output, and in terms of industrial expansion, Europe has been described as “America’s new Far West.”

At this point one may ask what contribution Britain can make, what benefits she can hope to derive, and what effect her possible membership in the Common Market will have on the position that the United States now enjoys in Europe.

First, however, it must be pointed out that after the war Britain adopted an order of priorities somewhat different from that of other European countries. Rather than concentrating primarily on recreating industrial and economic wealth, the first postwar government in Britain put its energies into creating a system that would seek to do greater social justice. To this end the national health service was created and the whole welfare state came into being. Key concerns, such as the coal and steel industries and the railways, were taken over to be run for the public interest as much as for commercial profit.

This course of action distracted British attention from the developments taking place on the mainland of Europe, and the need Europe had for British participation and leadership was pretty well ignored. Jean Monnet, who has been described as “the father of the Common Market,” stressed the importance of British participation:

“You ask me why I desire so strongly the entry of Britain to the Common Market? It is because of the parliamentary and democratic traditions of the English. Beside them, we are not democrats. We are republicans, sometimes revolutionaries but never as essentially and deeply democratic as they. We are going, whatever happens, towards European political institutions; for that we need the English; it’s they who operate the methods of parliamentary control and popular education which they have brought to the whole world.” (Anthony Sampson, The Anatomy of Europe, p. 11.)

Another Frenchman, deeply concerned with what he described as “the American challenge,” says:

“It is worth noting that Britain concentrates her efforts on electronics, electrical equipment, nuclear energy, and aviation—that is, on those very areas that the European Community should be developing to compete with the United States. Britain would be the best possible ally for France within the Common Market. She could help endow Europe with a world role and save her from becoming simply a larger Switzerland.” (J. J. Servan-Scheiber, The American Challenge, p. 154.)

This competition would not necessarily mean any economic loss for the U.S., and it should lead to growth and prosperity in Britain. Britain could be expected to attract a higher level of investment from the rest of Europe, which will boost her economy. This increased demand, together with the lowering of British tariffs on industrial imports to the Common Market’s level, will also benefit U.S. producers.

A ten-member Common Market—that is, the present six augmented by Britain and the other applicants—Denmark, Norway, and Ireland—would constitute a sizable bloc accounting for almost one-third of all world trade, compared with the U.S.’s 14 percent. A recent profile of the expanded trade bloc showed an area about one-fifth the size of the U.S. but containing 255 million people, with a total output nearly 60 percent of the U.S.’s annual production and an output considerably larger than that of the USSR.

It is important not to consider recent European developments solely in terms of potential growth of European political and economic power. Most European countries, their big brothers (the U.S. and USSR), and to a great extent Europe’s blood brothers on the other side of the iron curtain belong to the privileged minority in the world whose major worries are over matters well removed from the elemental need for daily sustenance.

Until the period following the last world war, some of the European countries had large empires that had provided part of the broad base necessary to support industrial superstructures. Unexpectedly, when these empires were lost, the prices of raw materials did not shoot up, nor did the newly independent states replace products manufactured in Europe with their own. In fact, quite the reverse happened. Synthetic products have replaced some raw materials and excess production in the developing world, and economics, dependent on only one product, have enabled the developed countries to select the most favorable prices from among the several suppliers of primary products, leaving the other producers to cut their prices below the level of profitability if they are to sell at all.

Thus, economic dependence has replaced colonial rule, and the former imperial masters are all the richer for not having to administer their empires. With its share of the world market going down in the face of increasing value being attached to sophisticated goods by those who have the money, the developing world’s slogan has become “trade not aid.”

Hopefully, the European Community will not be unmindful of the plight of many smaller countries in the less developed world. By leaving it to these poorer countries to produce items that can mop up some of their huge reservoirs of unemployed manpower, Europe will find it possible to re-deploy her own resources into more profitable fields. This has been the case with the cotton textiles industry in Britain, which now buys some 40 percent of her textiles from such countries as India and Pakistan.

The European Community does have some arrangements with a number of poorer countries (including many ex-French colonies) and has agreed to grant certain preferential tariffs on semifinished and manufactured exports of developing countries. It is doubtful, however, whether these measures stray far from the path of colonialism and move toward one that would provide a helping hand. Europe’s fear of domination by the American industrial giant can hardly cause sympathy if a comparable syndrome is allowed to continue in her relationships with other less developed countries.

Internally, Europe has now moved from a detente to an entente—that is, from the cold cessation of hostilities to the warmest cooperation. Having learned from her own turbulent past that being prepared for war is not the only ingredient for keeping peace, Europe must extend this realization to fulfill her obligation to be directly concerned with the problems of poorer nations.

Britain, in entering a community whose paramount activities are self-serving, must not break off her ties with the countries that contributed to her greatness, but should actively pursue their interests in the new setting. By following this course, Europe may yet fill a valuable and independent role and contribute to a new stability in a divided world.

A convert to the Church in 1968, Brother Gardiner is a member of London North Ward, London North Stake, where he has served as chairman of the stake music committee and as ward organist. A barrister, he holds law degrees from Oxford and London universities and has been in the United States as an assistant director of a research program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, in Boston.