Mathematically, the European Union today represents the largest single unit in the world economy. It has a nominal GNP of about six trillion dollars, compared with five trillion for the US and three trillion for Japan. Its total population, now over 360 million, approaches that of the United States and Japan combined. Yet in political terms such magnitudes continue to be virtual reality. Beside Washington or Tokyo, Brussels remains a cipher. The Union is not equivalent to either the United States or Japan, since it is not a sovereign state. But what kind of formation is it? Most Europeans themselves are at a loss for an answer. The Union remains a more or less unfathomable mystery to all but a handful of those who, to their bemusement, have recently become its citizens. Arcane to ordinary voters, it is covered by a film of mist even in the mirror of scholars.
The nature of the European Union must have some relation to the origins of the Community which it now subsumes but, in a typically alembicated juridical twist, does not supersede. Some political clarity about the genesis of its structure seems desirable as a starting-point for considering its future. This is a topic on which there is still no uncontroversial ground. The historical literature has from the outset tended to be unusually theoretical in bent, a clear sign that few familiar assumptions can be taken for granted. The dominant early scholarship held to the view that the underlying forces behind the post-war integration of Western Europe should be sought in the growth of objective – not only economic, but also social and cultural – interdependencies between the states that made up the initial Coal and Steel Community and its sequels. The tenor of this first wave of interpretation was neo-functionalist, stressing the additive logic of institutional development: that is, the way modest functional changes tended to lead to complementary alterations along an extending path of often involuntary integration. Cross-national convergence of economic transactions, social exchanges and cultural practices had laid the basis for gradual advance towards a new political ideal – a supranational union of states. Ernst Haas, who thought the beginnings of this process relatively contingent, but its subsequent development path-determined, produced what is still perhaps the best theorisation of this position in his Uniting of Europe, in the late Fifties.
The second wave of interpretations, by contrast, has stressed the structural resilience of the nation-state, and seen the post-war integration of Western Europe not as a glide-path towards any supranational sovereignty, but on the contrary as the means of reinvigorating effective national power. This neo-realist theme comes in a number of different versions, not all of them concordant. By far the most powerful and distinctive is the work of Alan Milward. There is some irony in the fact that the country which has contributed least to European integration should have produced the historian who has illuminated it most. No other scholar within the Union approaches the combination of archival mastery and intellectual passion that Milward has brought to the question of its origins.
His starting-point was at a productive tangent to it. Why, he asked, did economic recovery in Europe after the Second World War not repeat the pattern that followed the First – an initial spurt due to physical restocking, followed by erratic fits and starts of recession? In The Reconstruction of Western Europe 1945-51(1984), he set aside conventional explanations – the arrival of Keynesianism; repair of war damage; larger public sector; high defence spending; technological innovation – and suggested that the basis of the completely unprecedented boom, which started as early as 1945 and lasted till at least 1967, lay rather in the steady rise of popular earnings in this period, against a background of long-pent-up unsatisfied demand. This model of growth, in turn, was sustained by new arrangements between states, whose ‘pursuit of narrow self-interest’ led both to trade liberalisation and the first limited measures of integration in the Schuman Plan.
It is on the way these developed into the European Economic Community that Milward’s subsequent work has focused, with a mass of empirical findings and increasingly sharp theoretical thrust. Both his great study of The European Rescue of the Nation-State, and its coda in The Frontiers of National Sovereignty, are sustained polemics against neo-functionalist overestimation of the importance of federalist conceptions of any kind – which are dismissed as a pack of pieties in a caustic chapter on ‘The Lives and Teachings of the European Saints’. Milward’s central argument is that the origins of the Community have little or nothing to do with either the technical imperatives of interdependence – which may even have been less at mid-century than fifty years earlier – or the ethereal visions of a handful of federalist worthies. They were rather a product of the common disaster of the Second World War, when every nation-state between the Pyrenees and the North Sea was shattered by defeat and occupation.
From the depths of impotence and discredit into which pre-war institutions had fallen, a quite new kind of structure had to be built up after peace returned. The post-war states of Western Europe were laid, Milward contends, on a much wider social basis than their narrow and brittle predecessors, for the first time integrating farmers, workers and petty-bourgeois fully into the political nation with a set of measures for growth, employment and welfare. It was the unexpected success of these policies within each country that prompted a second kind of broadening, now of co-operation between countries. Morally rehabilitated within their own borders, six nation-states on the continent found they could strengthen themselves yet further by sharing certain elements of sovereignty to common advantage. At the core of this process was the magnetic pull of the German market on the export sectors of the other five economies – complemented by the attractions for German industry of easier access to French and Italian markets, and eventual gains for particular interests like Belgian coal and Dutch agriculture. The European Economic Community, in Milward’s vision, was born essentially from the autonomous calculations of national states that the prosperity on which their domestic legitimacy rested would be enhanced by a customs union.
The strategic need to contain Germany as a power also played a role. But Milward argues that it was an essentially secondary one, which could have been met by other means. If the driving force behind integration was indeed pursuit of security, the kind of security that really mattered to the peoples of Western Europe in the Fifties was social and economic: the assurance that there would be no return to the hunger and unemployment and dislocations of the Thirties. In the age of Schuman, Adenauer and de Gasperi, the desire for political security – that is, reinsurance against German militarism or Soviet expansionism – and even the wish for ‘spiritual’ security afforded by Catholic solidarity, were so to speak extensions of the same basic quest. The foundations of the EEC lay in the ‘similarity and reconcilability’ of the socio-economic interests of the six renascent states, set by the political consensus of the post-war democratic order in each country. In Milward’s view, this original matrix has held fast down to the present, unaltered by the enlargement of the Community or the elaboration of its machinery.
The one significant further advance of integration, the Single European Act of the mid-Eighties, reveals the same pattern. By then, under the pressure of global economic crisis and mounting competition from the US and Japan, the political consensus had shifted, as electorates became resigned to the return of unemployment and converted to the imperatives of sound money and social deregulation. Milward does not conceal his dislike for the ‘managerial claptrap and narrow authoritarian deductions from abstract economic principles’ which orchestrated this change of outlook. But it was the general turn to neo-liberalism, sealed by Mitterrand’s abandonment of his initial Keynesian programme in 1983, that made possible the convergence of all member states, including the UK in Thatcher’s heyday, on the completion of the internal market – each calculating, as in the Fifties, the particular commercial benefits it would reap from further liberalisation within the Community. Once again the nation-state remained master of the process, yielding certain of its juridical prerogatives only to enhance the sum of its material capacities to satisfy the domestic expectations of its citizenry.
The cumulative power of Milward’s account of European integration, hammered home in one case-study after another, each delivered with tremendous insight – institutional detail and theoretical insight racing imperiously across the keyboard, individual portraits pedalled sardonically below – has no equal. But its very force raises a number of questions. Milward’s construction as a whole rests on four assumptions, which can perhaps be formulated without too much simplification as follows.
The first, and most explicit, is that the traditional objectives of international diplomacy – the rivalrous struggle for power in an inter-state system: ‘world politics’ as Max Weber understood it – were always of secondary weight in the options that led to post-war European integration. Milward argues that this truth remains as valid today as it ever did. Whether the states of the Community proceed with further integration, he writes in his conclusion, ‘depends absolutely on the nature of domestic policy choices’ (my italics). Foreign policy, as once conceived, is not dismissed: but it is taken to be ancillary to the socio-economic priorities of the nation-state. Milward postulates a virtually unconditional Primat der Innenpolitik.
The second assumption – logically distinct from the first – is that where external political or military calculations entered the balance of policy-making, they did so as extensions of the internal pursuit of popular prosperity: security in a complementary register. Diplomatic objectives are germane, but only in continuity, rather than conflict, with the concerns of a domestic consensus. The latter in turn – here we reach a third assumption – reflects the popular will as expressed in the ballot-box. ‘The preponderant influence on the formulation of national policy and the national interest was always a response to demands from electors,’ and ‘it is by their votes that citizens will continue to exercise the preponderant influence in defining the national interest,’ It was because the democratic consensus, in which the voices of workers, clerks and farmers could at last be properly heard, was so similar across Western Europe that nation-states inspired by the new aims of social security could take the first momentous steps towards integration. Here – least prominently, yet still discernibly – is a final suggestion: that where it really mattered, there was an ultimate symmetry in the participation of the states that formed the original customs union, and completed the internal market.
Primacy of domestic objectives, and continuity of foreign goals with them; democracy of policy formation, and symmetry of national public opinions. An element of caricature is inseparable from all compression, and Milward’s work is subtle and complex enough to contain a number of counter-indications, some of them quite striking. But roughly speaking, these four claims convey the main emphasis of his work. How robust are they? One way of approaching the question is to notice how Milward treats his starting-point. The absolute origin of movement towards European integration is located in the Second World War. Few would dissent. But the experience of the war itself is viewed in a quite particular light, as a cataclysm in which the general brittleness of pre-war political structures – lacking any broad democratic base – was suddenly revealed, as one nation-state after another crumpled in the furnace of conflict.
This is a legitimate and productive way of looking at the Second World War, and it sets the stage for the story of post-war reconstruction leading to integration that Milward tells. Yet the war was not just a common ordeal in which all continental states were tested and found wanting. It was also a life or death battle between Great Powers, with an asymmetric outcome. Germany, which set off the struggle, never actually collapsed as a nation-state. Nor did it lack popular support: its soldiers and civilians resisted the Allies unflinchingly, to the end.
It was the memory of this incommensurable record during the war – of the scale of German military supremacy, and its consequences – that shaped European integration quite as much as the commensurate tasks of rebuilding nation-states on a more prosperous and democratic basis after the war on which Milward concentrates. The country centrally concerned was inevitably France. It is no accident that the French contribution to the construction of common European institutions has been out of all proportion to the weight of France within the overall economy of Western Europe. The political and military containment of Germany was a strategic priority for France from the outset, well before there was any consensus in Paris on the commercial benefits of integration among the Six. Once Anglo-American opposition ruled out any rerun of Clemenceau’s attempt to hold Germany down by main force, the only coherent alternative was to bind it into the closest of alliances, with a construction more enduring than the temporary shelters of traditional diplomacy.
At the centre of the process of European integration has therefore always lain a specifically bi-national compact between the two leading states of the continent, France and Germany. The rationale for the successive arrangements between them, principally economic in form, was consistently strategic in background. Decisive for the evolution of common European institutions were four major bargains between Paris and Bonn. The first of these was the Schuman Plan of 1950, which created the original Coal and Steel Community. The local problems of French siderurgy, dependent on Rhenish coal for its supply of coke, was one element in the inception of the Plan, but its intention was far broader. Germany possessed much the larger heavy industrial base of the two countries. France feared its potential for rearmament. Germany, for its part, feared continued International military control of the Ruhr. Pooling of sovereignty over their joint resources gave France safeguards against the risk of renascent German militarism, and freed Germany from Allied economic tutelage.
A second milestone was the understanding between Adenauer and Mollet that made possible the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Overriding reservations from the Finance Ministry in Bonn and the Foreign Ministry in Paris, the two Governments reached an accord that secured German and French goods industries free entry into the other’s markets, on which each was already highly dependent for its prosperity, while holding out the prospect of increased imports of French farm produce by the Federal Republic. Adenauer’s placet for this deal, in the face of fierce liberal opposition from Erhard – who feared that higher French social costs might spread to Germany – was unambiguously political in inspiration. He wanted West European unity as a bulwark against Communism and a guarantee that eventual German reunification would be respected by France.
In Paris, on the other hand, economic counsels remained divided over the project of a Common Market until rival proposals from London for a free trade area looked as if they might be more attractive to Bonn, threatening the primacy of Franco-German commercial ties. But it was not the technical opinion of hauts fonctionnaires that decided the issue. Nor was it the personal preference of Mollet himself, who had always favoured European integration but been quite unable to carry his party, the so-called Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière, two years earlier, when the European Defence Community was killed off by SFIO votes. What swung the balance was the political shock of the Suez crisis.
Mollet headed a government far more preoccupied with prosecution of the Algerian War, and preparations for a strike against Egypt, than with trade negotiations of any sort. Anglophile by background, he was committed to an understanding with Britain for joint operations in the Eastern Mediterranean. On 1 November 1956 the Suez expedition was launched. Five days later, as French paras were pawing the ground outside Ismailia, Adenauer arrived in Paris for confidential talks on the Common Market. In the middle of his discussions with Mollet and Pineau, Eden rang from London to announce that Britain had unilaterally called off the expedition, under pressure from the US Treasury. In the stunned silence, Adenauer tactfully implied the moral to his hosts. The French Cabinet drew the lesson. America, far from supporting the war in Algeria, as it had the campaigns in Indochina, was sabotaging it. Britain was a broken reed. For the last Governments of the Fourth Republic, still committed to the French empire in Africa and planning for a French bomb, European unity alone could furnish the necessary counterweight to Washington. Six months later, the Treaty of Rome was signed by Pineau; and in the National Assembly it was the strategic argument – the need for a Europe independent of both America and Russia – that secured ratification.
The third critical episode came with the advent of de Gaulle. The first really strong regime in France since the war inevitably altered the terms of the bargain. After clinching a Common Agricultural Policy to the advantage of French farmers in early 1962, but failing to create an inter-governmental directorate among the Six, de Gaulle initiated talks for a formal diplomatic axis with Bonn in the autumn. France was by now a nuclear power. In January 1963 he vetoed British entry into the Community. Two weeks later Adenauer signed the Franco-German Treaty. Once this diplomatic alliance was in place, de Gaulle – notoriously hostile to the Commission headed by Hallstein in Brussels – could check further integration of the EC. The institutional expression of the new balance became the Luxembourg compromise of 1966, blocking majority voting in the Council of Ministers, which set the legislative parameters for the Community for the next two decades.
Finally in 1978, in a period of relative institutional standstill, Giscard and Schmidt together created the European Monetary System to counteract the destabilising effects of the collapse of the Bretton Woods order, when fixed exchange rates disintegrated in the first deep post-war recession. Created outside the framework of the Community, the EMS was imposed by France and Germany against resistance even within the Commission, as the first attempt to control the volatility of financial markets, and prepare the ground for a single currency within the space of the Six.
For the first three decades after the war, then, the pattern was quite consistent. The two strongest continental powers, adjacent former enemies, always led European institutional development, in pursuit of distinct but convergent interests. France, which retained military and diplomatic superiority throughout, was determined to attach Germany to a common economic order, capable of ensuring its own prosperity and security, and allowing Western Europe to escape from subservience to the United States. Germany, which enjoyed economic superiority already by the mid-Fifties, needed not only Community-wide markets for its industries, but French support for its full reintegration into the Atlantic bloc and eventual reunification with the zone – still officially Mitteldeutschland – under the control of the Soviet Union. The dominant partner in this period was always France, whose functionaries conceived the original coal and Steel Community and designed most of the institutional machinery of the Common Market. It was not until the deutschmark became the anchor of the European monetary zone that the balance between Paris and Bonn started to change.
The high politics of the Franco-German axis tell a story older than that of voters in pursuit of consumer durables and welfare payments. It suggests neither a new primacy of domestic concerns nor, inevitably, symmetry of national publics – the other member states scarcely match the significance of these two. But it does appear to confirm the overwhelming importance Milward gives to purely inter-governmental relations in the history of European integration. Yet if we look at the institutions of the Community that emerged from it, there is a shortfall. A customs union, even equipped with an agrarian fund, did not require a supranational Commission armed with powers of executive direction, a High Court capable of striking down national legislation, a Parliament with nominal rights of amendment or revocation. The limited domestic goals Milward sees as the driving-force behind integration could have been realised inside a much plainer framework: the kind that would have been more agreeable to de Gaulle, had he come to power a year earlier, and that can be found in the Americas, North and South, today. The actual machinery of the Community is inexplicable without another force.
That, of course, was the federalist vision of a supranational Europe developed above all by Monnet and his circle, the small group of technocrats who conceived the original ECSC, and drafted much of the detail of the EEC. Few modern political figures have remained more elusive than Monnet, as Milward observes in the couple of wary pages he accords him. Since he wrote, however, there has appeared François Duchêne’s excellent biography, which brings him into much clearer focus. In an acute and graceful work, that does not minimise the anomalies of Monnet’s career, Duchêne draws an arresting portrait of the ‘Father of Europe’.
The provincial reserve and propriety that surrounded his person were misleading. Monnet is a figure more out of the world of André Mal-raux than of Roger Martin du Gard. The small, dapper Charentais was an international adventurer on a grand scale, juggling finance and politics in a series of spectacular gambles that started with operations in war procurements and bank mergers, and ended with schemes for continental unity and dreams of a global directorate. This was a career that moved from cornering Canadian brandy markets to organising Allied wheat supplies; floating bond issues in Warsaw and Bucharest to fighting proxy battles with Giannini in San Francisco; liquidating Kreuger’s empire in Sweden to arranging railroad loans for T.V. Soong in Shanghai; working with Dulles to set up American Motors in Detroit and dealing with Flick to sell off chemical concerns in Nazi Germany. Such were the staging-posts to the post-war Commissariat au Plan and the Presidency of the High Authority, to the Companion of Honour and the first Citizen of Europe.
Monnet’s marriage offers a suggestive glimpse of his life between the wars. In 1929 he was floating a municipal bond in Milan, at the behest of John McCloy, when he fell in love with the newly-wed wife of one of his Italian employees. There was no divorce under Mussolini, and a child was born two years later. Attempts to get the marriage annulled were resisted by the husband and father, and refused by the Vatican. By 1934 Monnet’s headquarters were in Shanghai. Thence one day he headed for the Trans-Siberian to meet his lover in Moscow – where she arrived from Switzerland, acquired Soviet citizenship overnight, dissolved her marriage, and wed him under the banns of the USSR. His bride, a devout Catholic, preferred these unusual arrangements – he explained – to the demeaning offices of Reno. Why Stalin’s government allowed them, he could never understand. It was a tense time for a wedding: Kirov was assassinated a fortnight later. Subsequently, when her repudiated Italian spouse attempted to recover his four-year-old daughter in Shanghai, Madame Monnet found refuge from the kidnapper in the Soviet Consulate – an establishment of some fame in the history of the Comintern. By the end of 1935, when Monnet relocated to New York, she obtained residence in the US, still holding a Soviet passport, on a Turkish quota. We are in the corridors of Stamboul Train or Shanghai Express.
Cosmopolitan as only an international financier could be, Monnet remained a French patriot, and from the eve to the end of the Second World War worked with untiring distinction for the victory of his country and the Allies, in Paris, London, Washington, Algiers. In 1945, when he was appointed by de Gaulle to head France’s new planning commission, Monnet was a logical choice. The organiser of the Plan for Modernisation and Equipment is with reason described by Milward as ‘a most effective begetter of the French nation-state’s post-war resurgence’. Here, however, he was in a substantial company. What made Monnet different was the speed and boldness with which he slipped this leash when the occasion arose. His opportunity came when in late 1949 Acheson demanded of Schuman a coherent French policy towards Germany, for which the Quai d’Orsay had no answer. It was Monnet’s solution – the offer of a supranational pooling of steel and coal resources – that set the ball of European integration rolling. The larger part of the institutional model of the EEC eight years later descended directly from the ECSC Monnet’s circle designed in 1950.
There is no doubt, as Milward suggests, that Monnet’s initiatives in these years owed much to American encouragement. His decisive advantage, as a political operator across national boundaries in Europe, was the closeness of the association he formed with the US political élite – not only the Dulles brothers, but Harriman, McCloy, Ball, Bruce, Acheson and others – during his years in New York and Washington. Monnet’s intimacy with the highest levels of power in the hegemonic state of the hour was unique. He was to become widely distrusted in his own country because of it. How much of his European zeal, both compatriots at the time and historians since have asked, was prompted by his American patrons, within the strategic framework of the Marshall Aid Programme?
The structural interconnection was very close. It is possible that Monnet was first set thinking about post-war integration by discussions in the US, and certain that his subsequent achievements depended critically on US support. But his political inspiration was nevertheless quite different. American policy was driven by the relentless pursuit of Cold War objectives. A strong Western Europe was needed as a bulwark against Soviet aggression, on the central front of a worldwide battle against Communist subversion, whose outlying zones were to be found in Asia, from Korea in the north to Indo-china and Malaya in the south, where the line was being held by France and Britain.
Monnet was strangely unmoved by all this. In France itself he got on well with CGT leaders after the Liberation. He considered the French colonial war in Indochina, financed by Washington, ‘absurd and dangerous’; feared the Korean War would escalate American pressure for German rearmament to a point where French public opinion would reject the sharing of sovereignty envisaged in the Schuman Plan; thought Western fixation with the Soviet menace a distraction. As late as June 1950 he told the editor of the Economist that the underlying purpose of the ECSC was ‘the setting up of a neutralised group in Europe – if France need not fear Germany, she need have no other fears, i.e. Russia.’ The important task was to build a modern and united Europe, capable in the long run of an independent partnership with the United States. ‘We would transform our archaic social conditions,’ he wrote in 1952, ‘and come to laugh at our present fear of Russia.’ American power set the limits of all political action in Europe, and Monnet knew better than anyone how to work within them. But he had an original agenda of his own, which was diagonal to US intentions.
Where did it come from? Monnet had lived through two devastating European conflicts, and his overriding goal was to bar the road to another one. But this was a common preoccupation of his generation, without inspiring any general vision of federalism. Part of the reason was that the passions of the Cold War so quickly succeeded the lessons of the world war, displacing or surcharging it in another set of priorities for the political élites of Western Europe. Monnet was detached from these. His career as a deracinate financial projector, adrift from any stable social forces or national frontiers, left him at a psychological angle to the conventional outlook of his class. As Duchêne points out, people thought Monnet ‘lacked political values’, because he did not care very much about the ‘struggles over economic equality springing from the French and Russian Revolutions’. It was this relative indifference – not exactly the same as insensibility – that freed him to act so inventively beyond the assumptions of the inter-state system in which these struggles were fought out.
Although he was proud of his country, Monnet was not committed to the framework of the nation-state. He opposed the French nuclear deterrent and tried to dissuade Adenauer from signing the Franco-German Treaty. From the conception of the ECSC onwards, he worked consistently for supranational goals in Europe. He was initially cool towards the idea of the EEC, which he did not originate, thinking the Common Market to be a ‘rather vague’ scheme – he was anyway not particularly impressed with doctrines of free trade. Milward makes much of his paradoxical underestimation of the potential of a customs union for integration. But the question Monnet put as early as 1955 – ‘Is it possible to have a Common Market without federal social, monetary and macro-economic policies?’ – is still the central issue before the European Union forty years later. The order of the phrasing is significant. A banker by profession, Monnet was not economically conservative. He always sought trade-union support for his schemes, and late in life even expressed sympathy with the student movement of 1968, whose warning of social injustice stood for ‘the cause of humanity’.
On the other hand, Monnet was a stranger to the democratic process, as conventionally understood. He never faced a crowd or ran for office. Shunning any direct contact with electorates, he worked among élites only. From Milward’s standpoint, in which European integration flowed from the popular consensus inside each nation-state as expressed at the polls, this was in itself enough to condemn him to the irrelevance that affected federalism more largely. It is more plausible, however, to draw the opposite lesson. Monnet’s career was emblematic, in a particularly pure way, of the predominant character of the process that has led to the Union we have today. At no point until – ostensibly – the British referendum of 1975, was there any real popular participation in the movement towards European unity.
Parliamentary majorities, of course, had to be stitched together, and corporate interests squared: there was room for alert lobbies or cross-grained deputies to put in their word. But the electorates themselves were never consulted. Europe was scarcely mentioned at the polls which in January 1956 brought the Republican Front to office in France: they were fought over the Algerian conflict and the appeal of Poujade. But the Archimedean point on which the fate of the EEC finally turned was the switch after Suez of a few dozen SFIO votes in the National Assembly that had torpedoed the EDC. The weakest performer in Milward’s theoretical quartet is here. The democratic foundations he ascribes to the whole process of integration were quite notional. Plans were designed and debated on high: they received mere negative assent below. In his most recent writing, Milward himself comes close to conceding as much. The reality is the one Duchêne describes: ‘The situation was not revolutionary, and voters were neither a motor nor a brake.’
If this is so, what enabled Monnet and his associates to play the role they did in the bargaining between chancelleries? Why was the outcome of European integration not as lop-sidedly inter-governmental as a neo-realist logic would appear to imply? – why, in other words, was it not something closer to the kind of framework that, let us say, Mendès-France or de Gaulle (or later Thatcher or Major) would have approved? The answer is twofold. First, among the Six the smaller nations were predisposed to federalist solutions. The Benelux countries, whose own customs union was adumbrated in exile as early as 1943, were states whose only prospect of significant influence in Europe lay in some kind of supranational framework. It was two foreign ministers from the Low Countries – Beyen in the Netherlands and Spaak in Belgium – who originated the key moves that led to the eventual brokerage of the Treaty of Rome. Beyen, who first actually proposed the Common Market, was not an elected politician, but a former executive for Philips and director of Unilever, parachuted from the IMF straight into the Dutch Cabinet. Milward, forgetting his strictures on Monnet, rightly salutes him.
There was, however, a second and much heavier weight that descended on the federalist side of the scales. That was, of course, the United States. Monnet did not have any particular leverage with European cabinets, even if he eventually came to enjoy the confidence of Adenauer: his direct line to Washington was the source of his strength as an architect of integration. American pressure, in the epoch of Acheson and Dulles, was crucial in putting real force behind the conception of ‘ever greater union’ that came to be enshrined in the Treaty of Rome. In so far as it tends to underplay this role, Milward’s account can be taxed not with excess but insufficiency of realism.
At the same time US policy throws into sharp relief the last of Milward’s postulates. The fact is that consistent American patronage, at critical moments pressure, for far-reaching European integration did not correspond to the interests or demands of any important domestic constituency. In the decisions reached, US voters counted for nothing. More significantly, when the potential for economic competition from a more unified Western Europe, equipped with a common external tariff, was registered by the Treasury, the Department of Agriculture and the Federal Reserve, they were firmly overriden by the White House and the State Department. American politico-military imperatives, in the global conflict with Communism, trumped commercial calculation without the slightest difficulty Eisenhower informed Pineau that the realisation of the Treaty of the Rome would be ‘one of the finest days in the history of the free world, perhaps even more so than winning the war’. Pregnant words, from the Allied Supreme Commander.
Milward is entirely clear about US priorities, which he describes with his customary trenchancy. But he does not pursue the theoretical issues they pose for his interpretative scheme. In America, at least, continuity between domestic agendas and foreign objectives did not obtain. There was a clear-cut conflict between them. Was this just an American exception, without echo in Europe? Milward himself provides the evidence that it was not. For there was, after all, one major country of Western Europe which did not take the path of integration.
Why did the United Kingdom, under both Labour and Conservative rule, reject the logic of the Six? Surely the domestic consensus behind rising popular standards, based on the maintenance of full employment and the welfare state, was even more complete in Britain than in France or Italy, with their still intransigent mass Communist Parties, or in Germany with its doughty champions of unrestrained economic liberalism? On the chequerboard of major political forces, there were no English counterparts of Marty or Erhard; and in the vocabulary of continental Europe no equivalents to Butskellism. Had the predominant impetus to integration been a popular quest for socio-economic security codified in a strong national consensus, one might have expected Britain in the age of Attlee or Macmillan to have been foremost in it.
Although he points out the elements of an economic configuration that set the UK somewhat apart from the Six – the structure of agricultural subventions, the role of sterling, the salience of Commonwealth markets – Milward does not argue that it therefore made sense for Britain to stay out of Europe. On the contrary, he judges that ‘failure to sign the Treaties of Rome was a serious mistake.’ His explanation for the error is that the British political establishment, arrogant and provincial, clung to the belief that the UK was ‘still in some sense a great power whose foreign policy should reflect that position’. Its ignorance of the nearby world was richly distilled in Harold Macmillan’s remark to his intimates that it was ‘the Jews, the Planners and the old cosmopolitan element’ who were to blame for the supranational tendencies of the European Commission.
What the detail of Milward’s account suggests is that for 15 years after the war British policy towards European integration was essentially settled by rulers who put calculations – or miscalculations – of political power and prestige before estimates of economic performance. The misfit between this pattern and the overall framework of The European Rescue of the Nation-State is too plain to escape Milward’s notice. On a more tentative note than usual, he offers the ingenious suggestion that because the crisis of the British state in the inter-war and wartime years was less acute than elsewhere, ‘so the search for a new consensus after 1945 was more limited’, and – despite appearances – the result ‘perhaps weaker’. He goes on to remark that ‘the prosperity it brought was also more limited and the United Kingdom was eventually to lead the attack on the post-war consensus of which it had only been one of the lesser beneficiaries.’
The possibility of a provocative revision of Paul Addison’s Road to 1945 can be glimpsed here. The assumption remains, however, that it was the degree of social consensus which governed the pace of economic growth and the fate of European policy. But ‘consensus’ is an evasive term, notoriously close to euphemism, that parades rather than defines a democratic will. Its usage is best confined to the élites that like to talk of it. In this sense, there was indeed a consensus in Britain, and – pace Milward – a singularly strong one: but it had little or nothing to do with elections.
The overstatement in Milward’s argument comes from an attractive political impulse. A radical and humane attachment to the achievements of the post-war welfare state – to the material improvements it brought in the lives of ordinary people – is the underlying motif of his work. If these were the product of democratic choices within the nation-state, can the same pressures not be given credit for the new forms of co-operation between states? The temptation of this move leads to a quizzical heuristic hybrid: what might be called, stressing the oxymoron, a diplomatic populism. While Milward yields to this out of one side of his radical temper, the other side – a robust impatience with sanctimonies of any kind – repeatedly checks him.
So his recent writing strikes a more ambivalent note. ‘Votes and voters,’ he now concedes, ‘are less important than our original hypothesis suggested.’ Instead of relying on the claims of consensus, Milward now proposes the notion of allegiance – ‘all those elements which induce citizens to give loyalty to institutions of governance’ – as the key to understanding European integration. The substitution is salutary. Compared with the demotic emulsion of consensus, allegiance is an older and stiffer physic. The feudal cast of the term Milward now recommends as capable of integrating the different strands involved in the emergence of the Community is more appropriate. It bespeaks not civic participation, but customary adhesion: obedience in exchange for benefits: Hobbes rather than Rousseau. This is certainly closer to Western realities.
‘The only defence for national government since 1945 we have offered,’ Milward writes, ‘is that it has better represented popular will than in the past, even if still only partially and imperfectly. That is, for us, the historical reason why it has survived’ – a survival, however, that he judges to have been ‘finely balanced’. Has reinforcement by European integration put it beyond danger? By no means. The rescue may prove only a temporary reprieve. After the confidence of its title, Milward’s major book closes with what seems like a retraction ‘the strength of the European Community’ lies after all ‘in the weakness of the nation-state’.
If these contrary notes do not reach harmony, the historical richness of Milward’s work exceeding its theoretical scheme, this is also partly because his later work, unlike his earlier, proceeds by topical selection rather than systematic narration. Without simultaneous tracking of the different forces which he in principle admits were at work, the relative contribution of each to the process of integration cannot be adjudicated on equal terms. Such a narrative waits on a fuller opening of the archives. In its absence, what provisional conclusions are reasonable?
There were at least four principal forces behind the process of integration. Although these overlapped, their core concerns were quite distinct. The central aim of the federalist circle round Monnet was to create a European order that would be immune to the catastrophic nationalist wars that had twice devastated the Continent. The basic objective of the United States was to create a strong West European bulwark against the Soviet Union, as a means to victory in the Cold War. The key French goal was to tie Germany down in a strategic compact leaving Paris primus inter pares west of the Elbe. The major German concern was to return to the rank of an established power and keep open the prospect of reunification. What held these different programmes together was – here Milward is entirely right – the common interest of all parties in securing the economic stability and prosperity of West Europe, as a condition of achieving each of these goals.
This constellation held good till the end of the Sixties. In the course of the next decade, two significant shifts occurred. The first was an exchange of Anglo-Saxon roles. The belated entry of the UK brought another state into the Community of nominally comparable weight to France and West Germany; while on the other hand, the US withdrew to a more watchful stance as Nixon and Kissinger started to perceive the potential for a rival great power in Western Europe. The second change was more fundamental. The economic and social policies that had united the original Six during the post-war boom disintegrated with the onset of global recession. The result was a sea-change in official attitudes to public finance and levels of employment, social security and rules for competition.
Thus the last effective step of integration to date, the Single European Act of 1985, exhibits a somewhat different pattern from its predecessors, although not a discontinuous one. The initiative behind the completion of the internal market came from Delors, a convinced federalist recently appointed as French head of the Commission. At government level the critical change, as Milward rightly stresses, was the conversion the previous year of the Mitterrand regime at Delors’s prompting to orthodox liberal discipline, coinciding with the turn to the Right that brought Kohl to office in Germany. This time, however, a third power played a role of some significance – Thatcher collaborating in the interest of deregulating financial markets, in which British banks and insurance companies saw prospects of large gains; and Cockfield giving the project its administrative thrust in Brussels.
The higher profile of the Commission in this episode was testimony of a change in the balance of institutional forces within the Community, which the Act itself modified by the introduction (more properly: reinstatement) of qualified majority voting inside the Council of Ministers. On the other hand, the French stamp on the proto-federal machinery in Brussels was never more pronounced than during the Delors Presidency, while Paris and Bonn retained their traditional dominance within the web of inter-governmental relations.
The upshot of thirty years of such integration is the strange institutional congeries of today’s Union, composed of four disjointed parts. Most visible to the public eye, the European Commission in Brussels acts, so to speak, as the ‘executive’ of the Community: a body composed of 23 functionaries designated by member governments, headed by a President enjoying a salary considerably higher than that of the occupant of the White House, but commanding a bureaucracy smaller than that of many a municipality, and a budget of little more than 1 percent of area GDP – whose revenues are collected not by the Commission, which has no direct powers of taxation itself, but by the member governments. In a provision of which conservatives can still only dream in the US, the Treaty of Rome forbids the Commission to run any deficit. Its expenditures remain heavily concentrated on the Common Agricultural Policy, about which there is much cant both inside and outside Europe – US and Canadian farm support being not much lower than European, and Japanese much higher. A certain amount is also spent on ‘structural funds’ to aid poor or rust-belt regions. The Commission administers this budget; issues regulatory directives and possesses the sole right of initiating European legislation. Its proceedings are confidential.
Secondly, there is the Council of Ministers: the utterly misleading name for what are in fact a parallel series of inter-governmental meetings between departmental ministers from each member state, covering different policy areas (about thirty in all), whose decisions are tantamount to the legislative function of the Community. This hydra-headed entity deliberating in secret is in virtually constant session in Brussels, where most of its decisions – whose outcomes are binding on national parliaments – are sewn up at a bureaucratic level below the assembled ministers themselves. Capping this structure, since 1974, has been the so-called European Council composed of the Heads of Government of each member state, which meets three times a year and sets broad policy for the Council of Ministers.
Thirdly, there is the European Court of Justice in Luxemburg, composed of 15 judges appointed by the member states, who pronounce on the legality or otherwise of the directives of the Commission, and on conflict between Union and national law, and have over time come to treat the Treaty of Rome as if it were something like a European Constitution. Unlike the Supreme Court in the US, no votes are recorded in the European Court, and no dissent is ever set out in a judgment. The views of individual judges remain unfathomable.
Finally, there is the European Parliament, formally the ‘popular element’ in this institutional complex, as its only elective body. However, in defiance of the Treaty of Rome, it possesses no common electoral system; no permanent home – it wanders like a vagabond between Strasbourg, Luxemburg and Brussels; no power of taxation. Prior to Maastricht, it had no control over spending (it is confined to simple yes/no votes on the Community budget as a whole); no say over executive appointments, other than an unusable threat to reject the whole Commission; no right to initiate legislation, merely the ability to amend or veto it. In all these respects, it functions less like a legislative than a ceremonial apparatus of government, providing a symbolic façade not altogether unlike, say, the monarchy in Britain.
The institutional upshot of European integration is thus a customs union with a quasi-executive of supranational cast, without any machinery to enforce its decisions; a quasi-legislature of inter-governmental ministerial sessions, shielded from any national oversight, operating as a kind of upper chamber; a quasi-supreme court that acts as if it were the guardian of a constitution which does not exist; and a pseudo-legislative lower chamber, in the form of a largely impotent parliament that is nevertheless the only elective body, theoretically accountable to the peoples of Europe. All of this superimposed on a dozen or so nation-states, determining their own fiscal, social, military and foreign policies. Up to the end of the Eighties the sum of these arrangements, born under the sign of the interim and the makeshift, had nevertheless acquired a respectable aura of inertia.
In the Nineties, however, three momentous changes loom over the political landscape in which this complex is set. The disappearance of the Soviet bloc, the reunification of Germany and the Treaty of Maastricht have set processes in motion whose scale can only be compared to the end of the war. Together, they mean that the European Union is likely to be the theatre of an extraordinary conjunction of divergent movements in the coming years: the passage to a European monetary union; the return of Germany to continental hegemony; and the competition among ex-Communist countries for entry. Can any predictions be made about the kinds of outcome that might emerge from a metabolism of such magnitude?
At this historical crossroads it is worth thinking back to the work of Monnet and his circle. Historically, state-construction has proceeded along three main lines. One is a gradual, unplanned, organic growth of governmental authority and territory, such as occurred in – let us say – late medieval France or Early Modern Austria, whose architects had little or no idea of long-term objectives at all. A second path is conscious imitation of pre-existing models, of a kind that first really emerges in Europe in the 18th century, with the emulation of French Absolutism by its Prussian or Piedmontese counterparts. A third and historically still later path was deliberate revolutionary innovation: the creation of completely new state forms in a very compressed period of time, under the pressure either of popular upheavals like the American or Russian Revolutions, or élite drives like the Meiji Restoration in Japan.
The process of statecraft set in train by the projectors of a federal Europe – the Burkean term of alarm can be taken as homage – departed from all these paths. It was without historical precedent. For its origins were very deliberately designed, but they were neither imitative of anything else nor total in scope; while the goals at which it aimed were not proximate but very distant. This was an entirely novel combination: a style of political construction that was highly voluntarist, yet pragmatically piecemeal – and yet vaultingly long-range. Relying on what he called a ‘dynamic disequilibrium’, Monnet’s strategy was an incremental totalisation, en route to a hitherto unexampled objective – a democratic supranational federation. The implications of his undertaking did not escape him. ‘We are starting a process of continuous reform,’ he wrote, ‘which can shape tomorrow’s world more lastingly than the principles of revolution so widespread outside the West.’ It is one of the great merits of Duchêne’s biography that it seeks so intelligently to take the measure of this innovation, which he calls – by contrast with conquest, adjustment or upheaval – ‘that rarest of all phenomena in history, a studied change of regime’. This is a striking formula. Yet there is at once a certain overstatement and understatement in it. The changes were more improvised than studied; but at stake was more than a regime.
Looking back, who can deny the genius of this conception of political advance – as if the ambitions of Napoleon could be married to the methods of Taaffe? On the other hand, it exacted a characteristic price. If all historical undertakings are subject to the fatality of unintended consequences, the more deliberate they are the more pronounced the gap may become. The ‘construction of Europe’ set in train by Monnet and his circle was an enterprise of unrivalled scope and complexity, which yet nearly always relied on drab institutional steps and narrow social supports. Historically, it was bound to lead to what it did: that is, a persistent pattern of consequences that disconcerted and foiled the intentions of its architects.
The series of these bafflements has been continuous down to the present. In the Fifties Monnet wanted Euratom and was landed with the Common Market; working for a supranational union, what he eventually got was an inter-governmental consortium dominated by the statesman most opposed to everything he stood for, de Gaulle. The General in turn thought his procedural arrangement in the Sixties would stymie the bureaucratic pretensions of the Commission – which in fact rebounded more strongly than ever out of them in the Seventies. In the Eighties, Mrs Thatcher believed the Single European Act would repeat and extend the deregulated internal market she championed in the UK – only to discover it leading towards the single currency she most detested. The hopes of Jacques Delors are still with us. Is it likely their fate will be other in the Nineties?