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Churchill’s antidote to war: A united Europe

It’s 72 years ago, on 19 September 1946, that war leader and former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, gave his landmark speech at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. He called for Europe to, “build a kind of United States of Europe” to create lasting peace.

Following the Second World War, Churchill was convinced that only a united Europe could guarantee peace. His aim was to eliminate the European ills of nationalism and war-mongering once and for all.

He proclaimed his remedy, just one year after the end of the war:

“It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom.

“We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”

Although Europe did not become, as Churchill then visioned and promoted, a federal ‘United States’, it did become a Union of 28 independent sovereign countries, trading and working together in peace and prosperity.

In remembering his grandfather’s speech, Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames said in the House of Commons:

“The speech was of great prescience and great vision. And it was also a speech of the most profound analysis.”

Sir Winston Churchill is recognised as one of the 11 ‘Founding Fathers’ of the European Union.

At the time of his 1946 speech, Churchill envisaged Britain helping to establish the ‘Union of European countries’, but not actually joining it.

But Churchill’s views later changed, as the British Empire and Commonwealth diminished, and Britain’s world influence shifted.

Churchill made his last speech about Europe at London’s Central Hall, Westminster in July 1957; some four months after six founding nations established the European Economic Community by signing the Treaty of Rome (France, Italy, West Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg).

Churchill welcomed the formation of a ‘common market’ by the six, provided that ‘the whole of free Europe will have access’. Churchill added, ‘we genuinely wish to join’.

But Churchill also warned:

‘If, on the other hand, the European trade community were to be permanently restricted to the six nations, the results might be worse than if nothing were done at all – worse for them as well as for us. It would tend not to unite Europe but to divide it – and not only in the economic field.’ *

* (Source: Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches Vol. 8 page 8681)

During the 1960s Churchill’s health rapidly declined, but his support for a united Europe didn’t.

According to Churchill’s last Private Secretary,  Sir Anthony Montague Brown, in August 1961, Churchill wrote to his constituency Chairman:

‘I think that the Government are right to apply to join the European Economic Community..’

Sir Anthony also confirmed, in his book  ‘Long Sunset’, that in 1963, just two years before he died, Churchill wrote in a private letter:

‘The future of Europe if Britain were to be excluded is black indeed.’

  • Watch an extracted version of Winston Churchill’s speech of 19 September 1946, together with a commentary in the House of Commons by his grandson, MP Sir Nicholas Soames. (Video production by Jon Danzig):

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