Sixty-one years ago, on 25 March 1957, the Treaty of Rome was signed by six European countries to form a remarkable new community.
The European Economic Community – later to be called the European Union – was started in the aftermath of the Second World War with one purpose and one purpose alone: to create lasting peace.
That was the passionate resolve of those who are regarded as the eleven founders of the European Union, including our own war leader, Winston Churchill.
After all, Europe had a long and bloody history of resolving its differences through war, and indeed, the planet’s two world wars originated right here, on our continent.
So, the EU was never just an economic agreement between nations.
It was always also meant to be a social and political union of European nations to enable them to find ways not just to trade together, but to co-exist and co-operate in harmony and peace on many levels as a community of nations.
The goal, in the founding document of the European Union called the Treaty of Rome, was to achieve ‘ever closer union among the peoples of Europe’ (which is rather different to ‘ever closer union of nations’.)
Just one year after the Second World War, in 1946, Winston Churchill made his famous speech in Zurich, Switzerland in which he said:
“We must build a kind of United States of Europe. The structure of the United States of Europe, if well and truly built, will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important.”
At the time Churchill did not envisage Britain joining the new Union of Europe, but he was later to change his mind.
The six founding nations of the new European Community were France, Italy, West Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg.
This was a remarkable achievement, considering that these countries only a few years previously had been fighting in a most terrible war, and four of the founding nations had been viciously subjugated by another of the founders, Germany, during their Nazi regime.
In a speech four months later in July 1957 at Westminster’s Central Hall, Churchill welcomed the formation of the EEC 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.”
Maybe this is the point that many Brexiters simply don’t get.
Here in Britain we don’t seem to understand the founding purpose of the European Union – and on the rest of the continent, they don’t understand why we don’t understand.
The European Union isn’t just about economics and trade, and never was. It’s about peace, and a community of nations of our continent working together for the benefit and protection of its citizens.
We are now rebuffing our allies in Europe, telling them by our actions and words that the precious, remarkable and successful post-war project to find peace and security on our continent isn’t as important to us as it is to them.
Will our friendship and relationship with the rest of our continent ever recover?
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