There are currently more than 1.5 million Britons living in Europe and about 2.9 million Europeans living in Britain and the combined population of the 28 member states is estimated to be over 510 million. It has come a long way since its inception but it might surprise a lot of people to know that the idea of a European Union was first given shape by Winston Churchill.
On 19th September 1946, Winston gave a speech in Zurich in which he said that he believe that s united Europe, sharing a common inheritance, could be happy and prosperous. He saw the establishment of a united Europe as our best protection against rising nationalism in the region. He warned against allowing the region to fall back into the dark ages and painted a frightening picture of cruelty and squalor if we failed to act.
Winston believed that in order for the people of Europe to live in peace, in safety and in freedom, we would need to re-create the European Family – a structured community not too dissimilar to Britain’s own Commonwealth of Nations that could strengthen and support the world organisation. Winston firmly believed that salvation would come in the creation of “a kind of United States of Europe”. Winston genuinely believed that a European group would provide an enlarged sense of patriotism and common citizenship.
It was clear that Winston was firmly against retribution and encouraged people to turn their backs on the horrors of the past and to reject hatred and revenge for past injuries in favour of a long standing peace in Europe….
“If Europe is to be saved from infinite misery, and indeed from final doom, there must be an act of faith in the European family and an act of oblivion against all the crimes and follies of the past”.
Winston firmly believed that a United States of Europe could be strong enough to ensure long term peace, providing all nation states could have an equal standing and could “gain their honour by their contribution to the common cause”, rather than by their size.
Winston goes on to talk about one very particularly frightening consequence if we were to fail to unite together. He was particularly concerned about the possible proliferation of Nuclear weapons and it is obvious, when you read his speech now, that he firmly believed that we were facing an extremely precarious and uncertain future for the world as a whole.
In his conclusion, Winston declares his genuine hope…
“Our constant aim must be to build and fortify the strength of the United Nations Organisation. Under and within that world concept, we must re-create the European family in a regional structure called, it may be, the United States of Europe”…. “The salvation of the common people of every race and of every land from war or servitude must be established on solid foundations and must be guarded by the readiness of all men and women to die rather than submit to tyranny”.
You can read Churchill’s Zurich speech in its entirety here…