David Cameron: Embracing Europe in Churchill’s Footsteps
Is David Cameron following in the footsteps of Churchill and Thatcher by balancing anti-Europe sentiment against pro-Europe cooperation?
- The cause of a peaceful Europe was so important that Churchill made it the subject of his first great speech after being voted out of office in 1945.
- Churchill boldly expressed the necessity for a peaceful partnership based on Franco-German friendship in his 1946 Council of Europe speech.
- Mrs. Thatcher was not the Europe-hating ogre her more Jurassic admirers claim her to have been during the 11 years she ruled Britain.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is reasserting his default position as a constructive partner of the European Union’s continental inner core. He has backed away from his threat to use his veto power to block the urgently-needed new fiscal agreement to enforce a credible financial structure in the EU.
And when he attended the EU summit in Brussels on January 30, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy both went out of their way to give him a warm welcome and signal their appreciation. Cameron’s emphasis in Brussels on restoring growth to Europe was carefully couched in a constructive partnership mode.
Predictably, the British leader’s latest tilt in policy (it is certainly not a reversal or U-turn) outraged the euro-skeptics in his Conservative Party, the senior partner in the UK’s ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. But their rage obscures a remarkable irony: Cameron’s policy of careful cooperation with the principal nations of Continental Europe is exactly in the tradition of Britain’s greatest modern nationalist icons, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, the two figures whom the Tory euro-skeptics endlessly claim to follow.
The cause of peaceful European cooperation and unity, based on the reconciliation of France and Germany, was so important to Winston Churchill that he made it the subject of his first great policy speech after being voted out of office in 1945.
Churchill clearly and boldly expressed the necessity for a new era of peaceful partnership based on Franco-German friendship in his keynote speech to the Council of Europe in Zurich, on September 19, 1946. It was only a few months after he gave his far more famous Iron Curtain speech at Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946 — a speech British and American conservatives have quoted ever since.
But consider what the late Roy Jenkins — one of the founders of the Liberal Democrats in the early 1980s, and before that one of the most effective social reformers in modern British history — wrote in his magisterial biography of Churchill. Jenkins regarded the Council of Europe speech as no simple aberration or flash in the pan for Churchill. It was indeed the expression of Churchill’s lifelong experience as war premier during World War II, and as civilian chief of the Royal Navy and Minister of Munitions during World War I.
As Jenkins pointed out, Churchill used his Zurich speech to launch a sustained campaign for European unity, and this “occupied much of his political time and interest from then until in the August of 1949 and 1950, he attended, with great réclame, the first two sessions, at Strasbourg of … the Council of Europe.”
Nor did Churchill forget or attempt to bury the Zurich speech when he returned as Prime Minister in 1951. He forged much closer relations with the new German government, led by Konrad Adenauer and the Christian Democratic party. And while he did not join the European Coal and Steel Community (set up by Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg in 1951), he encouraged its creation and cooperated closely with it.
Nor was Mrs. Thatcher the Europe-hating ogre her more Jurassic admirers claim her to have been during the 11 years she ruled Britain. Conservative-nationalist sentiment was still strong for Britain to leave the European Community when she came to office in 1979. At that time, Britain had been a member of the EC for just six years, and had been pulled in through inept policies and much bullying by Thatcher’s predecessor as Conservative Party leader, Edward Heath.
There was also strong anti-European sentiment at the time in the Labour Party, which was about to tilt far to the left under Michael Foot. Had Thatcher really wanted to, she could have certainly driven the British chariot straight out of the European arena.
The Iron Lady did no such thing, however. She instead skillfully negotiated a better deal for Britain within the European Community. Then, in 1990, she signed the historic Maastricht Treaty, which dramatically revived the momentum for European Community growth and integration, a process that has now benefited the continent for more than two decades.
Even Thatcher’s bold deregulation of the City of London in 1986 turned out to have a profoundly important European dimension as well. The money managers of the City rapidly outstripped the efforts of continental Europe’s financial centers, especially Paris and Frankfurt, to become the financial capitals of the reviving European Community (which became the European Union after Maastricht was signed).
Thatcher generated, rode and benefited from the waves of anti-European nationalist sentiment in Britain while simultaneously playing a major constructive role in advancing the forces of European cooperation and integration.
David Cameron’s balancing act on European cooperation today is very much in the same constructive traditions of Churchill and Thatcher. He has proven himself to be their true heir — not by trying to tear Europe down, but by helping to build her up.