Can Europe Make It?

Let’s remember the Popular Front of 1936

... when another Europe was possible.

Olivier Védrine
Olivier Védrine
27 April 2020, 7.30pm
Monument to the « White Rose » resistance movement against the Nazi regime, in front of Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, Germany.
Wikicommons/Gryffindor. Some rights reserved.

After WWI, the UK Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lord Balfour, called upon the international community to “provide an effort worthy of the exceptional situation, to remedy calamities that, adding to the horrors of war, seem more frightening than the war itself”. The first initiative of this kind was the Commission of Epidemics that was created even before the installation of the League of Nations, which would provide material aid and scientific expertise to the countries of Eastern Europe, devastated by the typhus: it is estimated today that there were up to 25 million cases and a high death rate, adding to the calamity of the flu pandemic, the famous Spanish flu.

“Everything is possible in extraordinary moments”, wrote Jean Monnet, the future “father of Europe” in his briefing,” provided that we are at the ready, that we have a clear project at a time when everything is confused”. After WWII, there were a lot of extraordinary challenges to address, with a succession of political, economical and social upheavals.

In June 1944, members of the French Resistance, meeting as the French Committee for the European Federation, drew up a declaration in which they affirmed their attachment to European Federalism, and defined the outlines of a postwar united Europe.

In France again, the National Council of the Resistance (NCR) was the moment during which the state, citizens and the French people took back control of the economy. The programme of the NCR was clear: the general interest should always take priority over particular interests. The text of the programme refers to the domination of the finance sector in the 30’s. The members of the NCR wanted the State to have control over all key sectors for the life of the Nation: energy, health, transport, postal service etc.

The programme of the NCR had its roots in the Popular Front of 1936 and the French Revolution. Those were political and philosophical reflections from two centuries of France’s history. With the balance of power being favorable to these ideas, they came to power in 1945. Gaullism would be strongly inspired in its social and economic policies by the NCR’s programme.

Covid-19 might result in significant changes in 2020, but the battle on the ground will be tough. Let’s recall that the NCR was the organism that directed and coordinated the different resistance movements within France during WWII, no matter what the political tendency was. The council was composed of representatives of the press, trade unions and members of political parties hostile since mid-1943 to the Vichy collaborationist government.

European resistance movements also organized themselves during WWII for a European project and a genuine transformation within society.

In 1941, Altiero Spinelli wrote with Ernesto Rossi and Eugenio Colorni the “Manifesto of Ventotene”, for a Free and United Europe.

In Germany, in Munich, students of the movement,“the White Rose”, already took a stance in favour of a European Federation during WWII. Its leaders would be executed.

In 1943, the European Federalist Movement was created in Milan. The movement adopted the Manifesto of Ventotene as their programme.

In 1944, the French Committee for a European Federation was created, in Lyon.

In Spring 1944, the meeting of national delegates from resistance movements all over Europe took place in Geneva, to discuss the project of European Federalism. On July 7, 1944, the Declaration of European Resistances on the topic of federalism was issued.

Finally, the Hague Congress took place from May 7 – 11,1948. It was notably organized by associations from resistance movements against Nazism, like the Union of European Federalists and the United Europe Movement of Winston Churchill, honorary president of the Congress.

The Congress was marked by a cleavage between unionists and federalists. The former, including Churchill, simply wanted cooperation between States in order to solve economic difficulties and to strengthen the western camp during the nascent Cold War period. Federalists wanted to go further and faster and demanded a partial transfer of state sovereignty to a European Federation: they wanted to prioritize politics over economics.

Henri Brugmans later highlighted the “joyful, creative, and almost revolutionary atmosphere of the Congress”. The federalists were unfortunately outvoted by the unionists. According to Denis de Rougemont, “The masters of the Congress took the European people’s voice to give it to ministers that utilized it in the way that we know it today”. Therefore, the problem is not Europe but its domination by the neoliberal economic system, with its total disregard for political constructs.

The two big results of the Hague Congress were: May 5, 1949, the signature of the Treaty of London, that created the Council of Europe and May 9,1950, the Schuman Declaration.

What did we do with our father’s heritage? How many times did we betray the programme of the National Council of the Resistance in France? How many times did we betray the programme of European federalists and resistances for a United Europe? It is time to ask ourselves the major questions: all of Europe demands us to do so. More Europe, and less Brussels, let’s put economics back in its place and restore the citizens to the core. We need to remake politics; we need to rewrite a programme and we need to rewrite a project!

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