At this time of division amongst the 27 members of the European Union, with the United Kingdom refusing to sign up to the latest binding treaty, it would seem worthwhile to consider the objective that has been pursued by Europe since the beginning of the Common market in 1951.
In order to understand the purpose of the European Union, nothing is more instructive than the perusal of the Mémoirs of Jean Monnet, the inventor of the process that was meant to gradually bring about the gradual integration of the States of Europe into a European Federation. It appears more clearly than ever before that there are at least two different ways of approaching and understanding what the European Union is all about. France and Germany, the main founding members of the Union, would consider the coming together of the countries of Europe as engaging in a process of integration leading to a political union which would most probably find its best expression in the form of a federal state similar to the United States of America. However, the United Kingdom would consider that the European Union is and should be nothing more than a type of international organisation whose only purpose would be to promote trade between its members and boost their economic development.
The question remains open as to the possibility of reconciling these two approaches. Since the UK joined the Common Market in 1976 there has been regular contention with the other countries of the Union. The major point of disagreement originates in the process of delegating sovereign powers to central European institutions, and thus building an ever closer union between the States. This is part of the inherent logic of integration, which operates through a continual transfer of sovereign powers to constantly expanding European Institutions. The essential idea put forward by Monnet and agreed to by France and Germany and the four other countries which took part in the first common market, the European Coal and Steal Community (ECSC), was that the final objective is political union. The realisation of this political objective would have to be achieved through the union of all sectors of the member states economies to form a common market. The process involved firstly the creation of a common market, then the adoption of common fiscal and budget regulations in order to achieve political union, which would most probably take the form of a federal state. The European enterprise implied that the states taking part in this venture would agree to eventually becoming members of a European Federation.
For this reason the final draft of the proposals leading to the treaty which created the first European Community (ECSC) stated that France and Germany would unite their basic resources and institute a new independent body, the High Authority, whose decisions would be binding over them, and then lay down the foundations for a European Federation which would be indispensable to keeping the peace. Jean Monnet in his Mémoirs underlined that the proposals described the method (uniting resources), the means (a High Authority empowered to make binding decisions over sovereign states) and the objective (a federal state) in order to secure peace (the key word) (Jean Monnet’s Mémoirs p. 431).
Clearly, the objective has always been political, the creation of a Federation of States. What has been unfolding is a process of integration starting with the creation of a common market, continuing via the introduction of a single currency, accompanied by fiscal and budgetary regulations, in order to bring about a Federal State. This is far removed from the creation of a mere alliance of States or even a Confederation of States aimed at better developing trade between them. This explains why the United Kingdom, which is at the heart of the Commonwealth and the banker of the Sterling zone, vigorously rejected membership of the European community in 1950. At the time, Mr Hugh Dalton on behalf of the British Government made an unambiguous statement. He emphatically declared: “We reject any form of supranational authority” and added: “We are closer to Australia and New Zealand than Europe by language, origins, customs, institutions, political conceptions and interest” (Jean Monnet’s Mémoirs p. 455). This is still true today! No wonder why the United Kingdom, which has strong links with the United States of America and many other countries around the world, will always perceive the European Union to be a most uncomfortable straitjacket.
The European experience was conceived from the very beginning as a process of integration which would drive the various countries of Europe towards a political union, and it is highly unlikely that the United Kingdom will ever be able to change Europe’s purpose or its final objective. As a result, the United Kingdom will have to choose either to surrender its sovereignty to a supranational state or find a way to negotiate an honourable exit from the European Union.