Thursday, 28 October 2004

The Great Deceiver

HITLER’S troops were rampaging across Europe. Barely a fortnight had passed since the Dunkirk evacuation, and it was clear France was about to fall. As Winston Churchill sat down to lunch at the Carlton Club with his Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax and other senior advisers, he knew only daring measures held any hope of repelling the Nazi threat. But the plan set before him during that meal on June 15, 1940, was so audacious even Churchill was taken aback.

His advisers were suggesting that France and Britain should declare a ‘Franco-British Union’, joining the two nations indissolubly as one, complete with a single government, joint armed forces, common citizenship and even a single currency. The dramatic gesture of solidarity would supposedly help the French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud to rally his people and resist calls for surrender. Crucially, the French fleet, the fourth largest in the world, would be saved from Hitler’s control.

Churchill was far from convinced, but when he raised the idea at Cabinet that afternoon he was astonished to see his ‘staid, stolid, experienced’ colleagues exhibit passionate interest ‘in an immense design whose implications and consequences were not in any way thought out’. A draft ‘proclamation of an Anglo-French Union’ was approved the following day, with just one substantive change when Churchill struck out the reference to a common currency.

He immediately showed the paper to General Charles de Gaulle, France’s under-secretary for war, who read it ‘with an air of unwonted enthusiasm’ and phoned the details to his superiors across the Channel. Churchill was ready to fly out to discuss it the next day. But the extraordinary plan that would have erased Britain as an independent political entity was about to fall apart.

The French political class, led by Marshal Petain, reacted with violent hostility to what they saw as a trick to reduce their country to a mere ‘British dominion’. In the streets, the cry went up: ‘We’d rather have Hitler than be the slaves of England.’

Petain himself described the plan as ‘fusion with a corpse’ – the corpse in his eyes being a doomed Britain. Admitting defeat, Paul Reynaud resigned as French Prime Minister and was succeeded by Petain, who promptly sued with Germany for a humiliating peace.

It is deeply ironic that this early attempt at European integration was thus the final catalyst for one of the greatest disasters of World War II. But the real significance of the episode lies deeper. For far from being an ad hoc response to a wartime crisis, the Anglo-French merger plan was a calculated and opportunist attempt by one fanatical man to pursue a much wider agenda.

It was, in fact, one of the first moves in a stealthy and breathtakingly deceitful campaign, orchestrated by this same behind-the-scenes schemer, that eventually built the vast, ramshackle, corruption-ridden monster that is the modern European Union. The plan’s originator was not the British Foreign Office but a French bureaucrat named Jean Monnet, who is today hailed on the Continent as ‘the father of Europe’.

Few people in Britain know of his machinations, the profound influence he has had over this country’s recent history, and the spectacularly devious methods he used to pursue his ambitions. His astonishing story reveals the true nature of the so-called European ‘project’. Monnet, a former brandy salesman, who with his small moustache and precise manner was the spitting image of the fictional detective Hercule Poirot – was one of the first great believers in a ‘United States of Europe’. He rose to prominence during World War I, when his shipping expertise (previously used to transport brandy to Canada for illegal sale to native Indians) was employed in organising Allied supplies.

Then, at the age of just 31, he was appointed deputy secretary-general of the League of Nations, the forerunner of today’s UN. It was in this role that he began to develop a detestation of traditional nation states and a desire to see them swept away. In particular, he hated the fact that national vetoes could thwart any initiative the League might take. The only hope for progress in Europe, he believed, was a form of ‘supranational’ government that no individual state could defy.

For Monnet, Franco-British Union was just the first step towards making this dream a reality. As a senior figure in the Allied war effort, he gained the ear of de Gaulle and Sir Robert Vansittart, the permanent head of the Foreign Office.

Voluble, intense and fiercely determined, Monnet was nothing if not persuasive. His business past was decidedly murky – he had been investigated for tax evasion in America, and was even suspected by the FBI of laundering money for the Nazis – but he had a supreme talent for making influential friends and then persuading them to do his bidding.

Covered by the cloak of military necessity, his plan for Britain and France to merge was so brilliantly timed that it came tantalisingly close to fruition, around half a century before the spectre of a common currency and political dissolution would return to haunt British politics.

But the true measure of Monnet’s manipulative skills is that the plan’s eventual rejection was merely a temporary setback. His response was to bide his time, await the end of the war and pursue the same objective by other means, with phenomenal success.

As we will see, Monnet’s stealthy and surreptitious influence was at work at all the key moments in the early life of what is now the EU. The process he began has culminated in the new constitution being discussed by the EU’s members, intended to bind them irrevocably together.

If that constitution is approved, hundreds of millions of people will be ruled by one labyrinthine government, like nothing the world has seen before. It is a system so complex that few have any comprehensive knowledge of how it actually works, how it evolved or how it dominates their lives.

But then, it was a cardinal principle for Monnet and the other founders of the European project that its real nature and purpose should not be brought too obviously out into the open. The techniques Monnet laid down were secrecy and deception. Schooled by his early setbacks, he knew that he would never achieve his goal if he dared to be explicit; instead he would proceed crabwise, step by step, over many years, seizing opportunities as they arose and twisting them to his ends. What he eventually pulled off amounted to a slow-motion coup d’etat – the most spectacular coup d’etat in history.

ONE of the great myths of the European project is that it first emerged from the years after 1945. This enables its supporters to pretend it is a shiny, new creation of the modern post-war world. In reality, as we have already begun to see, it is a failed dream that dates back to the 1920s ? making it every bit as modern and progressive as flappers, the Charleston and the Model T Ford.

It was in those Jazz Age days that Monnet first began to develop his ‘supranationalist’ ideas, aided and abetted by a now-forgotten British civil servant named Arthur Salter, with whom he worked closely. Salter was obsessed by the dream of European unity, and wrote a series of essays and papers calling for a common political authority that would reduce national governments to the same status as local authorities. He wanted it to be run by a ‘Secretariat’ of international bureaucrats, loyal to the new organisation and not to the member countries. This was a blueprint for today’s European Commission – set out by one of Britain’s own officials more than 70 years ago.

Other utopians of the same era were equally besotted by dreams of international unity, but what marked out Monnet and Salter was their absolute conviction that Europe needed far more than co-operation between independent states. Indeed, the path of ‘inter-governmentalism’ – voluntary co-operation between separate nations who retained their own freedom – was anathe
ma to Monnet from the start.

Monnet called the very idea ‘poison’ and ‘pollution’, and saw this rival form of international action as his greatest enemy – far more so, in fact, than nationalism itself. Part of Monnet’s genius lay in his extraordinary ability, operating out of the public eye, to get other people to promote his ideas. But the other part was his realisation that he was never going to get his way if he went for it directly and all at once. He knew instinctively that he would have to hide the real nature of his goal behind the pretence that it was something less extreme.

There is no more glaring instance of this than the story of how the project was eventually launched in the early 1950s, when six countries – Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg – were persuaded to place their coal and steel industries under the direction of one central authority. The scheme was presented as a way of fostering peace in the fragile post-war world. Since coal and steel were the industries on which modern warfare depended, so the argument ran, it was surely only sensible to remove them from the clutches of individual nations.

All this was promoted as the personal vision of Robert Schuman, France’s foreign minister. European enthusiasts have long bemoaned Britain’s failure to support the so-called Schuman Plan as our ‘worst mistake of the post-war period’. By standing aloof from the negotiations, we supposedly missed the chance to exert our influence on European integration from the start. But the truth is startlingly different – indeed, every aspect of this ‘official’ story is false.

Although Schuman was the public advocate for the plan, in reality it was all the work of our old friend Monsieur Monnet. He had first outlined it to a colleague in 1941, the year after his Franco-British Union was rebuffed. He gave his proposals to Schuman, knowing he needed to resolve a dispute with Germany over the iron and steel heartland of the Ruhr, then used him as little more than a ventriloquist’s dummy to mouth his own ideas. All the time, he tried to hide his true objective – which, as early drafts of his plans made clear, was to use the scheme as ‘the first step of a Franco-German Union’, on the same lines he had proposed for France and Britain in 1940. This, in turn, was to be part of a wider European federation. No wonder Monnet referred to his work as a ‘silent revolution’.

He had just one worry. The whole scheme hinged on power over coal and steel being handed to a separate ‘supranational’ authority, completely free from the control of member states, which could then be the embryo of a future federal government.

Monnet realised that Britain, then Europe’s most powerful nation, would never agree to such an idea, since it would entail losing control over more than a million workers in newly nationalised industries. He feared that British ministers would demand changes to put national governments back in the driving seat – torpedoing Monnet’s secret federal agenda.

The Frenchman’s answer was simple – he made acceptance of the ‘supranational’ principle a non-negotiable condition for entry into the talks. He then set a ridiculously short deadline for Britain to agree. In other words, far from Britain casually snubbing these crucial discussions and giving up the chance to influence them, Monnet had deliberately excluded us – precisely to avoid our influence being exerted.

Yet it is the fiction of ‘aloofness’ and ‘failure to participate’ that has come to dominate the mythology surrounding Britain’s involvement with the European project. It rests on a determination to portray the founders of the project as reasonable and open to ideas, whereas the British must invariably be shown as obdurate and lacking in vision. The central, implicit vision behind this version of history is: Europeans – positive, forward-looking, good; British – negative, backward-looking, bad.

MONNET was so inflated by his success with the Coal and Steel Community that he made a rare misjudgment. He rashly floated plans for a matching European Defence Community with its own army. Again, he made sure to find a front-man – in this case, the French Prime Minister Rene Pleven, an old business chum. Although the defence scheme was entirely Monnet’s own, it was accordingly known as the Pleven Plan, just like the Schuman Plan before it. Despite such subterfuge, the move was too much too soon. The nations of Europe, still living in the shadow of World War II, were not yet ready to hand over their soldiers to some higher authority.

Vehement opposition from his compatriot de Gaulle brought Monnet’s proposals crashing down, together with a separate scheme for a European Political Community, designed to act as a ‘common roof’ over everything else. The effect of this humiliation on Monnet was profound. Recognising his mistake, he vowed never to risk a similar defeat.

From this point on, the European project went underground. Monnet ensured that the words ‘federal’ and ‘supranational’ were used as rarely as possible; his ultimate goal would be left carefully undefined to avoid arousing opposition. Instead, he adopted what became known as ‘the Monnet method’, a steady, relentless but deliberately low-key drive to extend the powers of the European bureaucracy without anyone actually noticing. Each new advance would merely be a means of gearing up for the next. Each new addition to the bureaucracy’s area of competence might begin with a small, innocuous-seeming proposal to which no one could object, until the principle was conceded and the powers could be progressively enlarged.

Crucially, setting aside the sensitive topics of defence and ‘political’ union, Monnet now reverted to his earlier strategy of securing integration through the economy. The Treaty of Rome in 1957, setting up the so-called European Economic Community, was his next great leap forward. Again, Monnet used a front-man to preside over the negotiations – Belgian politician Paul Henri-Spaak, one of his closest allies, who ensured that all mentions of political union were suppressed, selling the treaty to the world as no more than a deal to promote trade and prosperity.

Monnet was careful to remain in the background, rather than provoke his enemies, but there was no doubt that the deal was his brainchild. Spaak sent him a draft of a crucial early memorandum with the words: ‘Ici votre bebe’ – ‘Here’s your baby’.

Britain took no part in the talks and did not sign up to the Rome treaty. According to European enthusiasts, this was another occasion in which we missed an historic opportunity to become involved and shape the project to reflect our own interests. But as before, this stands the truth on its head. Our post-war record in promoting European co-operation was in fact second to none – but we had always chosen the inter-governmental route, through organisations such as Nato, which Monnet abhorred.

His masterstroke now was to ensure that membership of the new EEC was conditional on joining another of his proxy creations, Euratom, which was to take control and ownership of all Europe’s nuclear materials. At the time, Britain was the only European power to possess nuclear weapons. Monnet knew that she could never submit to Euratom’s rules, thus ruling her out of the EEC as well. It was an action replay of the coal and steel fiasco. Far from Britain standing aloof, Jean Monnet had again slammed the door in our face.

EVENTUALLY, with our national self-confidence shattered by the Suez debacle and years of economic decline, Britain returned to the EEC’s door, pleading to be admitted. And astonishingly, the man who helped clear the way was the very same man who had sent us packing in the first place – the ubiquitous and scheming Monsieur Monnet. This was perhaps his most audacious piece of plotting of all. His sudden desire to secure his old enemy’s entry arose from the need to find a counterweight to France’s President de Gaulle, whose ruthless pursuit of national self-interest was threatening to wreck Monnet’s federal dream. Reluctantly, Monnet decided that Britain’s presence w
ould keep de Gaulle in check. But he was determined to ensure that we entered the European club on his own terms.

His front-man for this mission was the American George Ball, one of President Kennedy’s most trusted advisers and another of Monnet’s many friends in high places. Monnet visited the United States twice in the early months of 1961 to brief Ball on the favour he needed. It was granted when the Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan visited Washington for a summit in April that year. Macmillan had barely sat down for his first discussions with Kennedy when he asked how America – Britain’s closest ally – would react if he applied to join the EEC.

Kennedy passed the question over to Ball, who made it clear that the White House would only support the application if Britain accepted the Common Market’s true goal was political integration.

‘I elaborated on this theme at some length, noting the dangers of a mere commercial arrangement that would drain the EEC of political content,’ Ball later revealed. ‘The Prime Minister seemed on the whole pleased and satisfied.’

It is important to realise the significance of this moment. As Cabinet papers from the time confirm, it meant that Macmillan and his ministers – including the future Premier, Edward Heath – were fully aware of the wider political implications of EEC membership.

Indeed, Ball could not have been clearer. In his own words, he explicitly warned his British guest ‘that the Rome treaty was not merely a static document but a process leading towards political unification’. Even though he was acting by proxy, as usual, this was a daring move by Monnet – one of the rare occasions in which he allowed his true objectives to be revealed. But he knew that Macmillan and Heath would not dare reveal the truth to the British people.

Instead, for what they called ‘presentational’ reasons, they persisted in the fiction that the Comon Market was essentially only an economic pact, concerned with trade and jobs. Similarly, they played down the hugely damaging consequences for the Commonwealth of their decision to join an inward-looking, protectionist bloc, membership of which would force Britain to turn her back on her main trading partners. This was deliberate deception. Monnet had succeeded in infecting Britain with his own brand of devious, dishonest politics – with consequences that are still being felt.

IN the following years, Britain was twice humiliated by President de Gaulle vetoing our EEC application, before it was finally accepted once he had departed from the scene.

To this day, de Gaulle’s veto is routinely portrayed as a reflection of his arrogant personality and disdain for the English. In fact, it was hard-headed self-interest. De Gaulle was determined to delay Britain’s entry until after agreement on the now notorious Common Agricultural Policy, which he carefully designed to heap extravagant subsidies on France’s peasant farmers.

Once this was in place, the truth is that he positively desired British entry – since Britain, as a large importer of food, would pick up a huge part of the CAP bill (paid through import tariffs) while also buying vast quantities of subsidised produce from France. It was, put simply, a stitch-up – and another legacy of Jean Monnet, who had established the underlying principle that any new member of the EEC had to accept all the laws the existing members had agreed.

This fundamental rule, which remains widely misunderstood, ensured that Edward Heath’s so-called ‘negotiations’ over British entry were no more than a prolonged act of surrender. The very best he could obtain were just temporary exemptions from particularly unwelcome laws, delaying rather than avoiding their implementation. In reality, as the civil servant leading Britain’s negotiating team admitted, Heath’s policy was to ‘swallow it whole and swallow it now’.

This proved especially disastrous after the existing members suddenly agreed the principle of equal access to ‘Community’ fishing waters, only hours before Britain formally lodged its membership application. It was the start of a process that would lead to the eventual destruction of our fishing industry, as foreign boats invaded our traditional fishing grounds. But thanks to Monnet’s rules, since it was agreed before we joined, there was no way we could opt out.

A civil service memorandum reveals that Heath’s team was aware of these dangers but believed they could not afford to waste their ‘limited negotiating capital’ in resisting. Their chosen policy was to avoid the subject of Britain’s fisheries as much as possible, and secretly accept ‘that in the wider context they must be regarded as expendable’.

It is no coincidence that Heath himself – a passionate supporter of the European project, who had negotiated Britain’s first unsuccessful application for admission in 1961 – regarded Jean Monnet as a friend and mentor. His handling of this whole affair showed how much he had learned from the older man about the art of dissembling. In particular, he persistently misrepresented EEC membership as a mere trading issue when he knew that plans were already afoot in Brussels for Monnet’s dream of full monetary and political union.

These plans had been the subject of an urgent report to him by the Foreign Office, warning that they ‘could imply the ultimate creation of a European federal state’. The report stressed that such a policy would be ‘irreversible’ and that its huge implications ‘must be accepted from the outset’. But Heath didn’t merely know of these plans – he was actively supporting them. In private discussions with de Gaulle’s successor, President Pompidou, he blithely affirmed Britain’s readiness ‘to participate fully and in a European spirit’ in progress towards monetary union.

The fact that very few people in Britain knew what he was up to was apparently an irrelevance. Absurdly, in a White Paper presented to Parliament, Heath promised that joining the Community would involve no surrender of ‘essential sovereignty’. It was a direct untruth – the Foreign Office papers had clearly set out the extent to which Britain was about to surrender its powers of self-government. But none of this was admitted at the time. One internal memorandum even justified the concealment by suggesting that the British people would not notice what was happening until the end of the century, by which time the process would be beyond recall.

When the House of Commons finally approved the terms of entry on October 28, 1972, Jean Monnet was there to watch the vote from the public gallery. The country he had once seen as his most dangerous foe had now committed itself to his secret federalist vision.

He lived seven more years and reached the age of 90, glorying in the title of the first ‘Citizen of Europe’. Yet just before his death, he apparently came ‘to question his life’s work’ and to wonder whether the Europe he had created was ‘too narrow for a changing world’. Sadly, it was rather too late for second thoughts. By trickery and deceit, Monnet had lured Britain and her European neighbours into his private fantasy one of the greatest collective acts of make-believe of the 20th century, fit to rank alongside the self-deceiving dreams of Communism. As we will reveal in Monday’s Daily Mail, the price we are paying for his catastrophic folly is higher than almost anyone has begun to imagine.

Extracted from The Great Deception: A Secret History of the European Union by Christopher Booker and Richard North. Published by Continuum Books.

First published in the Daily Mail, 8 November 2003.