Otherwise known as Victory in Europe Day – VE Day – the day that marked the end of six years of misery, suffering, death, destruction, courage and endurance, today marks the 73rd anniversary of the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Germany to the Allied Forces on May 8th 1945.
Those born since the date and that include myself have known nothing other than peace, stability and for the most part, harmony in Europe throughout our lives. For that we thank not only far sighted individuals such as the French politicians, Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman and also Winston Churchill who had initially embraced the idea of forming a Franco-British union put to him by Monnet in 1940 following the collapse of France in WW2, but also of course, NATO.
Out of the abyss of WW2 would in April 1949 come the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – NATO – an alliance whose massive and continuing contribution to peace and stability is something that all of us living in Europe should never under estimate or allow to be weakened by the political desire of others.
But while we should in my view hold NATO as being the principle reason that peace, stability and harmony has been maintained in Europe and of how each of the now 29 member states knows that through Article 5 of the NATO Charter those that would threaten any single member state will have the whole NATO membership bearing heavily down on them I also believe that we must also recognise the role that the European Union has played in ensuring that internally at least, Europe has now enjoyed 73 years of peace.
After the Liberation of France Jean Monnet headed a government committee to prepare a comprehensive plan for the reconstruction and modernization of the French economy. On Jan. 11, 1947, the Monnet Plan was adopted by the French government, and Monnet himself was appointed commissioner-general of the National Planning Board. In May 1950 he and Robert Schuman, then the French foreign minister, proposed the establishment of a common European market for coal and steel by countries willing to delegate their powers over these industries to an independent authority. Six countries—France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg who signed the treaty in 1951 that set up the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). From 1952 to 1955 Monnet served as the first president of the ECSC’s High Authority. The ECSC inspired the creation of the European Economic Community or Common Market, in 1957.
Today as Britain prepares to leave the EU, a situation that deep down I personally regret, I cannot hide my feelings of deep regret either that, 73 years on since the end of WW2, the vital role and the very heavy price in lives paid by Britain in ridding so many nation sates in Continental Europe of the Nazi tyranny seems sometimes to have been all but forgotten in the diplomatic hysteria that is Brexit.
Britain may be an island race and sometimes somewhat aloof from our Continental European cousins but no matter what happens in the post Brexit world we must seek to strengthen the Alliance and the bonds that hold us together. Never again should one European nation be allowed to dominate over others.
Whilst our leaning in Britain today will, because of both history and language, continue to be determined towards America those who, because we in here in Britain have decided for whatever reason that we no longer desire to be part of what we fear is developing into a political and economic union of Europe – something that neither Monnet and Schumann never desired it to become – should remember what we in Britain did during WW2 and of all those of our forebears who fought and gave their lives so that those nations in Continental Europe that had been oppressed by the Nazi tyranny could once again live in freedom and peace.
While Winston Churchill would walk away from his 1946 call for a United States of Europe Jean Monnet organised the Action Committee for the United States of Europe in 1955 and served as its president until 1976. The aftermath of WW2 and particularly when France was in dispute with both Britain and the US and who had both sought after a period to begin to remove post-war restraints that prevented Germany from rebuilding and playing the role it needed to do in strengthening its economy did much to damage the trust that we would have needed to see established if we were going to ever play a larger part in Europe. That wasn’t to be until many years later and France’s later opposition to Britain joining the Common Market remains, just as Roosevelt’s mistrust of France continues to lesser extent today, a cause of huge distrust between two otherwise important allies.
Never forget that whether we are in or out of the European Union Britain will continue to need France, Germany and all the other main European powers just as they will continue to need us. If World War 2 taught us anything it was as I said above that no single nation in Europe would or should ever again be allowed to dominate.
I hope at least that today in the corridors of power in Brussels some of those who are quick to criticise Britain and who would wish to see us down and weakened through the current Brexit negotiations and of course, more so in the post Brexit world might stop a while and remember what we in Britain together with our allies did for them during WW2 so that they can today live in freedom and in peace.
CHW (London –8th May 2018)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785