UK Politics

EU video cites Churchill's enthusiasm for European federalism

Sir Winston Churchill Image copyright PA
Image caption The former Conservative PM worked tirelessly to develop relations with both the US and Europe

Archive footage of Sir Winston Churchill has been chosen to open a video celebrating the EU's receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The video on the European Council's YouTube channel features Sir Winston declaring in 1946: "We must build a kind of United States of Europe."

In the speech, he also urged Europeans to "turn our backs upon the horrors of the past" and "look to the future".

But how he foresaw British relations with the union has long been debated.

The speech was delivered to the University of Zurich in the aftermath of the Second World War.

He told his audience: "We must re-create the European family in a regional structure called, it may be, the United States of Europe, and the first practical step will be to form a Council of Europe."

'English-speaking peoples'

The UK went on to become a founder member of the Council of Europe - an institution which pre-dates the European Union's predecessor bodies, and remains separate from it.

Sir Winston's pivotal contribution to political co-operation in Europe is recognised by the decision to name after him a prominent building belonging to the EU's Parliament in Strasbourg.

Visitors to the Churchill building are greeted by a life-size cardboard cut-out photograph of the former Conservative prime minister looming near to the main entrance.

But Sir Winston had also travelled to the US six months before his Zurich speech to extol the potential of "English-speaking peoples" to create lasting world peace.

"If the population of the English-speaking Commonwealth be added to that of the United States with all that such co-operation implies in the air, on the sea, all over the globe and in science and in industry, and in moral forces, there will be no quivering, precarious balance of power to offer its temptation to ambition or adventure," he told an audience of dignitaries in Fulton, Missouri.

Indeed, he returned to this theme in Zurich, declaring that the US, the UK, and the Commonwealth "must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live".


There was strong emphasis on the role of France and Germany in the putative union, even though Sir Winston thought this would "astonish" his audience in Zurich so soon after the defeat of wartime Germany.

So while the UK joined the Council of Europe as a founding member, it declined to sign up to the European Coal and Steel Community - the body that would evolve into the EU - in 1951.

"We are in Europe, but not of it," as Sir Winston summarised the UK's position. "We are interested and associated, but not absorbed."

Eurosceptic Conservative MP Bill Cash once rebuked a fellow MP for over-emphasising Sir Winston's pro-European tendencies.

It was a "disgrace that people should attempt to subvert his meaning" in the Zurich speech, said Mr Cash.

The European Council hopes that its video, which has had more than 7,000 views on YouTube, will help journalists report on the Nobel prize-giving ceremony due to take place in Olso on Monday.

Video footage of aerial bombing raids give way to pictures of post-war construction beneath the audio recording of Sir Winston.

While the former PM's commitment to peace and security in Europe is beyond any doubt, there is something incongruous about his inclusion in the video alongside statesmen associated with the European integration project like Robert Schuman, Paul-Henri Spaak and Jacques Delors.

They, after all, unambiguously wanted their states to be part of the project they advocated, rather than merely "friends and sponsors" of it.

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