24 NOVEMBER 1939, Page 11



HE rapidity with which in recent weeks the idea of T federalism has been accepted as a desirable principle of the future peace settlement must necessarily be very gratifying to those of us who have long urged federation as the only ultimate solution of the international chaos. But at the same time it carries with it a certain danger. For in the absence of plans much more precise and practicable than any that have yet been put forward there is a real risk that the great body of enthusiasm which is being generated may be dissipated in vacuo. This is not the first time that the federal idea has been popular in Europe. If it is not once more to collapse amid the bitterness of disappointed hopes, it is necessary that it should be embodied in projects which satisfy our sense of political construction. Fortunately the events of the last few months, especially recent announce- ments regarding Anglo-French co-operation, offer strong hints of a way to satisfy this requirement. It is worth while attempting to unravel a few of their implications.

In all plans of international reconstruction two conditions are absolutely essential. Firstly, they must not depend upon collaboration which may not be forthcoming. Secondly, they must have some foundation in common tradition and common ways of living.

These tests afford some guide through the mazes of current discussion. The first, I think, warns us against too great a reliance upon the plan which has been so eloquently urged by Mr. Streit. Mr. Streit, it will be remembered, proposes a union of what may be called the Atlantic Demo- cracies, the U.S.A., the British Empire, France, and the other democracies of the Western fringe of Europe. There can be no doubt that this would be a most admirable com- bination. If Mr. Streit could persuade his fellow-country- men to take the step, it would be nearly the best of all possible federations. But it would be a great pity if our hopes were to depend upon such a consummation. For Mr. Streit may not be immediately successful ; and the plight of Europe is such that we cannot afford to wait until he is.

On the Adler hand, the second test must surely rule out, at any rate for the present, all schemes which involve the inclusion of Soviet Russia. If the Russians practised those civil liberties which we should regard as the basis of any desirable federation, and if the Russian electorate, which, on any democratic scheme, must outnumber the voters of the combined Western democracies, had anything like common ideals or even common standards of living and education with the rest of Europe, it would be different. Perhaps in days to come we may hope for such developments. But for the present it would be folly to deny that they are lacking. Any plan of European federation which ignores this must be doomed to disaster from the outset.

Much more practicable seems to be the idea of a federa- tion of Europe, excluding Russia ; and as an ideal to be aimed at in the not too far distant future, I think this should be kept continually in mind. For although there is no common European language, there is a common European culture ; and it is this culture which is most menaced by the inadequacy of present political arrange- ments. To most of us, what goes on in Russia, is a matter of general interest but not, as it were, of domestic concern. If Russia destroys the little liberty that ever existed within those sombre boundaries, we may lament the setback to general progress ; but we do not feel that European culture is seriously endangered. But, when the same thing happens in Germany, we feel that everything is at stake. A European federation which left out Germany and Italy would omit two of the chief fountainheads of the civilisa- tion which it was mainly designed to protect. There is enough common feeling and common tradition in Europe outside Russia eventually to form a manageable federal unit. What splendid towns, what lavish resources would form the material basis of the United States of Europe!

Nevertheless it may be some time before we are in a position to erect anything as comprehensive as this. We have not yet destroyed the tyranny which has enslaved the minds and the passions of our German fellow-citizens. There is no immediate disposition on the part of the European nations not engaged in the present conflict to contemplate more intimate union. Must our interest in federalism then be limited to support of the formal idea or to propaganda for a federation only to be realised in the most favourable conjuncture of circumstances at the end of a struggle of which as yet the outcome is not apparent?

I think not. On the contrary I think it is arguable that the developments of recent history have offered us an opportunity, here and now, for making a beginning on a smaller scale in circumstances which are uniquely favour- able. At the present moment French and British soldiers are fighting side by side under a common French command. British and French ships are together patrolling the high seas. The foreign policy of the two countries is co-ordinated ; and arrangements for most extensive co-operation in the economic sphere have now been inaugurated. We are already half way towards federation. Why should we not consolidate this position and develop it? Why should not the two Governments at once announce, and proceed to ratify by a solemn plebiscite, their deter- mination to establish a permanent political union for defence, foreign policy and certain economic and political functions (including colonial administration) better per- formed by the federation than by either of the separate States? The immediate change need involve formally little more than a change in the status of existing arrangements, although it would be a change immensely reinforcing their substantial effectiveness. The final settle- ment need involve no interference with the historic symbols which the two peoples are likely to cherish—the British Crown, the institutions of the Republic. There need be no fear that the federation would reduce the national parlia- ments to a position of insignificance ; only foreign policy, defence and certain obviously federal economic functions would be taken out of their hands. Nor need there be any insurmountable difficulty in regard to the British Empire. The Empire in trust would go into the common pool, albeit with safeguards of continuity of administration. The Dominions would naturally be at liberty, either to enter as full members of the federation, or to retain, via the British Crown, the same relations which obtain at present.

Such a step, taken now, would have a twofold advantage. It would create a most effective political entity. The unification of defence and foreign policy would be complete ; any disputes which might arise, would be internal disputes, not necessarily on national lines ; and they would have to be settled internally before external action was taken. The pooling of the financial burdens of defence would infinitely promote the sentiment of solidarity and the smooth working of technical co-operation ; while in the wider economic sphere the creation of the larger economic area which it would involve would not merely economise existing resources but would also facilitate the more effective utilisa- tion of resources in the future. Both for war and for peace, such a federation would be the most powerful unit in Europe.

But beyond that, and this is the second advantage of immediate action, it could be made the nucleus of any extension of the federal principle which might later be desirable. It is quite conceivable that, even during the war, there might be other Powers which would care to enjoy both the protection of its military might and the advantages of its extensive markets. And when the war is over, the broad articles of its constitution could afford a framework within which the German people might recover from their spiritual diseases and play, on equal terms with others who might come in, an honourable part in the reconstitution of Europe.

It is perhaps in this respect, as a solid basis for the pro- mulgation of peace aims, that the proposal has the greatest claim for immediate attention. The great problem of Allied propaganda is to reach the German people and to persuade them that any promise that is made to them will be kept. The formation of the beginnings of a European Federation now would surmount both these difficulties. Even the machinery of the Gestapo could not conceal an event of such historic importance. And if it were accompanied by a clear intimation that the federation was not a closed body but would be open to others on their acceptance of the fundamental principles of the constitution, then, for all those Germans who have not been completely depraved by the Nazis, the heart would have gone out of the fighting. The knowledge that, at any time, by overthrowing the regime and accepting the principles of a federal constitution designed to safeguard freedom, they could obtain not merely relief from the horrors and burdens of war, but the oppor- tunities of participation in the solid advantages of so incom- parably powerful a union, would be a disintegrating factor of decisive force. The war might be shortened by many months and the lives of perhaps millions of people be saved.

Here then is a policy in the service of which both the heads and the hearts of all who wish well to the federal idea can work harmoniously together. It is a policy which springs from the needs of the immediate moment and the tendencies of past history. At the least, it forms a stronger bastion for the defence of liberty in the West ; and it may well form the beginnings of a political structure which, after so many civil wars, may suitably enshrine the great traditions of civilised Europe.