2 JUNE 1961, Page 3


THE sudden surge of interest in Britain's future in Eurdpe is most welcome. There were gentle intimations of mounting enthusiasm for the cause of a united Europe in 1949, but they were crushed the following year by the intransigence of Ernest Bevin—his last effective deed as Foreign Secretary. Possibly his cynicism was justified, at the time; but he did worse than kill the Council of Europe—he left it alive and moribund; a bore. For the past decade there has been no subject, with the possible exception of NATO, better calculated to send readers hurry- ing to the next page.

Now, interest in the European case has re- vived; and for this the Prime Minister must be given most of the credit. In his recent references to the subject he has blown tepid, but prime ministerial statements do not need to be explicit to be significant; it is enough if they indicate impending change of mind--or even conflict of mind. In between the clichés of his speeches can be read the feeling that Britain's place in Europe is no longer, as it has been for so long, among the might-have-beens: not even among the might-bes. The questions now are How? and When?

T he current objection from the Right is that the Conservatives have no mandate to bring Britain into Europe. But British governments never have mandates for any decision; a general election is not a referendum. In any case, govern- ments do not exist simply to reflect the elec- torate's current desires. They may also have to adopt, and if necessary popularise, certain courses of action which may be unpalatable to their sup- porters, perhaps to the electorate as a whole. The most despised administrations, in retrospect, arc those which fail in this duty from a fear that resolution will lose them votes—the Conserva- tives in the Thirties being the stock example.

The present Government has such a duty. It knows that to safeguard her political and econo- mic future, Britain must sign the,Treaty of Rome. The indications are that a softening-up campaign to this end is in progress, designed to persuade the party dissidents of this need. But Mr. Macmillan, apparently, does not trust him- self, should the campaign fail, to go ahead and damn the consequences.

Why the alarm? One by one, all the argu- ments put up to frighten us away from the European community have been shown to be false or exaggerated. Within the last week some of the few remaining economic scarecrows have been stripped of their clothing: by Colin Clark's analysis of the effect of joining the Common Market on food prices here; and by PEP's revela- tion that food prices in any case play a much smaller part in industrial production costs than has usually been believed.

As for the Opposition's anti-European case, its weakness has been illuminated by Denis Healey's exposition of it in the Commons and in last Sunday's Observer. Stripped down to its essen- tials, new Healey turns out to be old Beaverbrook writ small. So far from 'losing direct access to Washington,' as he suggests, Britain's influence there as a member of the Community would be vastly greater than it is today. His fears about `the end of the Commonwealth as a political entity might be taken more seriously if the Com- monwealth were a political entity: it is not, and has not been for many years. And the belief that Britain can exert more influence in negotiations on disarmament and at the UN by going it alone is Little England revisited. If this is the best the anti-Europeans of the Left can do, they should bow out and leave the campaign to the Express.

One reasonable fear remains: that Britain, by joining too precipitately, may entangle herself in political promises which she cannot fulfil with- out doing violence to her commitments with the Seven and with the Commonwealth countries, particularly those just emerging into nationhood. It is this oddly neglected political aspect which Lord Altrincham discusses in his article this week. As he points out, even those who have been well disposed to the European idea have

not always bothered to think it through to its political conclusions. Those who are in favour of Britain casting in her lot with Europe are reluctant to admit it will mean abandoning the old British hostility to supra-national institu- tions—with all that this implies. Yet the answer remains the same; Britain must join, and obviously it is wise to join at the earliest oppor- tunity while the structure is still in the hands of 'the architects, the designers, and the interior decorators; for only by getting in can we have a say in what kind of structure is going to emerge. It is here that the essential flaw lies in the wait-and-see argument. True, Britain faces a risk by going in now; but it is a calculated risk. To stay out involves no risk at all; rather, the inevitability of gradual political and economic decline.

There is no reason to believe that Britain, as the price of her acceptance of the terms of the Treaty of Rome, will find herself (as Mr. Healey has suggested) of `no more influence than Cali- fornia or Quebec or Queensland.' That President de Gaulle can see his country's future lying within the Community is surely guarantee enough that there need be no fears on this score. It is also a guarantee that there will be plenty of scope for national influences within the Com- munity. The idea that the Six has already achieved the stability of a monolith is erroneous. The French have not been alone in demand- ing their own way in many matters: the Italians, too, have shown themselves quietly determined not to allow their rapidly expanding economy to be damped down by the caution of the other five. Individual organisations such as Fiat, as well as the State company ENI, have been making their presence felt as effectively, in some ways more effectively, than when they only had their own government to consider.

Britain can make her own needs felt in the same way; but only if she joins before the cement is set. Even as things are, difficulties are likely to arise from the French: President de Gaulle would not be sorry to see London Pride up- rooted. Yet we should seek membership without formal reservations: simply assuming that the Community will be as tender of our needs, susceptibilities and commitments as it has been of those of the founder members, the Six. The achievement of a united Europe will not be easy; but it can be much less difficult than has been thought—provided we go in now.