The European Community is a phoenix which emerged from the ashes of two world wars.
The statesmen of the years after 1945 were determined that the great economic resources of the continent, especially the coal and steel of the Rhineland, should be used to unite Europeans, and not divide them. They also sought to restore European morale when the whole continent seemed to be a charred battlefield; and they were resolved to create friendship between the warring nations of 1914 and 1945.
The consequence was first the European coal and steel community and then the European Community, at first composed of six nations, and since 1973 of nine. This latter Community was founded on the belief that a large market in which capital, goods and labour could be freely exchanged between the European peoples would result in greater prosperity and hence ensure greater real liberty. That belief was well based as events have shown.
The peoples of Western Europe since the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957 have almost eradicated poverty. Liberty is more firmly established in Western Europe than ever before. The idea of war between the peoples of Western Europe is, for the first time since the collapse of the Roman Empire, unthinkable.
Now we in the Conservative Party deliberated seriously before we decided to recommend a British application for membership of this league of free nations. We were conscious of our ties with the the United States and with the nations of the Commonwealth. [end p19]
Still a Conservative Government made the decision to apply to join the Community in 1961 and despite some set backs, kept to it. Our persistence was rewarded when in the early 1970's, another Conservative Government was able to carry through a successful negotiation with the Community. Now that we are again in Office, we shall work for a full and competitive free market within the whole of Western Europe in the knowledge that a vigorous free economy is the only sound base for political liberty.
As I said last Saturday, in Birmingham, the institutions of the Community must not be allowed “to dwindle into bureaucracy” . We must ensure that those institutions concentrate on major matters which the separate nations cannot manage for themselves rather than insist on hair-splitting interventions on minor matters. We shall, of course, also be facing the intricate problems posed by Britain's exceptionally high contribution to the Community's Budget and by the Common Agricultural Policy.
From Thursday onwards the Community will be served by a directly elected Parliament. The very fact of holding an international election in nine countries on the same day, with 180 million electors, is, of course, a great filip to the idea of democracy. Free Europe has thus again shown that it is capable of innovation and that, far from being in decline, its democratic faith has been patently reconfirmed. When, I wonder, will the communist peoples of Eastern Europe linked together in the pale shadow of our Community known as COMECON be able to boast of similar free elections? [end p20] We are determined that as many Conservatives as possible should be returned to this new European Parliament. Firstly, because we know that our philosophy of freedom under the law is the right one for Europe as for our own Country. But secondly, because we believe that, in the resolution of the intricate problems I have mentioned, Britain needs representatives whose European credentials are unquestioned, deriving from a party with what are by now many years of commitment to the European Ideal.
For, in contrast to our steadfast support of the European ideal, once we made up our mind on the question, the Labour Party wavered backwards and forwards in its attitude to the matter. Its policy has always been determined by what has seemed the short-term popularity of whatever course they have adopted. In repeating now once again these pitiful haverings, they seem not to know how bitterly disappointing their behaviour has been even to their own socialist colleagues in Europe.
There is, of course, some variation among the friends of the European Community about the long term aims of the so-called European Union. The liberals, for example, have proclaimed themselves in favour of a fully fledged federal union. We, in our party, believe that such a new super-state would be in the interests of neither ourselves nor our partners. For one thing, a federal state would so easily lead to the handing over of decision-making to an international bureaucracy which could hardly fail to be unpopular. The European idea would thus be damaged rather than served. We shall continue, therefore, to see the Community as a group of nations linked together for the pursuit of prosperity and the defence of freedom [end p21] in a league, one of whose essential functions is to preserve the traditions and the independent heritage of each separate state.
Europe has been intellectually and culturally interdependent for many generations. British poets for example have been inspired by visions of Europe as much as continental statesmen have been inspired by British ideas of liberty and constitutional rule and we continue to have much to learn from each other. Let us ensure that, on this first European election day, on Thursday, we elect representatives who are worthy of their historic opportunity.