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Dear Boris, Hitler and EU couldn’t be more different

by Victor Sebestyen | 15.05.2016

So the Brexiteers have disdained Project Fear. Hence, Boris Johnson’s claim in The Sunday Telegraph today that the EU has the same flawed ambition as  Adolf Hitler – to create a giant superstate under one authority. He goes on to invoke the spirit of Winston Churchill and calls on the British to play a “heroic” role once again and save Europe from its own errors by voting to leave the EU.

It is a view of history which ignores why the EU came into being, how it has operated over the last decades and what its principal goals are.

It is generous of Boris to concede that the Brussels Commission “is using different methods”  than the Nazis. But surely he can see a category difference, not merely a tactical one, between a single state attempting to build an empire through conquest, murdering countless  millions, and a group of sovereign states choosing to cooperate to avoid continuing  destructive conflict which all but destroyed their continent.

The Common Market, the European Community, the European Union – whatever it has been called over the decades – has never been a “superstate”. It has been, and still is a group of free and independent nations which have found ways of working together politically and economically. They have not been forced into an imperial union by a dictator – a Hitler, a Napoleon, or a Roman Caesar, as Boris would have us believe. They saw the tragedy of the first half of the 20th century and realised they would be stronger together than continuing  at each other’s throats.

There is no “superstate”. It was never the point of the European project, nor is it the goal now.  It is a profound misunderstanding – or a deliberate distortion – to suggest otherwise. Britain, in particular, with its various opt outs on a range of issues from social policy to the single currency to border controls, is clearly a sovereign nation still. Forty three years of membership has not prevented us from making the big decisions about how we run our country – it did not stop the Thatcher Revolution, which Boris reveres; it didn’t stop the partial reforms of the Blair years. We rule ourselves.

The principal  case of the Leavers, which Boris repeats several times today, is that the EU has been “a disaster”. This is the biggest myth of the Brexit campaign. By any standards, taken in a broad historical perspective, the EU has been a huge success.

This not to say it is a perfect Union. There have been mistakes and there is a lot that needs to change. But it has achieved the main things it set out to do after the catastrophe of two world wars. Europe has seen a longer period of stability, peace and prosperity than it has for centuries. The idea of the large countries in Western Europe going to war with each other again is unthinkable.  

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The creation of the EU has not been the only reason for this; but it has been one  essential part of the process. It has not come about by violence or the fiat of a dictator, but through the free choice of European people, in sovereign nation states. Often it happened through dull diplomatic compromises at boring meetings in Brussels, lacking any great drama – which is partly why we have taken it for granted and overlook the EU’s successes.

As a biographer of Churchill, Boris knows one can cherry pick Churchill quotes to prove  almost anything. Here is one Boris certainly has read, but curiously enough rarely makes use of. In September 1946, 15 months after Hitler’s defeat, he made a famous speech at the University of Zurich. With his usual eloquence, the former war leader, out of office, looks at  the state of Europe where “a quivering mass of human beings… gape at the ruins of their cities.” How could the continent recover? How could a repetition of the disaster that led to wars be prevented? It was to unify and work together. “There is a remedy which would… in a few years make all of Europe… free and happy… It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure in which it can dwell in peace, in safety, and in freedom.”

That  is what Europeans did –  directly as an answer to Hitler, not as Boris would like us to  believe, to recreate his vision.

Victor Sebestyen is the author of 1946: The Making of the modern world

Edited by Hugo Dixon

4 Responses to “Dear Boris, Hitler and EU couldn’t be more different”

  • It is tempting to call him an idiot or a buffoon but the truth is he is actually a very, very clever and extremely well educated. And this makes him dangerous.

  • I think Boris in his reference to Hitler was basing this upon the original documents that first conceived the EU – it was a German concept based upon Nazi ideology with the outline for the EU with Germany at the heart everything – much like we currently have – the original document is referenced here – http://homepage.ntlworld.com/lee.riley/Notices/EWG.pdf

    The introductory note includes this opinion – ‘essential to understanding the mindset behind the European Union and where the idea originated. It is the original blueprint for ‘the European Economic Community’ which would later become, as we know, theEuropean Union. Created as a series of seminars by the Third Reich’s Economic Minister and various advisors to Adolf Hitler so that in the event the Nazis should fall to the allies and lose the war, they could complete their plans covertly by subversion, treason and sedition from ‘within each government’

  • A few inaccuracies, Boris:

    “The House of Commons Library has repeatedly confirmed that when you add primary and secondary legislation together the EU is now generating 60% of the laws passing through parliament.”

    No. The Library says 13.2% of primary and secondary UK instruments passing through parliament are EU-related. The figure of 62% is reached by sweeping in all EU regulations – including those which do not pass through the UK parliament, and many of which do not apply in the UK.

    “We find ourselves hard pressed to recruit people who might work in our NHS, as opposed to make use of its services”

    Actually, 9% of NHS doctors are from other EU countries. Rather than putting “unfunded pressure” on the NHS, EU migrants pay more in taxes than they claim in welfare.

    “As far as I can see we still have not secured consent” to cut VAT on tampons

    Look no further, Boris: the agreement of all other 27 EU leaders is recorded here.

    “Our gross contributions to the EU budget are now running at about £20 bn a year … the net contribution is £10 bn”

    In 2015, we sent Brussels £12.9 billion, and the best figure for our net contribution is £6.3 billion. The Chair of the UK Statistics Authority described the £20 billion figure as “potentially misleading” and the Office for National Statistics has promised a further clarification on May 25 and May 26.

    “We are outvoted far more than any other country – 72 times in the last 20 years”

    Since 1999 we have been outvoted 56 times in the Council of the EU. But we have been on the winning side 2,466 times – a good score in any sport.