What Did Churchill Mean by “A United States of Europe”?

January 2, 2014

This post is a response from Executive Director Dr. Rob Havers to a recent article from The Telegraph.


We at the National Churchill Museum, obviously, live daily with the implications of what Winston Churchill said in his prophetic ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in March 1946. The Fulton speech, however, was not the only substantial pronouncement Churchill made that year. In September of 1946, Churchill delivered an address in Zurich, Switzerland once again at an institution of higher learning. On this occasion he spoke at the University of Zurich and, just as he had in Fulton some seven months before, he delivered a message of great political significance.There in Switzerland, Churchill advocated for ‘a kind of United States of Europe’ and that reconciliation and a partnership between France and Germany was crucial to this notion.  What Churchill actually meant by this pronouncement has been argued over, endlessly.  Churchill of course is well known for his foresight on many issues but often that wisdom can be miss-construed in the contemporary world. Certainly, when Churchill talked of an ‘iron curtain’ bisecting the continent of Europe the Berlin wall was nearly twenty years in the future and even the division of Germany itself was some three years ahead.  So when Churchill called for a United States of Europe he did so without a firm idea of what that might look like and, far more saliently as far as the contemporary world is concerned, nor did he specify exactly what the role of the United Kingdom would be, if any, in that unity. Churchill of course was never beyond advocating what others should be doing or indeed what they should be thinking about doing: this was one of his most substantial gifts, his ability to help others to think about that needed to be done even if his own room for maneuver was somewhat more limited as indeed it was in 1946 as leader of His Majesty’s Opposition. The British Commonwealth of Nations, and Britain’s relationship to it, was foremost in Churchill’s mind then as was the United States so we should treat with caution contemporary claims about  following Churchill’s lead, as should David Cameron. The real lessons to be learned can only be arrived at a far closer examination of what Churchill said and by following his admonition to ‘study history’*.

-Dr. Rob Havers, Executive Director

What do you think about Churchill’s vision of a United States of Europe? Tell us in the comments below or on Twitter @churchillmuseum!

*”Study history, study history. In history lie all the secrets of statecraft.” – Winston Churchill, May 27, 1953

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