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Response to Review no. 3

I am grateful for the generous and appreciative words that Professor Griffiths writes about my book or, at least, its final two-thirds. But, inevitably, this response must be concerned with his criticisms.

I can understand why Professor Griffiths prefers the excitement of the chase, in the final two-thirds of the book, to the marshalling of the forces in the first 110 pages. I confess, nevertheless, to being bewildered by the discovery that I have not m ade clear to him what I thought to be perfectly clear, why, that is, I have focused on particular topics in providing what Professor Griffiths describes as ‘the necessary context’. In my defence, I list the principal contents of this first part of the bo ok:

  1. There is a description of the Schuman announcement of 9 May 1950 and an analysis of its contents.
  2. There is an outline of Franco-British relations in the period 1945-50 which argues that, given Britain’s repeated rebuffs to a variety of French approaches, it was unremarkable that France did not consult Britain before the Schuman announcement.
  3. I argue that the British Government should not have been so taken aback by the announcement of the 9 May 1950. The only surprising element in the Schuman Plan was the ‘sovereign’ High Authority. In other respects the Plan was the culmination of a l ong public debate on how to give France permanent reassurance that the Ruhr resources would never again be used for aggression.
  4. There is a survey of Britain’s main post-war concerns in the fields both of security and economic recovery. The survey shows how these led to a policy based on close relations with the USA and the Commonwealth and the rejection of economic integrat ion with Western Europe. This survey provides the basis for my contention that there was no major conflict between Britain’s view of itself as the centre of the Commonwealth, the banker of the sterling area and the closest partner of the USA on the one h and and its participation in the Schuman Plan on the other. All the facts that Professor Griffiths adduces to contest some of my conclusions will be found in this section of the book.
  5. I explain that Britain’s desire for partnership with the USA was mixed with apprehension at some American policies. The premature pressure for sterling convertibility and non-discrimination in trade, the attack on the sterling area and the naive cam paign for European federalism, led Bevin to see the Schuman Plan as just one more American device to secure control over British policy in areas where British interests conflicted with those of the USA. Bevin’s unused draft paragraph (p. 108) for the Lab our Party statement European Unity, derived from the Ernest Davies Papers and, so far as I am aware, never published before, is of great significance.

All this is necessary to a proper appreciation of the British reaction to the Schuman Plan.

Professor Griffiths criticises me for not undertaking a thorough analysis of the British coal and steel industries. He feels that thereby I leave their reaction to the Schuman Plan unexplained. I fear that here Professor Griffiths falls into the same trap that entombed British policy in 1950, the trap of believing that the Schuman Plan had to be considered primarily in the light of its economic effects. The principal motivation for the Schuman Plan was political, reconciliation between France and Ge rmany. Britain had a major interest in ensuring that Schuman’s gesture towards Germany succeeded in achieving that reconciliation. It was an interest far exceeding in importance any economic consequences for the British coal and steel industries, or for British economic planning such as it was. In fact as the Schuman Plan passed through the process of negotiation into the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, any risk of adverse consequences for British interests was removed. Profess or Griffiths accepts that these negotiations ‘changed Monnet’s proposals out of all recognition.’ That change was accomplished, despite Britain’s absence, by the opposition to many of Monnet’s ideas both in the Benelux countries and within the French Cab inet. The Treaty of Paris should have been perfectly acceptable both to the British government and to the two British industries. I can add that, though Professor Griffiths is dissatisfied with the thoroughness of my analysis at this point, anyone who w ishes to understand the reaction of these two British industries to the Schuman Plan will find the explanation in my pages.

Professor Griffiths lists my conclusions and appears to agree with the majority of them. I therefore comment here only on those where we differ. He argues that I am wrong in asserting that the British government was unprepared for the Schuman Plan an d that as a result of that unpreparedness alternative policy opportunities were missed. He seems to think that I have overlooked the decisions of the British government, taken in January 1949, to the effect that, to quote Professor Griffiths’ paraphrase, ‘Britain’s ability to fight another war should not be impeded by damage to its economic structure through undue dependence on Europe’. I have not overlooked the decisions of January 1949. Professor Griffiths has obviously missed what I say on p. 68 and misread what I say on p. 70. There the decisions that he describes are clearly set out in the actual words of the Bridges Committee.

Because there was a policy on European integration, Professor Griffiths claims that what I describe was ‘not a botched effort at policy-making but a botched effort at finding the right tactics’. I can agree with Professor Griffiths on one aspect of hi s argument. The tactics were botched. They were not merely botched, they were dishonest. There was an attempt to persuade Britain, Europe, and the USA that participation in the Schuman Plan was being seriously considered in London when nothing o f the sort was happening. In this deception, the British government did not succeed except with most of the British press. It was perfectly clear to other observers, including the US Administration, that the UK’s protestations that it had nothing in principle against supranationalism were totally insincere. But I think Professor Griffiths takes his distinction between botched policy-making and botched tactics a little far. The failure to subject a major new policy initiative from France to rather more perce ptive policy analysis cannot be excused on the grounds that there was already a British policy on European integration. Perceptive policy analysis, plus an appreciation of the policy opportunities that would be opened up in negotiations on the Schuman Pl an, might just have revealed even to the Attlee Cabinet that, as Professor Griffiths agrees, there was no incompatibility with Britain’s global role.

Professor Griffiths believes that it was because what was at stake was tactics rather than policy that there was so little intervention by Cabinet members. He is also wrong in this. The Cabinet cannot be excused in this way. Bevin knew that he had b een outmanoeuvred and had lost the initiative on European policy and he did not know what to do about it. He was seriously ill. He lacked the intellectual energy to formulate a reaction to the French initiative which would recover for Britain some of th e ground it had lost, and his officials gave him no help. During a whole week while Schuman was in London there was no substantive discussion of the Plan between the two Foreign Ministers. This was a policy failure not just botched tactics. Bevin’s fu ry at the Schuman announcement was not tactical but genuine. He knew that there had been a policy failure and that the failure was his. Incidentally, if Professor Griffiths thinks that resentment at France’s lack of consultation was not an influence in shutting m inds in London to creative thinking about the Plan, he should look again at Bevin’s behaviour, not just his bitter attack on the French Foreign Minister on Schuman’s arrival in London but his reaction to the French ultimatum of 1 June.

Professor Griffiths does not agree with me that, in his words, the Schuman Plan could, and should, have been anticipated. His words are ambiguous. I am not sure whether he is quarrelling with my assertion that the Schuman Plan was not a bolt from the blue or with my claim that the British government could well, before 9 May 1950, have mounted a Bevin Plan for tackling the problem of the Ruhr. If he means the first, I have already dealt with the point. I take him to mean the second. My argument is simply this. Britain had a major interest in Franco-German reconciliation. It had a major interest but the government appeared to have no ideas. Bevin was for ever complaining that paper schemes would not bring about European unity and that what was ne eded was a practical basis of co-operation. The trouble was that he never suggested a practical basis for European co-operation outside the field of security. Once the Schuman Plan had been announced Whitehall developed a plan of its own. At that poi nt, of course, it no longer required imagination to see that the Ruhr represented a problem that had to be addressed in the interests of Franco-German reconciliation. With some additions such as alert politicians could have suggested, Whitehall’s plan wo uld have appeared a perfectly respectable response to the problem of the Ruhr if only it had been announced before the Schuman Plan. It found a role for, and proposed the creation of, an International Authority consisting of independent people which woul d report to an intergovernmental body consisting of Government representatives. As with the Schuman Plan, its remit would have covered the coal and steel industries of all countries that adhered to it. It would therefore have met the essential condition for German participation, that it did not discriminate against Germany.

If Whitehall was capable of elaborating such a plan in the aftermath of the Schuman announcement, there was no reason why, given a modicum of imagination and encouragement, it could not have succeeded in propounding such a plan before the Schuman annou ncement. By the end of June 1950, even Bevin was growing tetchy that British attitudes were always negative whereas on the continent ideas for European economic integration were sprouting like the flowers of spring. Berthoud reported (p. 259) that ‘the Secretary of State was beginning to think that it was time we took some initiative in the European economic field, or anyhow that we should not continue to be only destructive.’ This belated recognition by Bevin that something more was needed than sophis ticated demolition of everyone else’s ideas was, unfortunately, more than a year late. The blueprint that was elaborated in Whitehall after the Schuman announcement never saw the light of day because it was conceived in the expectation that the Schuman n egotiations would fail. They did not fail and the British alternative, to which far more consideration was given in London than ever the Schuman Plan received, lies in the PRO as a memorial to what might have been.

Professor Griffiths worries whether such a scheme would have given France the security against German misbehaviour that was achieved by the supranational ECSC. This is not a question that I have overlooked. I discuss it on pp. 227-29 of my book. It is questionable how far even supranational institutions can give security against the misbehaviour of national governments. But I accept that in this respect the ECSC was superior to a purely intergovernmental International Authority. This does not mean that a purely intergovernmental International Authority would not have had great attractions to France provided it had been advocated before the Schuman Plan. Its advantage would have been that it would have ensured the participation of the UK. At the time, while the UK still had the prestige that it was in the process of squandering, UK participation was considered highly desirable by our continental neighbours.

My book is the first detailed examination of the Attlee government’s refusal to participate in the Schuman Plan. I do not think I need to enter into controversy with Professor Griffiths on how novel my conclusions are. I say on p. viii that ‘I had ar rived at conclusions which conflicted with accepted wisdom’. (Professor Griffiths has misread this and attributes it to the wrong page.) I give many examples of this ‘accepted wisdom’. They include Lord Home who claimed that it was impossible for the UK to participate in the Schuman Plan because it would make of Britain just another country in Europe; Lord Plowden who asserts that there was no possibility of persuading the British people or any British government at that time to enter the ECSC; Ernest B evin, Lord Callaghan and Kenneth Younger who sensed that the French did not really want ‘us’; Sir Frank Roberts who removes all responsibility from Bevin’s shoulders by asserting that the important error in Britain’s European policy occurred not in 1950 b ut after the Messina Conference. To conclude these examples there is Lord Bullock who defends Bevin’s failure to participate in the Schuman Plan on the grounds that there were few people who believed that Britain should hand over control of the two indus tries to a supranational authority.

I argue against all these judgements. Most of them are based on misunderstanding of the Schuman Plan. At any rate I am glad to have Professor Griffiths’ agreement that domestic political circumstances in Britain did not rule out membership and that m embership was compatible with Britain’s global and Commonwealth role. This is the main argument of my book. Certainly it would have required some leadership from the government to convince the British public. But if the French, after years of occupatio n, could be persuaded to seek reconciliation with the Germans, a comparable political effort should not have been beyond the capability of a British Government that understood, as some of its advisers at the time did understand, the importance of the issu es at stake in 1950.

Professor Griffiths has criticisms of my ‘methodology’. He suggests that, for the position in the partner states, I rely unduly on the memoirs of Massigli and Monnet. This is not the case. I make perfectly clear that Massigli was not privy to his G overnment’s thinking. He was very annoyed that he was not in the decision-making loop. I use Massigli mainly as a commentator on the reactions of the British government and as an example of how an Ambassador can actually damage the cause he wishes to pr omote, in this case British participation in the Schuman Plan negotiations, by being too understanding of the attitudes of the government to which he is accredited. Memoirs obviously have to be used with care where there is no independent confirmation, w hen their principal object is self-justification, and they rely simply on memory. But to the extent that Memoirs are founded on contemporary material they can be taken more seriously. Thus when I quote, from Monnet’s Memoirs, a formal statement made by Monnet at the Schuman Plan negotiating conference, I believe that my confidence in its authenticity is justified.

Professor Griffiths also criticises me because I have not read certain books or entered certain archives. I anticipated this criticism but made the judgement that nothing of significance would be added to an authoritative appreciation of the Britis h reaction to the Schuman Plan. I am delighted to find that Professor Griffiths, having entered the pro forma complaint, concedes that my judgement was in fact right. The British government was acting on the basis of what it knew at the time and I am judging the British government, not with hindsight, but on the basis of what it knew at the time. If, as Professor Griffiths suggests, my book is ‘good and useful’, and has the other attractive characteristics he reports, it would have been a pit y to delay publication indefinitely while I studied books and archives that would not have added significantly to my understanding of the British reaction to the Schuman Plan. Historians too must have regard to opportunity costs.