Commonwealth-of-NationsI have at last managed to read a fascinating article by Laura Kottos (University of Reading) in the Journal of Contemporary European Studies. The title of the article says it all: “A ‘European Commonwealth’: Britain, the European League for Economic Co-operation, and European Debates on Empire, 1947-1957.’ Put very briefly, in the immediate post-war period France and the UK reflected a great deal about the challenge of economic reconstruction against the backdrop of the economic protectionism of their colonies and former colonies, which benefitted from closed markets and preferential tariffs. This helped them, but not their mother economies. Belgium, on the other hand, did not have the same problem since, under the terms of the 1885 Berlin Treaty the Congo could not be protected by tariff walls. On the other hand, all three countries were united in their determination to re-launch their economies and in the belief that European integration was the best way to go about it. The first formal initiative came in early 1947 from the British (Labour) Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin. Space precludes me from entering into the details of the various plans considered and the movements involved (including Harold Macmillan, Peter Thorneycroft and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s father, Edmond). But they all coalesced around the idea of proceeding from a customs union to a European Commonwealth in which (in a not so well-hidden agenda) those preferential tariffs would be reduced and ultimately disappear. Because of its considerable colonial and post-colonial interests, the United Kingdom remained at the heart of the debate, but could not bring itself to take part in France’s more radical plans for a coal and steel community. As Kottos writes: ‘Paradoxically, on the eve of the Treaty of Rome, which Britain chose not to sign, France and Belgium were pursuing a European policy which had been largely shaped in 1952 within the Council of Europe for the British Commonwealth and by the British members of the European League for Economic Cooperation.’ This is the stuff of counter-factual history! Here’s a free idea to any budding science fiction writers out there; what if Western Europe had been dominated by a European Commonwealth in which France and the United Kingdom were the leading partners? In any case, Kottos is to be congratulated on an excellent piece of research based largely on primary materials. And then, as I was looking for an illustration for this post, I came across the following interview with former longstanding doyen of Brussels journalists, John Palmer, in which the idea of a European Commonwealth is revived.