Foreign Policy in Europe

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th June 1947.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington 12:00 am, 19th June 1947

It is not part of my business to explain to hon. Gentlemen the mental processes by which they should arrive at these particular conclusions. If there is really anybody who thinks that the recent events in Hungary—the arrest of M. Kovac, the dismissal of the Prime Minister—were not particularly convenient for the Communist Party, he has a wonderful view of European affairs. If these things really took place despite the Kremlin, I should be indeed surprised.

Let me now turn to another aspect of the matter. I do not like to say these things, but I think it is our duty to say them. I, of course, have not the same responsibility as the right hon. Gentleman. In response to the interruption made just now, I say that I believe—this;is my forecast—that we now see in Hungary all the usual Communist preparations for rigged elections. I hope I may be proved wrong. If I am proved wrong, nobody will rejoice more than I shall. But the realities have to be faced, and I believe that in the long run we do not do any good to Anglo-Soviet relations if we pretend to accept replies which, in our heart of hearts, we find it impossible to believe. We have to face this fact, that ratification of the peace treaties with which the right hon. Gentleman struggled for so long a period, is taking place in conditions of considerable cynicism, and the concessions for which he fought hardest—and all honour to him for doing so—such as the human rights clauses, with their safeguards of such very simple things as the right of free speech, are being flouted in many lands before the ink on the document is dry.

Wherever we turn we see, too, delay in reaching vital agreements. Six months ago I was happy to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman—and rightly so—on the Trieste solution, yet what is happening there? Today there appears to be deadlock over the choice of governor. I must say—and I choose my words—that the effect of all this is, unhappily, to undermine confidence between the victors in the late war. That is deplorable, and there is no one in this Committee who does not regret it. But for those of us who do really want to see Anglo-American-Soviet friendship, it would be hypocritical to pretend that confidence is unshaken, or that good relations are unimpaired. I must add one personal word on this. I do not forget that a little more than 12 years ago I was the first British Minister to go to the Soviet Union after the revolution; I do not forget that in the war years I saw, as did some of my colleagues, the Russian battlefields. I know something of the terrible price Russia paid in life for the Allied victory, and there is in our minds always—and it is true today that there is still—an immense fund of good will in this country towards the Soviet Union, but that good will can now he evoked only on the basis of sincere partnership and mutual respect. There is really no other way.

If that was all I had to say to the Committee this afternoon, I should feel that the outlook would even justify Dr. Johnson's "inspissated gloom." Happily that is not so, and for a very few moments more I want to refer to Mr. Marshall's recent initiative. That momentous offer by the United States Secretary of State, made in his Harvard speech, has brought new hope to Europe and to the world. It is, indeed, a generous action, and one which deserves to rank with "the most unsordid act in history." The offer is not only important in so far as it affects the economies of both Europe and the United States; it is not merely that dollars may be made available to countries whose economies are now dying for lack of dollars or what dollars can buy, although that is important enough. This offer can mean much more than that. It can mean that European countries are going to be stimulated to agree upon common economic measures for their joint salvation. Such, indeed, is the first step towards that united Europe which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has so much at heart.

In the Foreign Affairs Debate in this Committee in November, 1945, I made a plea for a transformation of relations between nations, and for the consequent modification of some of our conceptions of sovereignty. Since then, I have on several occasions, both in this Committee and outside, urged the Government, so far as I could, to take steps to secure closer co-operation in economic matters with our Western neighbours, and particularly with France. All this is, of course, wholly compatible with the progressive development of trade which we all want to see, within the Empire, both with the Dominions and with the Colonies. If the Committee want all example of that they have only to look at what has been done, on a smaller scale, in this sphere in the Benelux Agreement between Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. By the end of this year, in spite of all the difficulties which had to be overcome—and they have been formidable—these countries will have established a complete customs union between them. I think that one of the results of that will be that this group of small countries will then become probably the third trading Power of the world; that is, with their overseas partners, of course. Admittedly, such negotiations take time, and I am not saying that here is a solution of Europe's difficulties, because time is just what we cannot afford. We, the countries of Europe, as I see it, have to meet an economic crisis which will reach its peak in the next 12 months —perhaps in the next six months.

Mr. Marshall, in putting forward this offer, has, quite rightly, made it clear that while the United States Government are prepared to help, it is for the European countries themselves to agree as to their requirements, and as to the part which they can and will play in making the best possible use of America's assistance. Mr. Marshall, I have no doubt, has memories—as have the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister—of the Combined Chiefs of Staff and the Combined Food Boards in Washington during the war. It would seem perhaps that, according to his experience then, he now wishes to know what Europe's requirements are. He will wish to satisfy himself, and the American people will wish to satisfy themselves, that those requirements have been properly examined, analysed and pruned, so that the American help, whether in dollars or in commodities, can be made available in the right place and in the proper quantity. There may be some hon. Members who say—and it has been said to me already by others not in this Committee—"But are you sure that our American, friends are really going to go through with this plan?" Well, I would reply, that the best contribution we can make to winning a favourable answer to that question is to prepare a plan with which they can go ahead.

I will mention one other aspect of this question which has to be remembered. The importance to a creditor nation, and especially a creditor nation on the scale of the United States, of restoring the prosperity of Europe hardly needs any argument. I think I am right in saying that last year the United States had a favourable balance of trade at the rate of more than 5,000 million dollars a year. I understand that that figure is now probably much larger. If the United States is to continue as a great exporting nation, then clearly it is of the first importance to her to try to build up European prosperity, and that cannot be done quickly. Perhaps it could never be done at all if the shortage—indeed, the famine—in dollars is not relieved.

So I come to put one or two questions to the right hon. Gentleman, and I leave it to him whether he feels he can answer now or on some later occasion. What organisation, what machinery, will have to be set up to enable Europe to put forward her requirements? Is it possible to adapt any existing machinery for this purpose? Can we make use, for instance, of the Economic Commission for Europe, or do we require some special organisation for this immediate purpose? On these points I am not prepared to be dogmatic, but I should think it likely that the urgency of the present task might well call for special handling. In any event, it is important, and I should have thought desirable, that the Economic Commission for Europe, set up by the United Nations, where decisions are taken by a majority vote, should be associated with this work in some way.

In my view it was correct that the right hon. Gentleman should make the first approach to our neighbour, France. Here, our relations are always close and intimate. At the same time, I was glad to note that he made a similar approach to the Soviet Union. In any plan, the needs of Germany must, of course, be taken into account, but whatever machinery may be employed, it is essential that the work shall be done with speed. We hope that all will join to help in this work, but if, unhappily, some countries should not wish to participate, it is still our duty to go on with those who will. I believe—and I say this in all sincerity to the right hon. Gentleman—that in this way we shall not only best serve those countries who do join, but also any countries, if there be any, who do not join, for by creating a prosperous and integrated association of countries in Europe, we shall provide not only a message of hope, but a magnetic attraction for all. In any event, the door will always be open, and if any will not come in now, they may do so later.

In convincing all concerned that the European system is strong, that it is not going to fall apart, lies the best argument against the continuation of the present deadlock in European political affairs. No one will seek to minimise the difficulties which confront the right hon. Gentleman in reaching agreement on these issues, but at the same time the opportunities are immense, and, indeed, unparalleled. We must not let them slip. We have, here in our hands, the possibility of creating a new era for our tortured Continent. Here is an absolutely free choice for East as well as for West. Here is that second chance that so rarely comes, and when it does come, has the nature of a miracle.