Historical story

Everyone was genuinely pro-Europe

Last updated:2022-07-25

In stark contrast to what it is today, around 1950 the enthusiasm for European cooperation was overwhelming. All Dutch political parties saw some of their own ideological dreams reflected in the European project.

Elections to the European Parliament will be held on 22 May. Polls predict a low turnout and success for eurosceptic parties such as the PVV and the SP. The Dutch enthusiasm for Europe seems to be slowly but steadily declining. “The attitude of Dutch politicians towards Europe has changed considerably since the early years of the European project,” says historian Robin de Bruin of the University of Amsterdam.

“According to the PVV, Brussels is dirigist and wants to take away the freedom of the member states, according to the SP, Europe has been a neoliberal project since 1992,” said De Bruin. “Europe is above all very ambiguous; it's anything and everything at the same time. I find neoliberal a somewhat problematic term, but Europe has certainly always been a liberal economic project. But it also has features of dirigist state control. That is why Europe is now so easy to hijack by its political opponents.”

Future dreams

De Bruin's dissertation shows how different the attitude of Dutch politicians towards European integration was in the early years of European cooperation. "European integration was not just a form of foreign policy aimed at the Dutch national interest. Virtually every political party in Europe saw something of its own ideological liking, of its own vision of the future," he says. "European unification was associated by everyone. with prosperity, with rising wages and falling prices due to more production.”

“In addition, most politicians – including those who were critical of it, such as some post-war ministers – somehow saw European integration as a historical inevitability. The crisis of the 1930s and the ensuing Second World War were still very fresh in my mind. Far-reaching integration was seen as the only way to make Western Europe economically stronger and to protect it against communism.

According to De Bruin, the peace ideal and the economic ideal of Europe were closely linked. Deep integration was seen as the only way to make Western Europe economically stronger and to protect it from communism. If the economy grows, peace will also remain sustainable. Politicians simply did not see another possibility.”

Private discussions

But that does not mean that the arguments in favor of Europe were cast in an ideological guise in order to win the voters over to this inevitability. “The private correspondence of politicians around 1950 shows how sincere and sincere the enthusiasm for Europe was,” says De Bruin. “There appears to be little space between what politicians said about Europe in public and the tone of their private discussions. Both were very positive and they were able to fit Europe perfectly into their own ideological convictions.”

“And it was hardly necessary to convince the voter. In pilot referendums in Delft and Bolsward, two cities that were representative of the Netherlands as a whole in terms of population composition, more than ninety percent voted for one European government and a European constitution.” So 'Europe' was certainly not a project of the elite.

De Bruin does point out that it was about a 'layered enthusiasm'. Dutch politicians criticized the way in which, for example, the European Coal and Steel Community, the first supranational European cooperation project, was organised. Prime Minister Drees, for example, was afraid that Dutch state interference with wage levels (guided wage policy, of great importance during reconstruction after the war) in Europe would collapse. But he never spoke out against European integration.