Britain, France, and the Cold War
THE State visit to London of the President of France and Mme Auriol has done much more than fan the slow embers of Franco-British friendship. It has helped to re-emphasise a human failing which is as true Of nations -as it is of individuals: that the closest neighbours may often be the most thoughtless and least understanding of friends.
Setting aside, therefore, the stirring pageantry, the formal expressions of warmth, and the genuine delight of the British public in the brilliant panoply of a great occasion, we could do worse than examine the real state of our relations with the Fourth Republic at this critical phase in Europe's postwar recovery.
Such a frank assessment of shortcomings and misunderstandings on both sides is not only useful hut necessary, if the Entente Cordiale is to be more than a hypnotic catchphrase as perilously empty during the present Cold War as it proved at the time of President Lebrun's visit. also in March, 11 years ago.
A Grim Parallel
The parallel with the last State visit of a French President in 1939 is worth pursuing. 'I he international situation then was in several ways far more critical than it is now, for the simple reason that few people in either France or Britain were psychologically prepared for war.
Though Hitler marched into Memel while President Lebrun—and through him the Franco-British alliance—was still being feted in London, hope persisted on both sides of the Channel that the war-clouds would roll by of their own accord. Wish-fuffilment of the kind was finally exploded when the storm broke. The "Maginot mentality," the invincibility of the French army, even the myth of Franco-British solidarity, were brutally shattered in the military debacle that preceded the Fall and Occupation of France.
A New Realism
Viewed in the cold light of history, the catastrophe of 1940 reflects precious little credit on the makers and shapers of the alliance with France, just as it holds up for condemnation the cynicism and base selfishness that permeated so much French thought and inaction at the timc.
But it is neither clever nor difficult to he wise after the event ; and digging up unpleasant memories for their own sake would he merely playing into the hands of Stalin and his fifth-column henchmen throughout the West who are testing FrancoBritish sincerity today even more thoroughly than Hitler did.
In a sense the symbolic show of joint-determination we made on the occasion of President Lebrun's visit was like whistling in the dark to keep our courage up. This time the mood and the circumstances are different.
Indeed we believe that the circumstances created by the clear-cut aim of the Communists to undermine Western Europe hit by hit through the tactics and strategy of the Cold War. have put a fine edge on the mood in which patriotics Frenchmen are answering the new challenge to their survival.
For with the humiliation and hurt pride of defeat there has grown up in postwar France a wholesome realism, married fairly happily to the idealism which has always characterised her,
Realism at Al! Levels
On the political plane—which to the average newspaper reader is the only plane—the French are handicapped by much the same constitutional troubles as before.
The working of the new party system still tends to set party advantage above the common good ; and it is due as much as anything to the principled firmness of President Auriol that recent political crises have not _been allowed to become opportunities for left or Right extremists.
On the economic and cultural planes this same realism is evident, in spite of the appalling difficulties which continue to tax the patience and native genius of the people.
Catholics and all Christians in Britain have reason to marvel at the extraordinary efforts being made by the Church on the spiritual plane to carry Christian ideals into every sphere of national life. It is visible directly in the initiative of priestworkers and in such movements as the J.O.C.; it is visible indirectly in the emergence of Christian Trade Unions and Employers' Associations, and in the moderating political influence of the M.R.P.
This is not to say that French realism is proof against the shock of any ordeal. France, like Britain, is feeling the pinch of national poverty ; unlike Britain, her relatively unstable political system makes it impossible for her to deal adequately with the problem so as to check injustice and genuine hardship.
The intervention of Mgr. Feltin in the current metal workers' strike for higher pay is the latest hint of one deep underlying reason for industrial unrest.
The Communist Threat
But the ability of the powerful French Communist Party to exploit any grievance for its own disruptive ends is the most serious danger to the security of France, The carefully-hatched series of stoppages in the docks to prevent the loading of arms for Indo-China is obviously part of the Cominform's wider plan to interfere with The rearming of Europe under the terms of the Atlantic Treaty.
Yet the stern resolve of M. Bidault and his colleagues to crush this Red manoeuvre is plain folin the legal measures now being rushed through the National Assembly. The threat of a new wave of sabotage is being met with the realism displayed by earlier, short-lived Coalitions.
That is why we prefer to stress the bright side of the admittedly disturbed situation in France at the moment. Though on occasions the actions of individual groups of Frenchmen who seemingly ought to know better may strike the British observer as a modern version of fiddling while Rome burns, it should he remembered that most Frenchmen realise and are ready to attack the enemy in their midst.
Where Britain Has Failed The dark side of the picture. curiously enough, is not the internal situation of France but the uncertainty of many Frenchmen that their Ally across the Channel realty understands their problems. If we inspect the record of the Labour Government since the war in its relations with France, moreover, we shall find something lacking in the true spirit of the Entente Cordiale.
Why is it, for example, that France in common with other European countries is convinced that Britain is not really interested in a United Europe which, to thoughtful people in both countries, is the only final answer to Communism?
What is there to show, except, perhaps, evidence of team-spirit in a very restricted field, for the many committees on which French and British delegates sit?
Why do we allow our own party feelings or imagined national interest to wound French susceptibilities in matters like sterling devaluation ?
These are only some of the questions to which British policy has failed to furnish art answer, And it should he the business of the new Labour Gosernment, despite its basic weakness. to formuiate a policy towards France and Europe which will rule out such questions in future,
A MINISTER FOR EUROPE?
VVE can think of no 'better way for the Government to kill suspicions felt by Americans as well as by Continentals about British Socialist intentions than to appoint a Minister empowered to deal with the complex issues of political and economic unification in Europe.
In reshuffling his Cabinet, Mr, Attlee betrayed an unusual flash of vision arid boldness in appointing Mr. R. R. Stokes as Minister of Works. By doing so, he at once placated the so-cal led " rebels behind him and won a measure of praise on all sides.
We are convinced that if Mr. Attlee were to appoint a backbencher with a European reputation like Mr, R. W. G. Mackay to the sort of Ministerial post we suggest, he would silence all suspicion abroad and do his party and his country a great service.
The appointment need not carry with it impossible departmental duties, nor need it clash with Mr. 1Revin's ideas of what constitutes his own jealously guarded preserve. The notable work performed by Lord Pakenham in Germany as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is a precedent which should not be forgotten.
The Problem of Germany
From what we have already said, it will be deduced that France re mains the key country of Europe she has always been.
Racked as she is by internal dangers and external difficulties, oppressed by her own sometimes pathological doubts and fears, her potential influence in shaping the future of Europe is still immense.
Given the full backing of a Britain determined to put Europe first and sectional interests second, we believe that the growing number of problems thrown up by a strengthening Western Germany need not be the sources of friction which they undoubtedly are now. The undignified wrangle between Bonn and Pans over the status of the Saar is a topical example of what we mean.
A British " Minister of Europe " would be the ideal mediator and adviser in the amicable settlement of such quarrels. Indeed. until the Council of Europe is much more firmly established, his work would be cut out solving the early troubles that are bound to arise between neighbours anxious to cooperate but unable to forget the old habits of complete self-interest.
The qualities of mind and character demanded by so exacting and unenviable a role are rarely to be found in a political personality. But the goal -Europe's eventual security and prosperity—is one which seems to us worth the risks entailed by trial-and-error.
Certainly, in so far as the aspirations of millions of Christians in Europe are concerned, Mr. Attlee could not go far wrong in making a first attempt without delay.
KING LEOPOLD'S FATE
IT would be rash to assume that
next Sunday's referendum in Belgium on the question of King Leopold's return to the throne will dispose once and for all of what may seem a purely family affair.
Whether King Leopold receives the 55 per cent. vote he considers necessary or not, the reopening of old wounds is unfortunately likely to impair the stability of Belgium.
For there are grounds for suspectMg that the Socialists, who largely conform to the Marxist and anticlerical traditions of Contihental Socialism, are determined to carry the fight beyond the person of King Leopold to the principle of monarchy itself.