The latest release of public documents throws up the interesting story that Guy Mollet, the French Prime Minister of the time, suggested in 1956 that France and Britain form a Union.
The idea of France joining the Commonwealth- then an organisation of far more substance than it has today- was taken seriously at the time in London. France under the Fourth Republic was yet to develop the robust nationalism that has been the hallmark of the Fifth Republic. It is interesting to speculate what kind of Europe we would see today, had France moved so decisively into the British camp, rather than, as it turned out, building the bridges to Germany that ultimately became the Franco-German motor.
Arguably, a Franco-British deal would have simply reinforced the continuing bitterness against Germany, and perpetuated the divisions that caused the First and Second World Wars, Perhaps Germany would have quietly slipped into the Soviet orbit- a state of affairs that would have made a third world war all but certain.
I find it interesting to see how different the Europe of the 1950s actually was, and this gives me pause when I view the current state of the continent. Much of the comments about the current state of the European Union are based around the idea that it is a stable entity. In fact, I would suggest that the balance of power will not remain decisively with the original founders, and particularly not with the Franco-German motor as conceived after the abandonment of the Mollet inspired Franco-British Union.
The dramatic catch-up that the formerly captive half of the continent is now making is impressive- Estonia and Latvia are likely to achieve Scandinavian levels of wealth within half a generation, and even slower movers are comfortably outpacing the growth rates of the original six EEC members. Meanwhile the more sceptical tone of these new members has reinforced the position of the British- who championed their membership, in sharp contrast to the arrogant posturing of Jacques Chirac who diminished French influence spectacularly with a series of own goals.
British foreign policy has been to promote the Central Europeans, and they have been loyal to the UK as a fellow Atlanticist nation. However, there is growing frustration in the chancelleries of Central and Eastern Europe. Having just joined the EU, there is little patience for the "Better-Off Out" school of British politics, who are mostly regarded as demented loonies. David Heathcoat Amory's trip to Estonia to try to persuade the Estonians to veto EU entry was regarded with frank bemusement in Tallinn, for example.
There is a giant difference between regarding the idea of European co-operation as a positive, while being opposed to aspects of the Union and the way it conducts its business and being against membership of the European Union. There are major problems with the European Union, but leaving the organisation will not solve them, and will weaken Britain. By continuing to engage with those countries that share the British wish for genuine reform: Scandinavia and the CEE states not least, Britain can create its own motive force for a EU based on more liberal and free trade principles: the Single European act was an early example of British policies achieving major successes, with more allies now members, the UK ought to be developing things still further.
The one thing that we should not be doing is alienating our new allies in the East.
Therefore the comments of Liam Fox suggesting that Poland and Hungary should have their membership of NATO suspended are at best spectacularly ill-judged. They show a clunking understanding of the new geo-political realities in Europe- especially considering the sacrifices that have been made by their forces in Iraq: While the British military has reported 126 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 18; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, six; El Salvador, five; Slovakia, four; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Romania, one death each. Romania has also lost four service personnel in Afghanistan.
Frankly, David Cameron should fire him on the spot.
Next week Prime Minister Andrus Ansip of Estonia will be speaking at the LSE. His title: "The European Union: a positive view" underlines the fact that Anti-Europeanism in Britain finds no echo, even in the most free-market European State. Genuine Euro-scepticism, on the other hand, does find such an echo.
We do not know what the geo-political realities will be for Britain in fifty years time- but provocative stupidity like Liam Fox's comments can not be tolerated in any responsible party.