Europe Of Today – Europe As It Might Be

To sketch in outline an imaginary picture of Europe as it might be in 1940 is not simply an exercise in the rather barren diversion of prediction. It is not indeed prediction at all. To suggest what Europe might be in 1940 is very likely to suggest something totally different from what it will be. But when we have finished analysing the ills of Europe, assessing the disabilities the provisions of the Peace Treaties have imposed, computing the handicaps to international trade involved in the mad economic nationalisms of Europe, it may at the end of it all be worth while to co-ordinate these conclusions and see what Europe would be like if some superhuman reviser and composer could have his will with the continent, not as the result of any miracle but simply by prevailing on intrinsically rational nations to act rationally. He would, no doubt, order it in accordance with his own predilections, and what were his might be no one else’s.

But his efforts would be at least worth observing even if they could not be considered worth applauding.

His Europe would, to sum up most of his efforts in a sentence, be a Europe in which frontiers had become largely immaterial. A few would have been changed where that would secure the greatest good of the greatest number without creating any new and considerable injustice. Examples of this need not be multiplied. Hungary would gain something territorially, for Czechoslovakia, inspired by the far-sighted wisdom of Masaryk and Benes, would have consented to vary the frontier-lines so as to give the Hungarians at any rate the Grosse Schutt the stretch of land which the dividing Danube turns into an island. Bulgaria would have her access to the AEgean, either, like Jugoslavia, at Salonika or at Dedeagatch or some other port of western Thrace. Cyprus would long since have gone to Greece, probably under a League of Nations mandate, prohibiting fortifications and securing the rights of the Moslem minorities.

The only other important changes of frontier would concern the Polish Corridor and the Southern Tyrol. The allocation of the Corridor to Poland in 1919 can perfectly well be defended. Its retention by Poland in 1931 is more defensible still, for owing to inevitable migrations the population of the Corridor is more predominantly Polish, or (to avoid the necessity of discussing the precise racial affiliations of the Kashubes, who figure largely there) less German, than it was twelve years ago. And the develoment by Poland of the port of Gdynia on the strip of coast at the northern end of the Corridor provides an additional reason why Poland should have direct access to the Baltic.

But it is as well to be realist as well for Poland herself to be realist and recognise that the bisection of Germany by a ribbon of Polish soil separating the mass of the Reich from Danzig and East Prussia is keeping alive in the breast of every German feelings of hostility to Poland that make impossible that normal relationship which is at least as much to Poland’s interest as to Germany’s.

It would pay Poland well to secure Germany’s friendship by consenting to some adjustments in the Corridor area.

That need not mean returning the Corridor to Germany. Such a solution, of course, is not excluded. There are many ways of changing frontiers peacefully. Territory can be bought, as the United States bought Louisiana a century ago, Alaska more recently, and the Virgin Islands quite lately. It can be given away, as Great Britain gave the Ionian Islands to Greece. It can be exchanged, as Heligoland was once bartered for Zanzibar. But there are two objections to the simple plain restoration of the Corridor to German sovereignty. It would mean putting a non-German population under German rule, and it would cut off Poland from the Baltic, and in particular from her port of Gdynia, as East Prussia is cut off from the rest of Germany today. Some other arrangement therefore would have had to be devised, and it would have taken shape by 1940 in the expansion of the area of the Free City of Danzig (which is by no means merely a city but includes a quite substantial agricultural hinterland) and some modification of its constitution, so as to make a broad neutral, or international, zone stretching from the eastern frontier of West Prussia to the western frontier of East Prussia, and with its southern boundary following roughly the line of latitude touched by the southernmost point of Danzig territory today.

No arrangement of this kind can be all advantage, and one obvious condition would be that Poland would have to consent to a fragment of her territory, i.e. the northern end of the Corridor, passing not under a German but under an international régime.

For the Free Territory, as it may for convenience be called, would be largely autonomous, like Danzig today, but Germany, Poland and the League of Nations would all have some direct association with its government. The League would be the final arbiter in case of internal or external difficulties, as it is in the case of Danzig now.

The theoretical advantages of the arrangement are clear. Germany would be separated from East Prussia not by a strip of Poland but by a Free Territory as much German as Polish. Poland would be separated from the sea not by a strip of Germany, as she would be if the Corridor went back to Germany, but by a Free Territory as much Polish as German. At the same time the rival ports of Danzig and Gdynia would come under the same jurisdiction. That would not in itself end the competition between them, but at any rate it would make co-ordination easier, and there will be no harmony in that region till there is some reasonable and intelligent and equitable division between Danzig and Gydnia of a volume of traffic which, properly allocated, is quite sufficient to keep ports well occupied. There would still be a spirit of competition, but it would be less a rivalry of German and Pole than it is today.

This is not the only possible solution of the Corridor problem. But on the whole it seems the most practical, for Germany would get a bridge to East Prussia without passing through Polish territory and Poland a bridge to the sea without passing through German.

It would mean that Poland would allow a small patch of her territory to be internationalised, but that would pay her well if she could secure German goodwill thereby.

It would indeed be reasonable for Germany, in return for this arrangement, to confirm voluntarily the rest of her existing eastern frontier as she confirmed her western at Locarno. Germany on her part would be relinquishing definitely her hopes of the re-annexation of the Corridor, but there is no prospect whatever of that ambition being realised except in the unlikely event of the dissolution of Poland or as result of another European war. Both Poland and Germany would no doubt begin by rejecting this solution at sight, but by 1940 mature reflection may do its work.

Mention of a possible European war raises the fundamental question of whether peace is to prevail apart from localised outbreaks —between now and 1940. Either peace or war must be assumed, and there are three good reasons for assuming peace. First of all the theory on which this chapter rests is that rational nations should have somehow been prevailed on to act rationally and rational nations acting rationally do not go to war. Secondly, another European war would so utterly shatter the fabric of European life that it would be idle even to attempt imagining what might come after it. Thirdly, it is on the whole reasonable to believe that the League of Nations will gradually increase its authority in Europe, whatever it may do in the rest of the world, The European.

Commission which originated in M. Briand’s proposals in 1929 has only made halting progress so far, but it does stand for an idea all the same, and that idea will gradually develop and have cohesive effects. It may have developed a good deal by 1940. The reign of law has gone some way towards establishing itself in Europe already.

Twenty-five European States have accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Permanent Court of International Justice in all legal disputes, and the acceptance of the General Act, providing definite machinery for the peaceful settlement of all other differences, is steadily spreading. And behind these instruments are the more general but equally compelling obligations of the League Covenant and the Kellogg Pact. Peace in Europe will therefore be assumed here, not because there is any lack of causes of war, but because other methods are now becoming normal for the settlement of difficulties that in earlier days inevitably meant war.

The assurance of peace—when the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy is so generally and genuinely accepted that not merely writers of text-books but responsible European governments can regard war as superseded means that strategic frontiers become purposeless. That removes Italy’s only justification, so far as it can be considered a justification, for the retention of the Southern Tyrol ; and in the Europe as it might be, the Europe as it should be, that territory would revert to Austria, which by that time might be member either of an Austro-German or alternatively of a Danubian Confederation.

Apart from the Polish Corridor and the Southern Tyrol, some readjustments for Hungary’s benefit, and possibly a Polish-Lithuanian federation on the lines laid down by M. Hymans in 192 r to facilitate the solution of the Vilna problem, there is no reason why frontiers in Europe should be altered. For it is an essential feature of Europe as it might be in 1940 that frontiers should have lost their importance. They will still distinguish nationalism in the best sense, so far from being obliterated, will have gained full scope for free development but they will no longer divide. They may, indeed, distinguish rather less than they do now, for when every man enjoys, as part of the rights freely conceded to minorities, freedom to speak in whatever tongue he chooses, language, which so sharply distinguishes nation from nation today, will be increasingly a bond across which frontiers cut unnoticed. It must be possible, for example, for the German-speaking population in Poland to be as Polish as the German speaking population in Switzerland is Swiss, or as the Germans in Czechoslovakia are becoming Czechoslovakian.

That is going to be one of the touchstones of the Europe of 1940. With strategic frontiers obsolescent, the two factors that keep the frontier question prominent are minorities and tariffs. If it were possible to hope that Hungarians in Rumania would be as secure in all rights that make for the legitimate enjoyment of life as Hungarians in Hungary, then it would matter relatively little it would at any rate matter much less than it does today precisely where the frontier between Rumania and Hungary ran. And it would matter much less still if in addition tariffs were kept sufficiently low and sufficiently stable, and customs formalities were sufficiently simplified, for trade to flow freely in both directions with no more than a moderate advantage to the home producer, instead of the shelter he gets today behind a prohibitive barrier against imports.

These factors must be considered separately, though something has been said of both already. The rights of minorities do not need defining. That was done long ago in the minority treaties framed in 1919, and minorities themselves ask no more than the execution of those treaties in spirit and in letter. Minorities are to enjoy the right to use their own language, the right, where there is a group of them of sufficient size, to State schools where their children can be taught in that language, and the right to worship according to their own desire and conscience. Subject to that they are expected, so long as they remain in the country to which they were transferred by treaty (and they are always free to leave it), to behave as loyal and law-abiding citizens.

The Europe of 1940, let it be recalled, is ex hypothesi a continent in which rational people behave rationally. The rights of minorities will therefore be freely recognised by rational governments, and minorities, themselves rational, will give what is required of them in return. What is more, the recognition of minorities’ rights will not be confined to the States on which minority treaties were imposed (against their will) in 1919 and 1920. Countries like Italy and Germany and France will give to any genuine minority that asks for it the same rights as are exacted from Poland and Rumania and Jugoslavia. There is no reason ethically (though there was some politically) why Poles in Germany should not enjoy the same statutory protection as Germans in Poland.

What will, be the end of that ? Are minorities to be indefinitely perpetuated as alien elements within the fabric of a settled State ? Or will there be a steady process of assimilation under which the minorities as separate and self-conscious entities will dwindle gradually to nothing ? And which process is on broad grounds the more desirable ? Before deciding between the two it may be worth briefly considering a third possibility. There are certain States where the minorities form only a small proportion of the population. There are others, such as Czechoslovakia and Poland, where they are so numerous as to suggest that a federal solution may be desirable. In Czechoslovakia, with 3,000,000 Germans and 750,000 Magyars included in its population of 13,000,000, some steps in that direction have been taken, and in Poland, with her large minority population of Germans, Ruthenians and White Russians, a like development might be desirable. Switzerland provides a tempting analogy, but the Swiss Confederation, it must be remembered, is the outcome of centuries of effort and struggle. Such a constitution is not to be built up and put in operation in a day, or even in a dozen years.

As between assimilation and perpetuation no clear choice can be made. In some cases the one process will be preferable, in others the other. The most successful minority State in the world is Canada, with her large French-speaking population in Quebec, differing in language, in religion and in race from most of the rest of the Dominion, yet intensely loyal to the whole of which it forms a minor, though considerable, part. But if wisdom and toleration on the part of the majority is the chief reason for that there is another contributory cause of some importance. The minority is French, and France is three thousand miles away across the Atlantic. There is, therefore, completely absent the disturbing factor so often fatal in Europe to peaceful relations between minorities and the government they live under. While Germans in Poland centre all their hopes on Berlin, not Warsaw, and Berlin is more concerned that Germans in Silesia and Posen should be discontented with Polish citizenship than contented, minority difficulties will remain unsettled and frontiers will still be barriers against which some thirty millions of European minorities rail. It is the existence of a mass of sympathy and stimulus just across the frontier that keeps minorities disturbed. But the Europe of 1940 is a Europe as it might be, and it is not to be admitted that under no conditions can minorities be contented and loyal. So far, unfortunately, there is only one of the new States, Estonia (incidentally, the smallest of them all), of which it can be said with any confidence that that is already happening, but the basis of success in Estonia is the basis which alone can produce success anywhere. The fullest cultural freedom is conceded to minorities—in this case German and they are at perfect liberty to remain a distinct cultural entity. On the other side they undertake that their minority organisations shall have no political character and they lend themselves to no political influence of any kind from outside.

What can happen in Estonia can happen elsewhere, even though in this particular case the ground is specially favourable for a minority entente. Not, of course, that this model will be followed everywhere. In some countries minorities will retain their separate identity. In others they will gradually and unresistingly merge themselves in the general population. That will depend partly on their numbers—where a minority is small it will naturally be more easily absorbed ; partly on whether the minority is of the same religious faith as the majority or not ; partly on the attitude of the government for oppression tends inevitably to increase a minority’s self consciousness, whereas toleration leaves it free to intermingle, and in particular to intermarry, with the rest of the population, and the lines between minority and majority can gradually become blurred.

Minority problems in Europe as a whole are slowly becoming less acute, but only slowly. Minorities probably form a slightly smaller proportion of the population than they did ten years ago, for while they gain next to no accretion by voluntary immigration individuals tend when they can to get back to the land of their original nationality and settle there among their own stock. But that slight diminution does not really affect the minority problem, which can be solved only by resolute goodwill and mutual understanding on both sides. There is no convincing reason why it should not be so solved by 1940.

If that should happen frontiers would divide and separate far less than they do today. Politically the division would still be there. The Germans of Posen and Silesia would be governed from Warsaw, not Berlin (though no doubt with fuller and more effective local autonomy than they enjoy today), but a common culture would disregard the political frontiers altogether and the heritage of Goethe and Hegel would be as real in Danzig and Kattowitz as in Munich or Dresden. The more unreservedly a minority accepted its new political affinity the more ready, of course, would the majority be to let it seek its cultural affinities where it would.

But it is idle to imagine that frontiers can distinguish without dividing so long as they remain first and foremost economic barriers.

Only if tariff wars are as definitely renounced as war in the more familiar sense can Europe become a society of friendly and peaceable States. Tariffs are like armaments. As long as they are being increased they breed hostility, suspicion and alarm. Like armaments they must be first limited, and then if possible reduced, by international agreement.

That contention need not be stressed. Sufficient has been said already of the disastrous effect on European prosperity of the feverish attempts to Balkanise industry and keep out of each country’s market goods that some other country is in a position to manufacture better or more cheaply. That cannot continue. Tariff wars make bad blood and bad balance-sheets. Trade itself under such conditions becomes war, which is the precise antithesis of what trade rationally conducted should be.

Europe’s renunciation of economic war will not be easy. The ablest experts she possesses have given her unanimous advice.

Tariffs, she was warned in 1927, have been raised too high and the time has come to move in the opposite direction. The ultimate aim, she was told in 1930, is to make Europe a single market for the products of every country in it. But if high tariffs have brought ruin to Europe as a whole they have brought prosperity to a good many individual Europeans, and the harm a reduction of tariffs may do to an individual manufacturer can be demonstrated much more vividly than the benefit it will ultimately confer on the whole community. Ruritania may have put a tariff on four and so got unnecessary mills built when there were plenty already just across the frontier in Aquitania to meet all her needs, thus doubling potential output without any increase of demand.

The millers in Aquitania may have been seriously injured and the people of Ruritania have to pay more for their flour, but it is going to be a great deal harder to get that tariff off than it was in the first instance to put it on.

But to suggest that tariffs cannot be lowered at all would be absurd.. They can be both lowered and stabilised—for the uncertainty caused by constantly fluctuating tariffs is as detrimental as the dislocation caused by high tariffs. Bilateral commercial treaties between pairs of States are one method. International conferences fixing a maximum tariff in terms of gold on individual commodities (as in the League of Nations Convention on Hides and Bones in 1928) are another. A maximum use of the most-favoured-nation clause is a third (though it is beginning to be realised that one unfortunate effect of the clause is to prevent country A from giving better terms to country B, which lets A’s goods in almost free, than to country C, which puts up a prohibitive tariff against them).

And a fourth is the enlargement of small tariff units through the formation of customs unions between adjacent States. In the Europe of 1940 the hesitant and tentative efforts of today in that direction will, have had practical results. Estonia and Latvia, Germany and Austria, may have united economically, a Danubian Confederation (perhaps including Austria and therefore separating her from Germ any), a Balkan Union, may have taken definite shape, tariff’s, walls in Europe being thereby not indeed abolished but reduced substantially in number (and also, it may be hoped, in height) and larger units of production and consumption being substituted for the uneconomic sheep-pens of today.

That leaves us a long way from the United States of Europe of which so much was heard when M. Briand launched his project, which bore a superficial resemblance, but no more, to that conception. And the prospect is that Europe will in fact be still a long way from that by 1940. Even a European Customs Union, involving Free Trade within the continent, is outside all reasonable probability. Tariffs for revenue are essential, or firmly believed to be essential, to the national economy of many European States, and a tariff for revenue can be as much of an impediment to trade (except where it is precisely counterbalanced by an equal excise duty) as a tariff with definitely protective aims. If, moreover, tariffs are still to be levied at Europe’s land and sea frontiers on the producers of other continents there must be brought into being a European Council with both legislative and administrative functions—legislative, involving the formidable task of deciding what the duties shall be and how the proceeds shall be apportioned among the thirty States of Europe, and administrative because it can hardly be supposed that such complete mutual confidence would prevail that the inland States of the Continent would contentedly leave the frontier States to collect the duties and accept their account of them unchecked. There is no good reason for believing that the process of European Federation will have advanced that far by 1940.

Will there be by 1940 anything in the nature of a European international force for the protection of European States which in consideration of that guarantee have reduced their national armaments to the level necessary for the preservation of internal order ? The idea is in many ways attractive, and it has been subject for sufficiently serious discussion for many years in France to remove it entirely from the realm of the fanciful and chimaeric.

But to canvass the probabilities of that development on the eve of the Disarmament Conference is purposeless. The Conference itself is not likely to bring any such project to realisation, but it might at least provide for investing the proposed Permanent Arma ments Commission, with additional powers (or even for the creation of some special commission for the purpose) enabling the direction of common, military, or naval or air action against an aggressor to be concen trated at Geneva. That would at least be a pointer to the trend of European opinion, for such action would be more practical in Europe than anywhere else, and would never be considered unless a substantial number of European States approved of it. But even to discuss the desirability of such a step, much less its probability, would involve an excursion into regions lying too far outside the purview of this volume. It is sufficient to suggest that the normal development of the League of Nations (assuming that it does develop normally) implies logically the internationalisation of force and the complete subordination of national armaments maintained to serve national ends, and that development may be expected to progress more rapidly and more effectively in Europe than in other continents.

But it by no means follows that progress will in fact be rapid even in Europe.

But there is a much broader form of internationalism to consider. In Europe as it might be—there is no great risk, indeed, in saying in Europe as it will be—international intercourse must steadily grow. Whether it will as steadily result in the increase of mutual sympathy and understanding, in the breaking down of those barriers that divide countries, as opposed to the lines of demarcation that merely distinguish them, is less certain. But there is some danger of underrating what has been achieved in that respect since the war.

International travel has enormously increased.

Foreign languages are taught in the schools of all countries on a far larger scale than since 1914. As a consequence the books and newspapers of one country are read increasingly in others, both in translations in the case of books) and in the original.

It by no means invariably follows that the more we learn of another country the better we like it. Germany and Poland are no better friends for their contiguity. But no good ever comes of misunderstandings, and the dissipation of misunderstanding due to ignorance is always beneficial. We see other people who think differently and act differently from ourselves (and therefore less wisely and less laudably) and we instinctively react against them at is the first impulse. Fuller knowledge brings fuller comprehension of the springs and motives of their actions, and in consequence a larger tolerance, even if the springs and motives seem wrong. And tolerance and war are at opposite poles.

Bolshevism and Fascism are cases in point. Every one in Great Britain, except for a handful of Communists and Labour left-wingers, started with a violent prejudice against the Bolsheviks and all their works.

There was reason enough for that, no doubt.

But there was reason too for considerable qualifications of such a judgment. The judgment was, in fact, considerably qualified as an understanding gradually spread of the conditions against which Bolshevism was a reaction, of the aims, some desirable, some not, the Bolsheviks set before them, and of the practical improvements the Bolshevik regime had effected in certain departments of the national life of Russia. The result is not indeed any general enthusiasm or admiration for the Russia of today there is nothing in Russian life to encourage that —but at least a rational tolerance and a recognition, by no means confined to the parties of the Left, that two opposed political and social systems can co-exist not only in the same world but in the same continent. Fascism has always had more sympathisers in Great Britain than Bolshevism, but they were a definite minority none the less. To the average Englishman the Fascist régime, resting at first to all appearance on the fiat of a single individual who had originally made his reputation as a demagogue, was as alien as the Communism of Lenin and Trotsky. But time has done its work.

Books have been written about Fascism.

Articles about it appear constantly in the Press. The conditions against which Fascism was a reaction (in this the parallel with Bolshevism is exact) were apprehended, and the undoubted improvements effected by Signor Mussolini in public administration appreciated, with the result that while the average Englishman still retains an instinctive dislike of Fascism, and would welcome the restoration in Italy of the type of democratic government under which he lives himself, blind prejudice has disappeared, and there is a general- disposition to recognise that the theory of the Fascist State, as of the Communist State, deserves study, even if neither of them can be held to deserve imitation.

If that is true of Bolshevism and Fascism it is much more true of the relations of the rest of the nations of Europe with one another.

Men everywhere are increasingly entering into the mind and thought of other peoples.

The further improvement of transport will do something more in that direction, though less than is sometimes suggested, for it is only a negligible proportion of the population of any country that can profit by the most notable of transport developments, the increasing facilities for transcontinental air travel. The radio and the cinema can do far more, particularly the latter. The moving picture, on the face of it, can make Paris or Berlin no more real to the Englishman than Peking or Bulawayo. But in fact it does, for the Englishman knows more about Paris and Berlin to begin with, and new impressions that link on to existing knowledge are the most readily assimilated.

The radio is a more powerful universalising factor. The Londoner who sits by his fire and listens consecutively to Toulon and Trieste and Danzig and Bratislava subconsciously acquires a sense of the unity of Europe unattainable by the previous generation, At present, music, no doubt, must be the common medium, at any rate for the Englishman, with his lack of linguistic accomplishment. But to the educated citizen of most European countries either English or French or German programmes are becoming increasingly intelligible, which means a wide diffusion of the spoken word.

To put any precise value on such forces as these is admittedly difficult. But that they have some value, and a value that promises to increase, no one can seriously doubt. It is equally true that they will be worth much or little according as Englishmen and Spaniards, Poles and Czechoslovaks and the rest, sit idly receptive of impressions projected towards them from other countries, or recognise that the development of their own personalties and the consolidation of European unity alike demand from them as individuals some conscious effort for the broadening and deepening of international understanding—meaning by that the sympathetic comprehension by one nation of the aims and the difficulties, the mistakes and the achievements, of others.

To recapitulate and conclude. A Europe whose constituent States settle all their disputes by peaceful procedure and not by arms ; a Europe where frontiers exist to distinguish, not to divide, where minorities no longer distrust or are distrusted, because they freely accept their political lot in return for freedom to order their cultural and religious concerns as they will.

A Europe where tariff barriers are lowered by mutual agreements, and reduced in number through the creation of regional customs unions ; a Europe in which, conceivably, force shall have been internationalised and national forces almost eliminated—that, let it be repeated finally and with emphasis, is not Europe in 1940 as visualised by a self appointed prophet. Such a role offers little enough temptation to any one in normal command of his faculties. It is simply a suggestion of what the Europe of 1940 might be, assuming Europe between now and 1940 to be inhabited by rational nations acting rationally. How much folly and how much reason such an assumption involves must be left undetermined.