Vidkun Quisling, Founder of the EU

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Ten years ago,
I wrote a book of which the first chapter examined Nazi and fascist
arguments in favor of a united Europe. I used this Nazi pro-Europeanism
scurrilously to discredit the claim made by today's pro-Europeans
that the European idea was born out of reaction against Hitler,
and to show that hostility to national sovereignty has an antidemocratic
pedigree. Most of the quotations dated from 1941, European propaganda
having been emphasized when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union.
By 1942, a conference was organized in Berlin by leading Nazi party
officials and industrialists, entitled "European Economic Community."

Of course
the Nazis did not invent the idea of a united Europe. That dream
has been around since the collapse of the Roman Empire, gaining
new attractiveness after the Reformation and after the First World
War. But Nazi pro-Europeanism was very detailed, concentrating on
many of the technical aspects which we associate with the EU today,
especially the Europeanization of industry and agriculture.

However,
in the course of writing A
History of Political Trials From Charles I to Saddam Hussein
,
I have now discovered that another European statesman had conceived
ideas of European unity even before they became popular in Berlin
in 1941. On 11th October 1939, Germany's Polish campaign
having come to an end, a Norwegian politician sent a telegram to
the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, in which he made
a last-minute plea for peace between Britain and Germany. The only
way to achieve this, he said, was

to fuse British,
French and German interests into a European Confederation on the
initiative of Great Britain, in order to create a community of
interests and cooperation, beneficent to all parties. Under these
circumstances … I deferentially appeal to your immense authority
and responsibility to suggest that the British government — in
accordance with the method of federalization in America, South
Africa and Australia — invite every European State to choose ten
representatives to a congress charged with the task of preparing
a constitution for an empire of European nations, to be submitted
to a plebiscite in each country for acceptance or rejection.

The author
of this imaginative idea was a then relatively obscure former Norwegian
Minister of Defense, Major Vidkun Quisling, CBE. Quisling had been
decorated for his services as British chargé d'affaires in
Moscow from 1927 to 1929, at a time when the United Kingdom had
broken off relations with the USSR and when Quisling resided temporarily
in the British embassy on the banks of the Moscow river. As a friend
of Britain and Germany alike, Quisling paid fulsome tribute to Chamberlain's
"peace in our time" speech of 30th September
1938, the one he delivered on his return from Munich, and promptly
sat down to write a detailed draft for an armistice between the
two countries.

Quisling was
catapulted into notoriety six months later when he installed himself
as leader of Norway following the German invasion of that country
on 9th April 1940. As a result of certain unfortunate
misunderstandings, the German Chancellor had been obliged to send
troops into Norway preemptively to prevent the British from violating
her neutrality by mining her ports. The first collaborationist leader
in Western Europe, Quisling's surname passed into the language as
byword for all that is most contemptible about treachery. The
Times coined the term within days of Quisling's assumption of
power: "To writers, the word quisling is a gift from the gods.
If they had been ordered to invent a new word for traitor they could
hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters."

Quisling got
no reply from the British for his imaginative proposals about European
confederation. Perhaps Chamberlain thought that the idea would never
work, much as Sir Anthony Eden was to shun the Messina conference
of 1956 which led to the creation of the EEC. The only thanks he
got was to be stripped of his CBE after noisy protests in the House
of Commons. But he continued to believe, like modern pro-Europeans,
that a united Europe was the antidote to war. In 1944, he drew up
detailed plans for a "European Community of Peoples" with
a Federal President, a European Congress composed of two representatives
from each government, a rotating presidency and a General Secretariat
— all in the name of creating "lasting peace in Europe."
He even fantasized that "in the politics of ideas, I considered
Hitler my subordinate and my tool." After the war was over,
on 21st June 1945, in a statement prepared in prison
for the court which was to execute him, Quisling recalled his pro-European
initiative with pride. "I referred," he wrote, "to
the joint declaration, which had been notified at Munich between
Great Britain and Germany as a basis for world peace and appealed
to him [Chamberlain] in the most earnest manner to summon a European
Congress that could come to an arrangement." In a further statement
on 7th August 1945, Quisling again evoked his federalist
ideas, mentioning his 1930 essay, "Russia and Us" in which
he had called for a Nordic Union to include Scandinavia, Britain,
Holland, Germany and eventually the British dominions and even North
America." This latter idea has recently resurfaced among some
British and American Euroskeptics, notably in The Heritage Foundation
in Washington DC, who regard such a grouping as a realistic alternative
to today's EU.

Quisling died
before his ideas could come to fruition. Being on the losing side
of history, his career did not culminate as a European Commissioner
or as the Chairman of a U.N. committee. Instead he fell under a
hail of bullets on 25th October 1945 in the same Akershus
Fortress in which he had sat as Minister-President of Norway. But
the idea to which Quisling gave his name, namely that it is better
to collaborate than to sit carping on the sidelines, has had a better
fate. Not only does it carry the day among British pro-Europeans
now, it was also widely held during the Second World War itself,
even among Quisling's personal enemies: the President of the Supreme
Court which sent Quisling to his death was his old rival in collaboration,
Paal Berg, who immediately after the German invasion proposed that
the Supreme Court appoint a collaborationist council to govern the
country under German occupation, and who was a member of it when
it took over from Quisling on 15th April 1940. (The Council
was a short-lived affair and Quisling was back in the driving seat
by September.)

On the other
hand, the idea that parliamentary powers should be handed over to
executive bodies like the EU Council of Ministers was popular with
Quisling's enemies. The Nygaardsvold government was able to return
from exile in London to execute him (on the basis of retroactive
legislation to reintroduce the death penalty) only because, on 9th
April 1940, the Norwegian parliament had voted to transfer all its
powers to the government. This was, of course, precisely what the
French parliament was to do on 10th July 1940 when it
voted to hand full powers to the then Prime Minister, Marshal Pétain.

This is
a slightly amended version of the article originally published in
The Spectator on 5th
May 2007.

May
12, 2007

John
Laughland’s [send him
mail
] next book is A
History of Political Trials from Charles I to Saddam Hussein

(Peter Lang).

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