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January 16, 2007
Do The French Want To Disappear?

A strange document floated out of the postwar period yesterday that documented French efforts to effectively end their national identity in the 1950s. Guy Mollet, then Prime Minister, proposed a union of Britain and France in 1956 that would have returned France to the British Crown:

French prime minister Guy Mollet suggested a Franco-Anglo union to his English counterpart Anthony Eden in 1956, reports the BBC, citing newly-released documents from the British National Archives.

The formerly secret government cabinet paper dated Sept. 10, 1956 reads: "When the French prime minister, Monsieur Mollet was recently in London he raised with the prime minister the possibility of a union between the United Kingdom and France." The extraordinary suggestion was turned down, however, meaning that the prospect of a new Anglo-French country would remain an intriguing historial hypothesis."

The Times of London picks up the story from there:

A Cabinet official recorded the enthusiastic way that Eden responded when he discussed it with Sir Norman Brook, the Cabinet Secretary: “Sir Norman Brook . . . informed me the PM told him he thought in the light of his talks with the French: that we should give consideration to France joining the Commonwealth; that M Mollet had not thought there need be difficulty over France accepting the headship of her Majesty; that the French would welcome a common citizenship arrangement on the Irish basis.”

I'm not sure that any country has just offered to allow itself to be absorbed into another, especially not one that had at one point been considered one of history's great world powers. And yet the French in the 1950s, buffeted by social instability and the loss of its premier colonies, essentially tried to end their existence as an independent nation and accept the English monarch as their head of state for the first time since Joan of Arc.

From a historical point of view, it's fascinating -- but it isn't limited to history. It has echoes reverberating all the way to present day. Germany and France in 2003 essentially agreed to represent each other at the European Summit, although in this case it was France who did the representing. In the aftermath of the British refusal of the French offer, France turned to Germany to create the European Common Market, which evolved into the EU, so the partnership with Germany has its own precedents. And the EU has worked to erode the sovereignty of the individual member nations, replacing currencies and superceding legislatures.

The French seem to want to end national identities altogether. At least they offered to be the first nation to do so.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 16, 2007 5:06 AM

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