Royal Prerogative Exercised to Encourage Europe to Pull Together
In 1957 of the six original member states of the then EEC, half were monarchies, half were republics. When the EEC underwent its first enlargement in 1973, there were more monarchies than republics, the crowned heads being just a nose ahead. The proportion of monarchies to republics took a severe plunge with the enlargement of 2004 and in the years when we are celebrating the second centenary of the defeat of the Emperor Napoleon and the first centenary of the Great War, when so many of Europe’s thrones came tumbling down, the crowned European sovereign is an endangered species.
At the very moment when our fragile European republics are at such odds with one another and when social crises threaten the very inner fabric of virtually every EU member state, it is ironic that it is from the lips of a European sovereign, who has already broken most monarchical records, that we heard the strongest rallying cry to unity within the European family and a warning that if we loose what binds West and East a bleak future awaits our continent.
Queen Elizabeth II is the oldest English monarch ever and later this year, in terms of days on the throne, on 8 September she will overtake her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, who gave her name to an era, to be the longest-reigning English sovereign in history. Nine months after a one of the member-countries of her own United Kingdom held a referendum on whether to break off from the UK – a “close-run thing”, as the Duke of Wellington described his victory at Waterloo – and when a referendum on continued membership of the EU has been voted by the Westminster Parliament, the Queen benefited from a state visit to Germany to launch a low-key appeal, in tones one can tolerate in an exasperated grand-mother drawing on deep wells of cross-generational wisdom, for unity in Europe.
As a politically neutral sovereign and head of state, Queen Elizabeth can only take an Olympian view on the shifting contours of the political map. There was no suggestion in either the UK nor in Germany that Her Majesty had stepped beyond the limits of constitutional propriety. But that she expressed an opinion is beyond doubt. A latter-day oracle of Delphi, the Queen advances an opinion by opaque quips which can be interpreted either way.
In Berlin, having praised what we in Europe have achieved together in the post-war years (i.e. the successes of the European project), Elizabeth II then appealed against putting these fruits of common endeavour at risk by undermining our unity (i.e. keep the family together, and help us to remain in the inner circle). It was interesting that President Joachim Gauck threw his royal guest a life line, offering Germany’s help in keeping the UK in the EU. David Cameron will have taken note of his sovereign’s cautionary tone and of his host’s willingness to co-operate in the rescue operation.
Our European family may have suffered graver self-inflicted wounds before Europe Infos rolls off the press, the unity of our political purpose may have been weakened, but the clarion call to unity of our longest-lived and longest-reigning European sovereign and head of state, and the warning of a great-grandmother who knows a lot about managing family tensions, should stiffen our resolve to work together. In the same week Her Majesty was in Berlin, His Holiness Pope Francis – addressing the world wide family in regard to its relationship with its common home – also focused on unity. And, to close on another royal allusion, the motto of the Belgian royal house is: l’union fait la force.
Father Patrick H. Daly
General Secretary COMECE