History of the European Movement

The European Movement has its roots in the economic, political and social chaos which followed the Second World War.

Even while the war was at its height some statesmen – notably Winston Churchill as early as 1943 – were making references to the requirement for European Unity as a vital element for maintaining peace after the hostilities. This was always going to be complicated.


French industry was ruined, and its reconstruction needed access to the German coalfields of the Saarland. Jean Monnet, later regarded as one of the ‘fathers of Europe’, set out a plan in 1946 giving France permanent rights to the Saar coalfields.

This would permanently weaken Germany, and elevate the French economy to unchallengeable heights. Fortunately wiser heads saw the shades of the Versailles Treaty inherent in Monnet’s proposition, and there was a concerted movement towards a more united Europe.


A ferment of organisations quickly came into existence: there were so many that in 1947 they formed a ‘Joint International Committee for European Unity’. In May 1948, under the auspices of this committee, 800 delegates from Europe met in The Hague for ‘The Congress of Europe’.

Presided over by Churchill, with Konrad Adenauer, Harold Macmillan, Francois Mitterand, Paul-Henri Spaak, Altiero Spinelli and most other prominent European politicians. The Congress launched a call for a political, economic and monetary Union of Europe.


The European Movement was launched soon afterwards in October 1948 as a Movement for all the peoples of Europe. Duncan Sandys, Leon Blum, Winston Churchill, Alcide de Gaspari and Paul-Henri Spaak were the main movers, and they then set up the Council of Europe in May 1949, which dealt with Human Rights Issues, quickly followed by the College of Europe in Bruges and the European Centre of Culture in Geneva.

These were the ‘glory days’ of the European Movement. Naturally enough, the focus shifted away from the Movement to the bodies created by it, and its main players.


One of those, the Coal and Steel Community (formed from the Schuman plan) was designed ‘to make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible’. In 1957 the Treaty of Rome transformed that into the European Economic Community and EURATOM.


Since the 1950s the European Movement has acted as a ‘switchboard for European thinking’, setting up think-tanks and policy centres to encourage ideas of European Unity. As the EU expanded it actively engaged in candidate and acceding countries, helping to encourage pro-European thought.

Today the Movement focuses on seeking further integration in the political, social, and cultural arenas, using its network of lobbyists to achieve these ends. Campaigns have included direct elections to the European Parliament, promoting the benefits of the Single Market, supporting a European constitution and, most recently the Conference on the Future of Europe.


The British section of the European Movement was founded in 1949. In the 1950s and 1960s, the European Movement UK put forward the arguments for joining the European Economic Community, and ran a major campaign in the early 1970s, both among the general public and in parliament, to win the battle for entry.

In 1975, during the referendum on membership, the European Movement played a central role in the YES campaign. Other campaigns since then have included pressing for direct elections to the European Parliament in the 1970s and promoting the benefits of the single market in the run-up to 1992. During the 1990s, the organisation concentrated on the need to create a new national pro-European coalition. In the early 2000s it threw its weight behind the campaign for the UK to join the Euro and following the 2016 Referendum was the major part of the umbrella organisation which ran the Campaign for a People’s Vote.

Image source: Premier élargissement. Debaize, Jean-Louis.
Bruxelles: Médiathèque Commission européenne, 1972. Noir et blanc.
Copyright: European Commission Audiovisual Library