A Gleam in Alsace

The United Europe Movement was really the result of Churchill’s speech in Zurich, in which he had developed the theme and thundered the slogan ‘Europe Unite’

In August 1949, David Maxwell Fyfe, who became one of the two artisans of the European Convention on Human Rights, went to Strasbourg for the first of two annual visits, which finally resulted in the signing of the Convention by 12 European countries on 4th November 1950 – 70 years ago this year. In the first of two extracts from his autobiography, he describes the events leading up to the convention’s first draft.

One day in 1947 Winston called me across the smoking room of the House of Commons and asked me if I would join the committee of the United Europe Movement, of which he was chairman. I had always been anxious to do something positive after the part I had played in destroying Nazi ideology, and I accepted with enthusiasm. The movement was really the result of his speech in Zurich, in which he had developed the theme and thundered the slogan ‘Europe Unite’…

The five powers of the Brussels Treaty – Britain, France, Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg… had brought out a suggestion that there should be a Council of Ministers of the 5 countries and an Assembly to be made up of members of the National Parliaments.

Congress of Europe at the Hague, 1948

There was a general feeling that feet were being dragged by governments when the unofficial international committee convened a Congress of Europe at the Hague in May 1948, which was attended by some 730 persons of nearly every European nationality, including several former Prime Ministers, and innumerable ex-Ministers of lower rank, with indeed some in office. The central figure was of course Churchill. It is a remarkable commentary on Britain 3 years after the end of the war that those of us who attended from Britain, like Sylvia and myself, were allowed practically no currency and had to take most of our meals by food tickets provided by our European friends. Apart from politicians, there were a great number of distinguished men and women in letters, music and other walks of life…

The Conference was divided into three committees, political, economic, and cultural. I went into the cultural because I wanted to say something on human rights… Winston concluded with a wonderful speech, during which there was a tremendous thunderstorm…

Manuscript of A Political Adventure

The Congress resolved that the proposed European Assembly should be convened as soon as possible, and this was done in the following year – 1949. In the intervening period between the Congress at the Hague and the first meeting of the Assembly of the Council of Europe at Strasbourg, I devoted considerable further study to a European Convention on Human Rights. The European Movement set up an International Judicial Section under the chairmanship of M. Pierre-Henri Teitgen, a former Minister of Justice of France, with M. Dehousse the Belgian jurist, and myself as rapporteurs…

The Judicial Section set about preparing a draft Convention. At home I had the invaluable aid of Professor Arthur Goodhart of Oxford and Professor Lauterpacht of Cambridge, later a Judge of the International Court… Eventually our draft was submitted by the European Movement to the committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in the summer of 1949. Our draft had as its basis security for life and limb, freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom from slavery and compulsory labour, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of marriage, the sanctity of the family, equality before the law, and freedom from arbitrary deprivation of property. I was very anxious that we should get an international sanction in Europe behind the maintenance of these basic decencies of life.

In the next extract, David Maxwell Fyfe describes the controversies arising from the draft convention and how it came to be signed.

Extract from A Political Adventure, Chapter 11, A Gleam in Alsace, by David Maxwell Fyfe

Published 1964 Weidenfeld & Nicolson

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