General de Gaulle understood Europe as a key geographical and historical construct. From the Second World War until he left power in 1969, he wanted European states to join together and cooperate closely, because he saw this is a means of increasing their power, particularly that of France. However, he was hostile to any loss of sovereignty, seeing it as a possibly prelude to subjugation by the United States.

A man of culture, Charles de Gaulle understood Europe as the product of geography and history, transcending the artificial and ephemeral divisions inherited from wars. As such, he argued that Europe stretched from Gibraltar to the Urals, an assertion that he repeated many times throughout his life. As such, he refused, after 1945, to accept the Iron Curtain as definitive and to consider Europe as one and the same as “the West,” i.e. as the ally of the United States in the Cold War and the enemy of the Eastern Bloc. Yet for all that, he did not seek to please the USSR, which his famous phrase amputated of the three quarters of its territory beyond the Urals. In fact, he always preferred to speak of “Russia” rather than the USSR because, to his mind, regimes come and go whereas nations endure. His Europe, defined in these broad terms, was destined to play a pre-eminent role in the world. In his famous speech at the University of Strasbourg on 22 November 1959 he declared “Yes, it is Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, it is Europe, all of Europe, which will decide the fate of the world!” He viewed historical and geographical Europe as a means of combining and increasing the power of the states of the continent, states which he saw as Europe’s unalterable horizon.

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