‘A’ Customs Union? ‘The’ Customs Union? British EU Delusions


This article was first published in The Present Age magazine Vol. 3 No. 12, March 2018


When I was teaching English in Japan many years ago, one of the many difficulties my students had with the English language was the difference between ‘a’ and ‘the’, which language teachers and linguists call the indefinite and definite article respectively. It was not surprising that the students had those difficulties, as there is no article at all in Japanese: in their own language the Japanese get by quite contentedly without distinguishing between ‘book’, ‘books’, ‘a book’, ‘the book’ and ‘the books’ – in Japanese all of them are simply ‘hon’ (book). It seems that these days, however, the British government is also having trouble distinguishing between the two articles ‘a’ and ‘the’ in its ongoing Brexit wrestling match both with the EU negotiators and with the opposition parties in the UK Parliament. The problem: is the UK going to be – can it be at all – in a customs union with the EU i.e. some new form of customs union with the EU post-Brexit, or the customs union i.e. remain in its current arrangements with the existing EU customs union?

Over here, over there…

It is fascinating to observe how, after 45 years of British membership of the EEC/EC/EU, the British and the Continentals, especially the former, still seem incapable of understanding that their counterparts have a very different way of looking at the world, which accounts for their differing views of this customs union issue, the difference between ‘a’ and ‘the’, between what is indefinite and what is definite. The EU negotiators, notably Michel Barnier, and the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, insist that the British are trying to return to what Tusk has called ‘the cake philosophy’ i.e. ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it’. Logically, of course, this is true. How can you be holding your cake in your hand and have it in your mouth at the same time? But the British seem to have considerable difficulty with this. When it is put to them that ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it’, they reply: “Aha! But you can first hold your cake and then eat it, so you can be said, in a sense, ‘to have your cake and eat it’. This perspective is that of events in time, whereas the continentals Barnier and Tusk have the perspective of space: an object cannot be in two places at the same time, apart from quantum cakes of course.

The EU side have been sticking, with admirably clear but rigid logic to the so-called ‘four freedoms’ of the Single Market, which they regard as four crucial principles of EU membership:  freedom of capital, of goods, of services, and of labour.(1) Membership of the EU requires members to accept all of these four principles; one cannot have three and not the fourth, or accept two and decline to have the other two. The EU negotiators are not intending to move from the position of the customs union as currently operated by the EU. The British negotiators, however, seem to think that they can get round this apparently rigid, ‘all-or-nothing’ logic of the EU by …..more negotiating, so that eventually, sometime before 29 March 2019, when the UK is due formally to exit the EU, Britain can be part of a customs union with the EU – a new arrangement specially tailored for Britain’s new Brexit status. The EU is not disposed to accept this a) because of its history dealing with troublesome British demands for special treatment in the past (e.g. the 4 British ‘opt-outs’ from EU procedures, more than any other member state) and b) because Britain cannot be seen to be obtaining an ‘easy’ and altogether advantageous exit from the EU as this might encourager les autres and prompt other member states to press more troublesome demands or even head for the exit, thus undermining the whole construct. Thus, for the EU, there can be no question of ‘a’ customs union after March 2019 in the sense of a new or alternative customs union; there can only be ‘the’ customs union, as currently exists.

In this issue, the British are seeking, they say, to be ‘flexible’, to accommodate an individual country’s requirements, namely their own. This can be said to be a more ‘modern’ approach than the ‘one size fits all’ demand of the EU. It could be argued that the British view is therefore more in tune with the Consciousness Soul which seeks to focus on the individual personality and as far as possible on the autonomy of that personality, whereas the continental view of the 27 member states reflects the more universal and abstract, all-embracing, law and principle-driven thinking of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, the age of the Intellectual Mind-Soul. However, there are other sides to both positions. The Consciousness Soul attitude  – and we should never forget that we are only 600 years into an epoch that lasts in total 3573 years – tends towards selfishness, egotism because the Consciousness Soul is related in the mineral aspect of the physical body i.e. to separatism, and Britain is, in any case, an island. This egotism is but the first phase, like the lower octave, so to speak, of the Consciousness Soul development. It means that the British have difficulty understanding, let alone sympathising with, the more universal, generalising, top-down and abstract approach that comes naturally, for example, to the French centralised, authoritarian, technocratic tradition of the graduates of the Napoleonic Grandes Écoles, such as the current President of France, Emmanuel Macron. There are of course, those  in Britain, such as members of the elite who have attended the traditionalist Oxford and Cambridge universities or the London School of Economics, a hotbed of abstract Modernism, who are more comfortable with this more rationalist, abstract thinking, but they are in the minority and have always been so; the British folk soul as a whole is averse to this kind of thinking and to intellectual rationalism in general; it prefers to work from the ‘bottom up’, so to speak, engaging with concrete specific examples, individual variations and differences. Its legal system is based on the evolution of case law, individual historical precedent, and the improvisational decisions of individual judges.

The Three Mystery Streams

Rudolf Steiner’s lecture of 15 Dec. 1919 (GA 194) casts light on the polarity between the British and the EU positions in this Brexit debate. In that lecture, he contrasts the ancient Mysteries of Spirit, or Light, which stemmed from Asia and Greece, with the Mysteries of Space, coming ultimately from the Mystery culture of Egypt, and passing via ancient Rome to the Catholic Church. This is the stream of the structuring of society in accordance with certain overarching universal principles – the stream of the state and of jurisprudence. That which in Egypt proceeded from the Sun and created the hierarchies of pyramidic society passed via the (in)equalities of Roman law to the codes, rules, canons, dogma and ecclesiastical bureaucracies of the Catholic Church along with the intellectual, analytical and synthetic mental tools required to organise and maintain those social structures of the fourth epoch. “This second strand” [of the three Mysteries], says Steiner in the above-mentioned lecture, “is the scourge of our civilisation.” One only has to wander, in reading, through the thousands of pages, the endless paragraphs, of the 31 chapters and some 12,000 regulations of the EU’s body of law, the acquis communautaire, to feel the truth of this observation; one can also feel it by wandering on foot around Brussels-Schuman, the local in the Brussels suburbs where most of the EU bureaucracy is housed, and feel something of the spirit of the EU by looking at and experiencing the architecture and designs of the buildings that have been chosen to represent this gargantuan venture. Through those buildings breathes the spirit of the Mysteries of Space, from Akhenaten, Emperor Justinian, Pope Boniface VIII, and Napoleon down to Emmanuel Macron today.

The third strand of the Mysteries, says Steiner, is that of the Mysteries of the Earth, by which he refers to the Mysteries of northern Europe, the mysteries of the festivals of the natural year which came to inspire later economic practices. “It [was] an economic life which enveloped the usages of right and the matters of culture to such an extent that, for example, the impregnation of the herds was celebrated as a special festival in honour of the gods….The old customs belonging to the life of rights and the cultural life [in Europe] all contain echoes of this ancient economic civilisation.” But “its original usages of right have been discarded because Roman law has flowed in, and its original usages of cultural life have been discarded because the cultural life of Greece has flowed in. At first, this economic life is sterile, but gradually it works its way up again; but it can only do so if it can overcome the chaos that arises from the acceptance of a cultural life and a life of rights from outside.” [ibid. emphasis – TB] Steiner points out repeatedly in other places that the dominance of the economic impulse in modern society over the cultural and legal/political life can only be reined in when autonomy is granted to the cultural life and to the legal/political life so that they can inform the economic life without in turn, dominating it. All three spheres need to be autonomous in their own realms in this modern age and not constantly interfering with each other.

The ‘occulted’ godfather of the EU

In the EU, this is not the case because there, the legal/political imperatives, the desire to create a “new” overarching superstate, with a new “government” and a new “citizenry”, has been there from the very beginning of the project in the 1950s. It can be seen clearly in the speeches and writings of the ‘occulted’ godfather of the EU – Jean Monnet (1888-1979), who from the beginning wished to abolish nations and faire l’Europe – to create the United States of Europe that could stand alongside, and he hoped, one day, in equal partnership with its big brother, the USA. His role has been “occulted” because it has been deliberately hidden by the Eurocratic elites; not completely of course but it has been obscured, veiled behind a succession of Franco-German ‘frontmen’ – Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Jacques Delors, François Mitterand, Helmut Kohl, Angela Merkel and now Emmanuel Macron and Martin Schulz: all of these are but masks through which speaks to varying degrees the original founding will of Jean Monnet like an initiating ancestral spirit. He has been hidden because the Eurocrats who have inherited the decadent political stream of the ancient Mysteries of Space do not want it to be widely known that in fact he owed his success to his connections with the representatives of the more modern, indeed transatlantic, economic Mysteries of the Earth, the Anglo-Americans.(2)

Monnet was a remarkable individuality in whose life and activities the impulses of the two Mystery streams of Space and of the Earth flowed together. Some might be tempted to think that this canny French cognac merchant, born in Cognac itself, was somehow, in the depths of his will, unknown perhaps even to himself, seeking to lead the old political impulses of the fourth epoch over into the new economic impulses of the fifth epoch in his single-minded drive to create a political European union based first and foremost on economic life. But one should read carefully his own statements, in particular those where he speaks about institutions and individuals, and it soon becomes clear that throughout this life he never wavered in his conviction that institutions were more important than individuals; he wrote: “European unity is the most important event in the West since the war, not because it is a new great power, but because the new institutional method it introduces is permanently modifying relations between nations and men. Human nature does not change, but when nations and men accept the same rules and the same institutions to make sure that they are applied, their behaviour toward each other changes. This is the process of civilization itself!(3) [emphasis – TB] Monnet was a behaviourist in that he believed that individuals cannot change from the inside but only when outer conditions change; his motto was that of the Swiss philosopher and poet, Henri Frederic Amiel  (1821-1881): “Experience begins over again with every man. Institutions alone become wiser; they accumulate the general experience and from this experience and this wisdom come the rules which, once men have accepted them, change gradually not their nature, but their behaviour.”(4) Obviously, this is a position that Rudolf Steiner, the author of The Philosophy of Freedom, did not share. It is a view that actually does not belong in the epoch of the Consciousness Soul, the epoch of individual self-determination and autonomy.

The impulses of two epochs

What we are seeing in the Brexit debate in Britain and in the negotiations between Britain and the EU is but the latest phase in the great historical struggle between an impulse arising out of the ancient but decadent Mysteries of the Earth, out of Germanic northern Europe, an economic impulse that is today often ugly, adolescent, aggressive and egoistic but which in the future of this Consciousness Soul epoch has the potential to become an impulse of service and cooperation in human society everywhere – between this, and the ancient, civilised, southern European political-juridical impulse of social order that also stretches back through the fourth Post-Atlantean epoch to the third, from Rome to Egypt. For 2000 years, educated people in Europe have been in intellectual thrall to the spectral model of the Roman Empire and its successor, the Catholic Church, within which lives the decadent spirit of Egypt in its rituals and structures. But Steiner pointed out in those same lectures of the winter of 1919-20 which were also attended by a group of people from Britain:

“the middle point of our century [c.1950] coincides with the end of the period in which the forces from before the middle of the 15th century – still atavistically with us to some extent  – reach their ultimate decadence. ….Until the middle of the 15th century, a person with spiritual knowledge, speaking about the phenomena of human birth and death, would have shown how destiny between birth and death was woven out of the divine world. But today we have to point out that a person’s destiny is determined by his previous lives on earth, and by the manner in which these lives cause him to create the forces that will enable the divine worlds to come towards him. Today we have to seek in the human being himself the source out of which the forces arise which enable spiritual beings of one kind or another to approach him. This is the important we have now reached in evolution. What is happening externally must be seen as an expression of inner events which can only be understood through the insights of spiritual science.” (5)[emphasis – TB]

The 1950s, which saw the first institutional steps towards an eventual United States of Europe carved out by Monnet and his allies came some 540 years after the beginning of the 5th Post-Atlantean epoch (1413). 540 years is one quarter of a cultural epoch, each of which, according to Steiner, lasts 2160 years. In the 540 years from the early 15th century to the 1950s, the Mystery knowledge that had been preserved in the fourth cultural epoch continued to flow onwards and have its impacts in western culture, but all  spiritual  impulses active on the earthly plane in the realm of time and space eventually run into the sand and degenerate. They all have to die and are replaced by new impulses in new forms appropriate to new times.  And yet, although, as Rudolf Steiner said, “the forces of human evolution  that have been guiding human beings in their progress will be exhausted by the middle of this [20th] century, approximately speaking” and “new forces must be drawn up from the depths of human souls, and people will have to understand how they are linked in the depths of their souls with the roots of spiritual life”(6), a man came forward in the 1940s and 1950s  - Jean Monnet – who believed that change can only come from outer institutions, not from within individuals, and who sought to create a grand, outer institution that could shape the destiny of modern human beings in the West. It was to be created on the basis of economic realities (which reflected the nature of the new epoch of the Consciousness Soul) and not on that of cultural dreams and illusions, such as were entertained by the likes of Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi and his Paneuropa movement (founded in 1923)(7) but nevertheless, those economic realities were only intended to be the stepping stones towards a new political and legal entity – the United States of Europe – another form, ‘modern’ and secular,  of the Roman Imperium, of the Catholic Church, of the Holy Roman Empire and the Empire of Napoleon. A part of Monnet’s will – the economic part – was rooted in the modern age, but his spiritual and political motivations were still linked in the depths of his soul, most likely stemming from a previous life,  with those exhausted, decadent impulses of the fourth Post-Atlantean epoch which Steiner indicated had reached their end in precisely the 1950s. Yet in that very decade, with the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in the year 1950(8) and the European Economic Community (EEC) in Rome in 1957(9), Monnet and his confrères sought to revivify the spectral ghost of the Roman Republic.

British delusions

Today in Britain, however, the debate rages not about these issues of the past and future of European civilisation. The ‘Remainers’, those who, like Tony Blair, are trying to reverse Brexit, are urging membership of ‘a’ customs union or remaining in ‘the’ existing customs union, (or, they argue for not leaving the EU at all), while knowing full well that millions of their fellow Britons voted for Brexit in June 2016 because they are opposed to the EU’s ‘free movement’ principle. And those Brexit voters are opposed to it not least because it had meant, amongst other things, that in the 12 years between 2004 and 2016, some 450,000 immigrants came to Britain from the new Eastern European member states  – more immigrants than had ever arrived in Britain over the nearly 1000 years since the Norman Conquest of 1066! This level of mass immigration put tremendous pressures on local government in various parts of the country. Tony Blair’s government had assured the British people that no more than 50,000 would be arriving…. The Remainers seem incapable of seeing that if the British refuse to accept ‘freedom of movement’, the EU will not cut a deal with the UK over any kind of customs union, because the EU will not compromise on all four principles: goods, services, capital and labour (persons). And the British Remainers are incapable of seeing this because they still, after all these years, look at the EU essentially as an economic club and not in terms of what it really is – a programme that has always aimed at the creation of a new unitary European state – in careful, stealthy stages, so that the public will hardly notice what is happening. For this very reason, ‘free movement’ was introduced  and ‘EU citizenship’ was introduced. The British do not see that this is why the words ‘European Union’ are printed above ‘United Kingdom’ on UK passports, as they are on all EU passports: the EU comes above and before the nation state, as it was always intended to do: “EU Citizenship is destined to be the fundamental status of nationals of the Member State” [emphasis – TB] – so decreed the European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgment of 20 Sept. 2001 in the case of Rudy Grzelczyk vs. Centre public d’aide sociale d’Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium). This was an important statement by the ECJ, but coming only a few days after the events in New York on 11 Sept that year, it didn’t get much media attention. In the early years, after the Treaty of Rome, ‘free movement’ had meant ‘free movement of workers’ and had been understood in an economic sense, but over time this was adjusted to ‘free movement of persons’, and the Treaty of Maastricht introduced the concept of “European Citizenship” because of course, the goal had always been to shift gradually and imperceptibly from an ostensibly economic arrangement to a political one so as to be able to create not just the Single Market but the Single Superstate – while at the same time always denying to the public that this was the aim! Most Britons are still under the misapprehension that the original intention was for a free trade club and that somehow the political dimension merely slipped in ‘by accident’ later on….This misapprehension, still routinely  evident in the UK media, is the result of ignorance, naivete and sheer lack of interest in what goes on in the EU.

Another example of a British delusion about the EU is that the project was begun by a few decent men  – the ‘Founding Fathers’ (another American reference) who were shocked by the Second World War and wanted to ensure that war would never occur in Europe again, so to realise that aim they decided to coordinate European economies to make Europeans so prosperous that they would never again want to go to war. What this ignores is that men like Monnet and Coudenhove-Kalergi had long been opposed to nation states and had advocated the creation of some form of European federal super-state. Monnet’s close British ally Arthur Salter, with whom he collaboted in London during the First World War, wrote a book The United States of Europe in 1931 proposing that a united Europe be created on the pattern of the German Zollverein (customs union!) of the 19th century  – a ‘common market’, with a common tariff on all goods imported from outside the union with “a political instrument to determine how the distribution [of those funds] should be made”. Salter too wished to proceed to a political union via economics. But a customs union with an external tariff ignores the reality of today’s global economy, a reality Steiner was already pointing to 100 years ago, in for example, his lectures on World Economy.10 In economic terms there is no more reason to set up tariffs against goods from outside Europe than there is to do so between European countries. The reason to do so is political – to promote the drive to a single ‘nation’ state called ‘Europe’. Likewise, the drive to create a European citizenship and a European Parliament.

Most Britons seem ignorant  of the motives of Monnet and his transatlantic allies in the Anglo-American elites and their interest in the creation of a ‘united Europe’ – one that would ensure that Europe would stay bound to the United States and that would keep Russia at bay and above all, would keep Russia away from any meaningful links with Central Europe. Britons ignore or mock the recent grand statements and visions in speeches by men such as Macron and Schulz (26 Sept. and 7 Dec. 2017 respectively; see photo below) about their intentions to create a United States of Europe by 2024 or 2025, not realising that these are not mere fantasies of these two individuals but actual, revealed statements of the will of the European elite circles who have been steadily and persistently driving forward the EU agenda towards the United States of Europe all these years since the days of Monnet, the revered but barely mentioned founder. Now, they sense, they are close to their goal and so can be more ‘open’ about it, claiming that a United States of Europe is justified ‘in the present circumstances’ (Brexit, the ‘democratic deficit’, economic crisis, the rise of nationalist populism etc.)  as if this were something they had only just conceived of or as if they were merely responding opportunistically to a crisis.

In Britain, with its 1200 year old history, there is little knowledge of or interest – certainly not in the media, the gatekeepers of public discourse – in the history of the EU and the actual intentions of the men who created it. Not even among anthroposophers in Britain is there much interest in this. There is little or no reflection in Britain on what the Brexit debate means for the 1200 year-old history of this country and for the long-term future both of Britain and Europe in a global context, for example, in the context of relations between America, Europe and China. This is because the British still have their eyes on the ground and on the little stones that lie there, the little flowers that grow there in winter. Their focus is still the ‘mysteries’ of Earth – and the money that can be made from them, the material prosperity enjoyed. No,  the debate rages on in Britain about the effect on universities’ scientific research grants or farmers’ subsidies, the effect on English fishing ports, house prices, reductions in the numbers of immigrants, cooperation between intelligence agencies and police forces, about checks on lorries at the Irish border. About membership in ‘a’ or ‘the’ customs union.

Terry Boardman 



 1.These are laid down in Titles II and IV of Part 3 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which is one of the two current primary treaties of the European Union and on 13.12.2007 (Treaty of Lisbon) replaced the Treaty Establishing the European Community which at Maastricht in 1992 had replaced the original Treaty of Rome (1957).

2.See for example, François Duchêne, Jean Monnet – The First Statesman of Interdependence, New York & London (1994)

3. Quoted from R.C.Mowat, Creating the European Community, London (1973).

4. Ibid.

5.R. Steiner lecture of 14 Dec. 1919 (GA 194)


7. Coudenhove-Kalergi was an Austrian-Japanese aristocrat who advocated for a single European state that would have a Catholic spiritual basis, would exclude Britain and Russia and would be ruled by a new aristocracy consisting of the offspring of mixed marriages between the traditional European nobility and Jews. Like Monnet, he was closely connected with Anglo-American elite circles and was also a Freemason but because his impulse to unite Europe was more focused on the cultural and political spheres, he was sidelined after the Second World War by the USA, which preferred Monnet’s economic approach to European unity.

8. The ECSC was formally proposed by the ‘frontman’, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman on 9 May 1950 and came into force in the Treaty of Paris on 18 April 1951. It expired as a legal entity in 2002.

9. The Treaty was signed in the at the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Capitoline Hill, the very centre of ancient Rome, on 25 March 1957, and came into force on 1 January 1958.

10.R.Steiner, World Economy, Fourteen lectures given in Dornach, 24 July – 6 August, 1922  (GA 340)