William Penn’s idea of a European Parliament

Posted on 24 October 2018

October 24th marks the birthday of Quaker and social reformer, William Penn, who pioneered the idea of a European Parliament.

In 1693, Penn wrote his essay Towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe by the Establishment of a European Parliament, in which he expressed the hope that disputes between neighbouring nations would be resolved by peaceful talks and not by the raising of arms.

The essay argues that Europe should do the following:

  • Form an assembly of people who held authority
  • Have its assembly meet regularly
  • Maintain an open and ongoing dialogue between nations
  • Listen to all complaints
  • Administer justice with equal fairness
  • Keep the peace

The idea came to Penn as his newly founded colony Pennsylvania needed the support of  a united Europe to not just survive but thrive. A Europe with nations divided would not be able to supply the goods, resources and quantity people to emigrate and settle in his territory.

It took nearly three centuries for the vision of Penn to materialize, and in June 1979 the first European Parliament elected directly by the citizens was implemented. That Parliament had only nine member states, and all from western Europe.

As its motto, the Euopean Union took a Latin phrase used in Penn’s essay:

Cedant arma togae

This translates as, ‘Let arms yield to the toga’. In other words, fighting gives way to talking.

Another Latin phrase from Towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe by the Establishment of a European Parliament is:

Beati Pacifici

Which translates as, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’

Today, the European Parliament is elected today by citizens of 28 countries. However, following Brexit, this will soon be down to 27 when the UK leaves.

What would William Penn think of his home nation abandoning the dream he envisaged 325 years ago?



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