The Path to European unification
75 years ago, the Second World War came to its end in Europe on this day. This international conflict that is considered to be the greatest catastrophe in the History of humanity, brought with it more than 50 million deaths, an incomprehensible amount of human suffering, and also the beginning of a new confrontation of the Cold War. Furthermore, the Eastern part of Europe was taken under a Soviet occupation, which meant devastating decades of new dictatorships for these countries.
It took the terrible and meaningless devastations of two world wars for Europe to recognize never again must she fight a war against herself. Therefore 70 years ago, exactly 5 years after the arms went silent, two European statesmen – the French diplomats Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman with the contribution of chancellor Konrad Adenauer of West-Germany – drafted the vision of a unified Europe.
In this article, we seek the answer to what was the historical significance of the vision later called as the Schuman Plan, and what was that specific geopolitical context that allowed Europe to embark on the path of the integration.
The main reasons behind the European Integration
As World War II brought unprecedented destruction to the countries of Europe, not surprisingly the main reason for the integration efforts was precisely the strive to avoid a future war between the countries of the continent.
However, the Soviet expansion and the unfolding Cold War meant an increasingly serious threat for the so fragile European peace. Recognizing this threat, the countries of Western-Europe realized that they cannot protect themselves without the defeated and later invaded Germans in case of an outbreak of a new conflict. However, defending themselves either militarily or economically could only be achieved the resumption of the German heavy industry – primarily the production of the Allied controlled Ruhr area.
Although the fear from the Germans is still existed, – especially within France, – a system that could answer two challenges simultaneously had to be introduced. Firstly, unlike the peace settlements ended World War I, the Germans had to be ensured the opportunity to return to the European system of power with a raised head. Otherwise, it would have been only a matter of time that the renewed desire for revenge would start the whole conflict over again. Secondly, the finally returned Germans had to be integrated into the system, while at the same time, they must have been taken under control.
The fourth reason that leads to the integration can be found in the shift of power of the post-war era. Besides the two new-born superpowers, traditional European powers become more and more insignificant after the war. It became clear, that only a unified, federal Europe can regain her leading role on the Globe. Although the first step towards this could only be achieved through the elimination of the rivalry between nation-states of Europe – mainly the dissolution of the centuries-old French-German confrontation.
Last but not least, it is also important to see the greater economic context behind the Integration itself. As a consequence of the post-war recovery, the production started to grow beyond the frames of the nation state’s markets and borders in the western half of Europe. The Schuman Plan was by far not the only contemporary aspiration for an economic integration. Its relative uniqueness rather lied in the fact, that this plan combined both the current economic aspirations, the earlier political-philosophical concepts about a unified Europe, and the challenges of the contemporary geopolitical realities too. Thus, it dreamed up a broader vision as a future of Europe – including the political dimension as well.
The concept of the Schuman Plan
Although many people worked on the creation of the unified European vision, historical memory still refers to this achievement to three names. The Plan itself was named after Robert Schuman, who served this time as a foreign minister of France and participated in the negotiations as the head of French diplomacy.
He found a worthy partner in the first chancellor of West-Germany Konrad Adenauer, who set his main goal as to lead his country back into the European order after the war-torn ages. However, the concept of the European Integration came forward from the head of Jean Monnet. As a true grey eminent, he not only created the Plan which later was named after Schuman but also convinced others of the feasibility of it. Furthermore, he also gained the political support and consent of Adenauer too.
According to Monnet’s vision, the Integration had to be accomplished through small, but successful steps. The Schuman Plan was only the first step in this greater concept, in which the cooperation between the European economies had to be established first, and this could be followed by the political union.
At this time, the engine of warfare was the production of coal and steel as countries could arm themselves from this. During the interwar period, every country of the League of Nations (which was the predecessor of the UN) controlled its own production. Whenever the League of Nations attempted to limit the extraction, her efforts failed by the veto power of the member states. As a former Deputy Secretary-General of the League of Nations, Monnet witnessed the bust of the interwar system, and as a true grey eminent he founded a system in which the former failures could never be repeated.
The essence of his plan was to put coal and steel production under common control and to encourage nation-states to cooperate. According to this concept, a new war would be impossible, as nation-states still lacked both the interest and the competences to start a new war. The Plan itself consisted of three concrete proposals. The first was to establish an independent supranational authority above nations, which could control the German and the French coal and steel production. The second was to create a common market between the countries that took part in the common production of steel and coal, where they could trade with their goods derives from the common production. Last but not least, the community would be opened for all countries that would accept the supremacy of this supranational authority and the common principles of the community.
The announcement of the Plan was made on the 9th of May in 1950, in the Cloakroom of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs – which has also been named after Schuman since that day. According to Monnet’s suggestion, Schuman proposed economic cooperation between France and West-Germany in his declaration. “The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany. Any action taken must in the first place concern these two countries. […] The movement of coal and steel between member countries will immediately be freed from all customs duty, and will not be affected by differential transport rates.”
The resulting Treaty, which established the European Coal and Steel Community was signed on the 18th of April in 1951, in Paris by the representatives of the strongest economies of Europe – West-Germany, France, Italy, and the Benelux countries. Great-Britain joined this newly created Montan Union only as an observer because of the fear of losing her national sovereignty from such commitment. Finally, the ECSC Convention came into force on the 23rd of July in 1952, after the ratification of the national parliaments. Thus, the European Coal and Steel Community became the first international organization in Europe which was established on a supranational basis.
The Treaty provided about two 5 years of a transitional period during which the Customs Union and the Common Market had to be established between the contracting countries. The former intended to abolish internal customs duties and other restrictions about coal, iron, coke, and scrap. The latter was concerned with the goods derived from the trade of the common coal and steel sector. Besides these, the most important institutions of the Montan Union were also established.
Into the 9-member High Authority, the Benelux Countries delegated 1-1 members, while the others delegated 2 members each. However, after they had become members of the Board, they had to represent no longer their sending states, but the whole Integration itself – at least in principle. This institution – whose first president was Monnet himself – was the predecessor of the European Commission of today. It has three means to hold the executive power. The regulations were binding all member states, while in case of directives, member states could decide the way how they accomplish the objectives which had set by the High Authority. Decisions, on the other hand, lacked binding force, and they just concerned about specific cases.
However, the Council of Ministers has become the most important decision-making institution of all. Each country sent its own ministers here, in order to represent the interests of the nation-state in professional matters.
The Common Assembly – which was the body that meant to represent the interests of the citizens – was the weakest institution, as it has only an advisory role originally. This institution evolved the most over time, as currently has serious decision-making powers as the European Parliament, and it has become a true co-legislator body besides the Council of Ministers.
The 6-member European Court of Justice became the place of the complaints and legal disputes regarding the decisions. But the European Council which evolved from the regular meetings of the heads of states, and aimed to give and dispute the strategic directions of the Integration was only established much later (1961). On the other hand, it is undeniable, that informal meetings have always played a crucial role in preparing decisions.
The resulting model became the basis of that institutional system, from which the European Economic Community (1957) and finally, the European Union itself (1993) had emerged.
The Schuman Plan gave a sense of achievement and impetus to the concept of the European Integration. Thus several other treaties would be born – such as the famous Treaties of Rome (1957). As a result of these, the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) were established. Finally, the three organizations were merged in 1965, by the so-called Treaty of Unification. The European Communities that were born by this merge could be considered as the direct legal predecessor of the European Union. And although the ECSC Treaty was originally effective for 50 years, the EU still carries out the tasks that had been set out in it.
Yet the historical significance of the Schuman Plan lies in the fact, that it has eliminated the centuries-old division of Europe, and it laid down the foundations of a system, in which after many hundreds of years of war and destruction, Europe can finally be greeted by years of peace and prosperity.
However, the unprecedented achievements of the European Integration have left us not only unparalleled opportunities but also very heavy responsibilities as a heritage. If we do not take care of our common values, the pillars of solidarity – which have been the foundations of European peace since World War II – can be easily trembled down.
That is why it is crucial that today, when the Coronavirus Crisis from on the one hand, and the emerging populist wave on the other confront the European Integration with challenges never seen before, to recall the sacrifices of our predecessors, and draw strength from their faith. The faith in a strong and unified Europe, in which through a ruined continent had been built up to the greatest partnership in the History of humanity.
The author of this article was Andras Miko, International Relations Content Creator, and Post-graduate student at the University of Corvinus.