The announcement of Europe Day 2021 reminded me of my visit to Tirana. Polis University there wanted to celebrate the then French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Robert Schuman inviting Germany and also other countries to join what would become the European Coal and Steel Community. Presently, the day he announced this intention at a press conference – 9 May 1950 – is considered to be the birthday of the European Union. Luxembourg-born, Schuman had studied at various German universities including Strasbourg. Upon the Alsace returning to France, Schuman was elected to the Assemblé nationale. When the Alsace was under German rule again, in 1940-1945, he was in prison, only to be re-elected thereafter. He was Prime Minister and as such present at the 1948 Amsterdam Conference leading to the Council of Europe. Also present was Konrad Adenauer on his way to become the leader of West Germany. Foreign Minister in one of the numerous French governments thereafter, one thing Robert Schuman was not was the author of the Schuman Declaration.
That role fell to a ‘gang of four’: Jean Monnet (1976) and two experts with a past in the collaborationist Vichy regime: Pierre Uri – who, being Jewish, had been in hiding for a while – and Étienne Hirsch. Paul Reuter joined as the legal expert. They between them drafted the proposal in a little more than a fortnight for the good reason of Schuman being scheduled to meet the foreign ministers of the senior World War Two allies, Great Britain and the United States in London on 10 May, 1950!
There is much to be said about this. Cohen (2012) gives an account. Suffice it to say, in charge of French reconstruction, Monnet was only too aware of the French economy being drip-fed by the Americans and relying on German coal, for which purpose France had occupied the Saarland and was sharing in the exploitation of the German Ruhr. Well-connected to the American Foreign Policy Establishment, Monnet knew that, with West Germany becoming a partner, the arrangement was unsustainable. The idea of this ‘Statesman of Interdependence‘ (Duchêne, 1994) was to administer coal and steel production jointly, in so doing preventing Germany form rearming unilaterally. If they so wished, others were to be invited to join the duo.
But join what? Not a union of states but a functional organisation! Monnet held elected politicians, if not in low esteem, then at least beholden to their constituencies. So that’s why he went for functional integration. Step by step, other functions might be added later: the Monnet Method. But, by the time the governments of the original six had heeded the invitation to join this venture, they had made sure that they, and not the Commission of what was called the Higher Authority retained control. Which is where the paradox of a Union of states, each claiming sovereignty in its own right started.
Exploring what the ‘gang of four’ had really been up to takes you over the treacherous ground of the 1930s. Dismayed by the spectacle of parliamentary politics, several thinkers – not all of them Fascist – were exploring the alternatives. Amongst them was corporatism, preached by the Vatican and practiced by some less-than-savory Catholic regimes. Cohen (2012) parades a number of those thinkers. It is clear that they continued to have an influence: Nobody less than Jacques Delors, a Catholic socialist and representative of ‘personalism’ with roots in that period bears witness to this. Now that the European Union is in an impasse, there is a world to be won by exploring its origins.
Cohen, A. (2012) De Vichy á la Communauté Européenne, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris.
Duchêne, F. (1994) Jean Monnet: The First Statesman of Interpedendence, W.W.Norton & Company, New York, London.
Monnet, J. (1976) Mémoires, Fayard, Paris.