Mauve Carbonell


Doctor of History, researcher at ESPE Aix-Marseille and member of the teaching team at the Master of European Studies at Aix-Marseille University, Mauve Carbonell talks about the reasons that led to the resurrection of the European idea after World War II.


When did the idea of building a united Europe appear?

The idea of a united Europe as we know it today was developed in the 20th century. Up until 1945, it was marginal in the conceptions of the world put forward by States, political parties, intellectuals and society, although we can find some hints of a European consciousness among the 18th-century humanists or with Victor Hugo, who is often quoted for having mentioned the creation of the "United States of Europe" as early as 1849. The political project for European unity has its roots in the first half of the 20th century. After World War I, Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi founded the Pan-Europa movement, or the Paneuropean Union, calling for peace through the creation of a federation of European States. He influenced the French Minister Aristide Briand when he proposed the creation of a European union in 1929. The project did not see the light of day, but it was still one of the first pacifistic political attempts to unite the European States. After World War II, European federalist ideas took on new meaning and a new dimension. In 1948, the Hague Congress, under the honorary presidency of Winston Churchill, brought together over 800 pro-European militants (political personalities, journalists, trade unionists, etc.) and adopted several resolutions calling for the creation of a politically and economically united Europe. Above and beyond the ideological aspirations of part of the European élites, the international political and economic context was central to the concrete implementation of these ideas in the early 1950s.

What were the main motivations behind the resurrection of the "European idea" after the war?

World War II devastated the European continent. The bloody failures of the nationalist ideology pushed beyond its limits brought new ideologies to the fore, from Christian Democracy to Communism, which were founded on democracy, brotherhood, solidarity and freedom. The union of Europe was just one aspect among others in this ideological renewal. The decisive factor in the progression of pro-European ideas, above and beyond their ideological bases, lies in the international geopolitical context after 1945. Liberated by the Allied Armies in the West and by the Red Army in the East, the European continent was quickly divided into two opposing camps. In the West, where liberal democracy (re)occupied its rightful place, the Communist threat quickly replaced the fear of the Nazis. Countering the "red menace" became a necessity. An economically strong and politically stable Western Europe was seen as indispensable for the United States, the big winner of the war, and its allies. The United States offered its financial support to rebuilding Europe (Marshall Plan, 1947) on the condition that the States united and worked together to coordinate aid distribution, giving rise to the OEEC (Organisation for European Economic Co-operation). At the end of the 1940s, it was a question in the West of uniting Europeans, even though they were just coming out of a terrible conflict, to return to prosperity, peace and stability, and to contain Communism. In this context, pro-European ideas were not popular – anti-German feelings still ran strong in many countries – and were imposed from above, with European leaders speeding up the reconciliation process through the launch of European construction in 1950.

What were its founding acts ?

At the origin of a community-based Europe lies the proposal by French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Robert Schuman, to pool French and German coal and steel production in a supranational organisation. At the end of the 1940s, several European cooperation bodies (Organisation for European Economic Co-operation, Western Union Defence Organisation, Council of Europe) and regional economic integration organisations (Benelux) were formed. But the Schuman Declaration, the resulting Treaty of Paris of 18 April 1951 and the European Coal and Steel Community that came out of it gave a conception of Europe that went beyond simple cooperation between States. The founding of the ECSC was not at the origin of European ideas or achievements – other organisations came before it, but it was indeed the founding act of the European community and of institutions that still exist today within the European Union. A few years after the formation of the ECSC, the second founding act was the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC) by the Treaty of Rome in 1957 with the goal of establishing a common market between the Member States, of which there were six.

Who were the founding fathers of Europe?

We call the "founding fathers" of Europe those political leaders who worked in favour of post-war European unity, who took part in the first major steps in European construction and who, in their respective countries and with their fellow citizens, embodied the very idea of Europe. The duo Robert Schuman – Jean Monnet were the emblematic leaders, as they were behind the ECSC. We can mention other "founding fathers": German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Italian Premier Alcide de Gasperi, the head of the Luxembourg government Joseph Bech, Belgian Minister and MP Paul-Henri Spaak, Dutch Minister and diplomat Johan Willem Beyen, etc. They all took part in the first stages of European construction: the ECSC and the EEC. Other personalities were later included in the European "pantheon", such as the German Walter Hallstein. The "founding fathers", a legitimate and legitimising affiliation, were often showcased by the European institutions themselves. But the human component of the history of European construction is much wider and goes beyond the six countries present at the start of European construction: members of the ECSC's High Authority, European commissioners (EEC, then EU[1]), Members of the European Parliament, Judges at the European Court of Justice, civil servants, diplomats, men and women in the community administration, etc., have been the basic building blocks of European venture through its successive expansions.

"Europe didn't happen. We ended up with war." said Robert Schuman in his speech on 9 May 1950. In what way is the idea of peace inseparable from European construction?

Peace, along with democracy, is the strongest value put forward by united Europe. In the past, the European continent had been the theatre of many wars and conflicts whose causes were territorial, economic, political and ideological. In the 20th century, the two world wars pushed human and material destruction to new heights. In 1945, the expression "never again" was taken up by all levels of society. The means for establishing lasting peace in Europe – an absolute condition for political and economic recovery – appeared to be few and far between, especially in the face of the international tensions related to the start of the Cold War; the fear of a Third World War was palpable. Starting with the Schuman Declaration, the idea of peace was put forward in European projects, even if they were mainly economic in nature: linking French and German coal and steel production, "the sinews of war" in the 20th century, would de facto prevent war from breaking out between France and Germany. Moreover, this was a way of reintegrating Germany into the concert of nations while controlling its (re)development. The European leaders involved in the process in the early 1950s emphasised the political promise of economic union: establishing peace, reconciliation, strengthening democratic Europe, a political union going all the way to a federation for some, etc.

Peace as a founding value of united Europe should, however, be analysed with care. Of course, peace between the States of Western Europe – for a long time just a small part of Europe – appeared to be ensured, but the European Union was unable to stop horrific conflicts from breaking out on the continent (wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s) or on its borders (Ukraine), even today.

How was the ECSC the "first stage of the European federation"?

The Schuman Declaration and the ECSC that it brought about contained a fundamental ideological originality that help us to understand later developments in European construction. The very principals of the ECSC included abandoning part of national sovereignty in favour of the Community. Executive power was in the hands of a High Authority that was headquartered in Luxembourg, theoretically independent and in charge of decision-making, ensuring that its decisions are applied in a concern for the general welfare. The product of federalist ideas, the ECSC was, in Jean Monnet's mind, just a first step in gradual economic integration, by sector, that was to lead to a political federation. But in practice, the ECSC was quite alone in this and European construction took a very different direction after the failure of the European Defence Community project in 1954 and the ensuing change of course.

How do you explain the failure of the EDC in 1954? What were the consequences (economic integration/political integration)?

In 1950, the United States backed rearming the Federal Republic of Germany in the context of a worsening Cold War. Rearming the former enemy pure and simple was still unacceptable for France, which proposed creating a European defence system that would include Germany. In the wake of the Schuman Declaration, the Pleven Plan – named after French Prime Minister René Pleven – drawn up by Jean Monnet – was presented to the French National Assembly. The project was ambitious and was in keeping with the federalist line of the ECSC: an integrated European army headed by a European Minister of Defence. Following this proposal, there were heated debates in France and Western governments were mostly wary. The treaty signed in May 1952 created a European Defence Community (EDC) that was much less supranational than initially planned. Between the treaty's signing and the ratification vote at the National Assembly in 1954, there were constant quarrels between pro- and anti-EDCs, with the two sides being torn apart through the political debate, in the press, in intellectual circles and in society. The context changed in 1954 compared with the time at which the project and treaty were originally written: the death of Stalin and the end of the war in Korea reduced the Communist menace. French parliamentarians, starting with the Gaullists and the Communists, voted against the EDC on 30 August 1954. The project was subsequently abandoned. The main reason for this negative vote lies in the fear of resurgent German military might so soon after the war. The EDC's failure truly put a stop to European construction as initiated with the ECSC, especially as the project for a European Political Community, which was supposed to integrate the ECSC and the EDC over time, was also abandoned in 1953. In the end, the federalist orientation only really brought the ECSC project to fruition. Proposals were no longer on the agenda and the relaunch of European construction after 1955 concentrated joint efforts on the economy (the future EEC) and, to a lesser extent, energy (the future Euratom).

What were the consequences of the signature of the treaty establishing the EEC and the Euratom treaty in March 1957 in Rome?

European construction was relaunched in the mid-1950s after the failure of the EDC, taking form at the Messina interministerial conference in 1955. The conference's final resolution called for pursuing the construction of a united Europe "firstly in the economic field", through the creation of a common market. Two years later, the six ECSC countries signed a treaty establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or Euratom). The many differences between the EEC of 1957 and the ECSC of 1951 reflect the change of course of European construction that had intervened in just a few years, now less supranational. New institutions were set up: the European Commission and the EEC Council for the executive branch, with the parliamentary Assembly and the Court of Justice being common to the three Communities. Brussels was chosen to be the main seat of community institutions. The leading economic goal of the EEC was to establish a common market based on a customs union. The Treaty of Rome implanted the principles of the free movement of goods (common market), people, service and capital in the community's genes. Lastly, common policies were targeted: a common agricultural policy (CAP) and a common transport policy, which did not succeed. History will remember that the EEC was the ancestor of today's European Union, with successive treaties reinforcing and consolidating the community structure over time, widening the European Communities' fields of action despite the Member States' reticence at delegating their sovereignty.

[1] The European Communities (the ECSC, the EEC and then the European Community, the EAEC or Euratom) did not become the "European Union" until 1992 with the Maastricht Treaty.

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