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From Six to Twenty-Five, or Thirty

On May 9th, 1950, The French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Robert Schuman, read a declaration beneath the chandeliers of the Salon d'Horloge at Quai d'Orsay. He proposed that the Federal Republic of Germany and France hold in common their production of coal and steel. A supra-national High Authority would oversee the implementation of the plan, the modernisation of productive capacity, the development of exports, and the improvement of the standard of living of the workforce.

Five years after the capitulation of the Nazi regime in Germany, Schuman already foresaw a time when "the solidarity of production which this pact will bring about will show that all ideas of war between France and Germany are not only unthinkable, but also impossible". Schuman also saw other nations entering into the agreement, and Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Italy soon joined up. Great Britain at this point was still harboring reserves about the arrangement. In the reigning Cold War climate the United States was enthusiastic over the French initiative and the potential for containment of the Soviet expansion represented by this union of free world nations. The agreement would be cemented by a treaty, which was signed into effect on April 18, 1951, and it called for the establishment of four new institutions: a High Authority, the Council of Ministers, the Community Assembly, and a Court of Justice.

A brief survey of the new union's precursors would not fail to mention, as one of the first, Victor Hugo and his call for a United States of Europe. In 1925 Aristide Briand re-issued this appeal. Winston Churchill, Henri Brugmans in Belgium, and Count Coudenhove-Karlergi are among those who strove in this direction. But it was Jean Monnet, as head of the French Planning Commission, who inspired Schuman and drafted the declaration Schuman delivered. It was Monnet the pragmatist who saw that specific, concrete steps were the way to move toward this great goal. Italy's Council President Alcide de Gaspieri and the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer shared Schuman's Christian-Democratic vision of Europe's future. A majority of socialists were quick to rally to the new cause while most Gaullists were anxious to defend the nation-state. Communists in general sought a way to dismantle what they saw as a new war machine against the Soviet Union. For many, the United States served as a model; states would gradually shed their sovereignty in favor of a gathering of their collective strength. Why should the European states not follow the example of the states of the American union. Experience since shows that in fact the European experiment is sui generis. Old World union would take new and uncharted routes. European integration is an endless exploration, a permanent process, as frustrating at times as it is – at other times – thrilling.

The past half-century has been filled with metamorphoses, successes, hesitation, even failure. The European Defense Community (EDC) was stillborn, buried once for all by the French National Assembly in 1954. On the other hand, the Treaty of Rome in 1957 inaugurated the Common Market and Euratom. The High Authority gave way to the Council of Ministers, to be aided by the European Commission composed of experts named by the ministers and assigned the task of preparing the work of the Council. A parliamentary assembly of 142 members issued collective opinions on European matters. These institutions would be in time rounded out by an Economic Committee, a Monetary Committee, a Court of Justice and a European Bank. Wisely, tariff barriers among members would be slowly phased out, and a common tariff perimeter erected around the Common Market.

The success of these measures was, however, never guaranteed. Great Britain assembled a free-trade zone of its own in an attempt to undermine the fledgling union. General De Gaulle, returning to power in 1958, was tempted to steer the ship of state in a direction contrary to European union, but ultimately chose to favor continued rapprochement between the French and German peoples. His was a fierce defense of French interests, and yet he made of France a strong advocate of European unification. Slowly, resistance to the growing European unity weakened. On the 1st of January, 1973, three new member states were admitted to the Community: Great Britain, Ireland, and Denmark. Greece entered the union on January 1, 1981. Spain and Portugal would follow five years later, turning the new 12-state Europe a bit more towards the Mediterranean, a bit less towards its northwestern center. Other nations were knocking on Europe's door, seeking entry. On January 1st, 1995 Finland, Sweden and Austria joined the European Union. 
The Baltic States, former Soviet satellites, Balkan nations, Cyprus, Malta, Turkey, and perhaps Morocco and Israel are waiting their turn. Our Europe of Fifteen will soon be a Europe of Twenty-Five or – who knows? – maybe even Thirty?

Is this growth a good thing? At the present time all of the states gathered into the Union are nations of democratic principles. Greece of the Colonels, Spain and Portugal under dictators, or Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic of Marxist-Leninist regime all belong to the past. Mistakes have been rectified, straying nations have returned to the democratic fold, and this can only help the cause of peace. Freedom and prosperity are now the order of the day. At the same time the economic motivations of various players must be kept in mind. Currently Europe is an economy of 373 million people, combining a tremendous internal market with a dynamic production sector. Its economic potential surpasses that of the United States. New member states will bring the Union's population to 450 or 500 million. Even more than today, the European Union will constitute an economic and commercial superpower and a daunting rival to North America or East Asia.

But will the European sense of identity stand up under the arrival of so many new participants?  Will caring for the less-developed areas newly joined to the Union prove to be too much of a financial strain on it? Will the tendency toward a Europe of different speeds be exacerbated by enlargement, a tendency already visible in the adoption of a common currency by only 11 of 15 members or in the internal divisions created by the Schengen Accords? How will decisions be reached in the future? Will the transition finally be made from a Union essentially economic in nature to a truly political, judicial and cultural Union. In sum, will Europe one day be a superpower in the full sense of the term? There are many questions and few definitive, undisputed answers. But even the questions themselves bear witness to a tremendous hope and to the vision for change which gave birth to the Declaration of May 9, 1950.


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André Kaspi
Chairman of the Committee for the History of the CNRS
Comité pour l'histoire du CNRS
E-mail: andre.kaspi@cnrs-dir.fr

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