Sixty years ago, the Europe Union was born in the Clock Room, at the French Foreign Ministry. It was there that Robert Schuman made the declaration that would lead to the founding of the European Community.
On 9 May 1950, speaking before assembled journalists, France’s top diplomat made an appeal to the former enemy, Germany.
He suggested that France and Germany should share their production of coal and steel, essential materials for the production of weapons.
More daring still, Schuman put forward the idea of a supranational authority – independent of the two countries – to manage production. And he invited other countries to join the venture.
One year later, six countries set up the ECSC, the European Coal and Steel Community.
It was later to evolve into the 27-member European Union.
Audrey Tilve, euronews: “Pascal Fountain, you’re an expert in the creation of Europe. You were the last assistant to Jean Monnet who we’ll talk about more . First, can we look at the days and even the hours leading up to the announcement of the ECSC. Everything was decided very quickly, and in the greatest secrecy…”
Pascal Fontaine: “Exactly. You could even say that on the 9 May, 1950 this was a real diplomatic bombshell, that surprised the leaders, the press and everyone in the European political circle. Germany’s Chancellor Adenauer had been informed the day before, in the evening, by a secret emissary from Minister Schuman and had given his approval just that morning. So Robert Schuman could say to his colleagues in the Council of Ministers: Germany is on board. And the Americans were only informed at the highest level.
Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman felt this French diplomatic initiative was so revolutionary that it really needed to be a major surprise, because the diplomatic tradition – the way things were done, when a subject or a project was revealed too early – was that it was likely to be reduced in scale. And the importance of the Schuman plan was its revolutionary aspect which led to the establishment of Europe.”
Audrey Tilve, euronews: “So why Schuman, why not Georges Bidault for example, the Prime Minister at that time?”
Pascal Fontaine: “Robert Schuman, was himself handed the document by his principal private secretary, Bernard Clappier – who played a big role in this affair – Schuman immediately saw the political scope of this initiative and said: I’m going to make this my business, the political plan will be my responsibility.
Robert Schuman was born in Lorraine. He lived and his family lived, through its history, all the dramas, all the paradoxes of confrontation between France and Germany in that region. He was made to serve in the German army when he was young. All that was naturally a personal tragedy. He was by nature a very committed French patriot, but he was a man of faith, a man of reconciliation, and he took on this mission like it was his destiny.”
Audrey Tilve, euronews: “And then there is the man in the shadows, who you say inspired this, Jean Monnet. At the time, he was in charge of the state’s economic planning, given the task of getting the French economy back on its feet after the war. The ECSC project was really his idea…”
Pascal Fontaine: “In effect, he invented supranationality. It’s worth noting that on the 3rd of August 1943, in Algiers, when he was a member of De Gaulle’s provisional French government, he had written a very visionary document in which he said – after the war, countries would not be able to be reconstituted on the basis of national sovereignty as it was before.
They’d have to share sovereignty, because Europe would be too small, because there’d been the need to find a framework for peace, because there’d have to be a real European entity that could call itself a European Federation.
And what Schuman did in May 1950, was the first step in that European project. And Jean Monnet saw it in that way. He conceived this idea of an overall coal and steel authority, and not a technical body, but one with a federal core, and a unifier and the start of a more global structure, which would be built up progressively and which in effect has given us the Europe that we know today.”
euronews: “This was at the height of the cold war. The Federal Republic of Germany – West Germany – had been created one year earlier, followed by the GDR – the east; the Korean War was also about to start. Was it because of that context that the European dream was possible, a dream which goes back to Victor Hugo? “
Pascal Fontaine: “Yes, indeed, the cold war was a determining factor. And at the time, West Germany was in play, a very important policy issue. And the Americans would have liked West Germany to be rearmed quickly, that it was not an issue in the cold war but that it became an active member of NATO. But the French, naturally, were hesitant to give full sovereignty to Germany, without some guarantees.
So, this was a good solution. In one stroke it solved all the problems. First, France’s desire to find the right status for Germany. Secondly, to regulate the problems of production of coal and steel, to regulate the problems of the Ruhr and the Saar which still existed between France and Germany it brought that into the discussions. It was the first concrete move towards creating Europe, to actually make Europe.
And also to show, during the cold war, that the west was organised and that this European Federation which was going to come about would be the European mainstay of the Atlantic Alliance and we would not allow propaganda, or Soviet threats, to have an effect on public opinion in Germany or elsewhere.”
euronews: “We’ve talked a lot about Monnet’s way of building Europe through concrete moves. But have we now reached the limit of that? We’ve created the single European market, Europe without borders and the euro. And you get the impression that now there’s not much else to do.”
Pascal Fontaine: “Well, I don’t think that at all. I believe it’s actually the opposite. You shouldn’t forget that in 1950 there were three billion people on the planet, now there are six billion. And little Europe which was master of the world before could very well have ended up sitting in a corner weeping over the fact that it’s been marginalised.
To remain a player Europe needs to focus its forces. Not everywhere, but in the essential areas.
It was coal and steel, the internal market, security, justice, the environment, the single European currency, and soon, undoubtedly, an overall European economy. And I believe that this Europe will be come about because, as Jean Monnet said , there’s no alternative. The only other choice is marginalisation, and nobody has a plan B, even if it sometimes appears difficult. Oh well, it is often when things are difficult that you make progress.”