Cognac in south-west France celebrates the birth of one of its most famous son on Sunday.
A few years after the second world war, Jean Monnet was in charge of a plan which was supposed to re-invigorate the French economy. Monnet believed that France and Germany had a specific role to play in building a lasting peace.
So he proposed the European Coal and Steel Community, bringing together vital resources, and steered by an authority beyond national governments. The signing of the Schuman plan in 1951 brought the Coal and Steel Community into being – the forerunner of the Common Market. And yet Monnet was the son of a Cognac wholesaler. When he left school at 16, a life in politics was not on the cards.
Roger Garnier, a lecturer on Jean Monnet, said: “Very early on in fact, he worked for the business which had, sort of, made his father. He travelled the world, yes, to sell Cognac. And in doing so, he showed a very particular kind of instinct. He had a sort of antenna, which brought him in contact with the top people, the decision-makers.”
Monnet rubbed shoulders with Schuman, Adenauer, and Churchill in Europe, and Roosevelt and Kennedy across the Atlantic, influencing history in his own subtle way. The town of Cognac is preparing to celebrate the 120th anniversary of his birth.