Year LXII, 2020, Single Issue, Page 89



9th MAY 1950.



Every year, on Europe Day, the EU commemorates the declaration made by the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, on 9th May, 1950, which led to the birth of the ECSC, the first milestone in the process of European integration. May 9th, 2020 marked the 70th anniversary of this historic event.

Behind Schuman’s declaration, there lay remarkable commitment and endeavour, in the sphere of politics and political ideals, on the part of the individuals who drafted the memorandum Schuman took as his basis: Jean Monnet and his collaborators, particularly Étienne Hirsch, a member of the French Resistance who went on to become president of Euratom and subsequently of the UEF, and Pierre Uri, an economist who would later contribute to the drafting of the Treaty of Rome.

Although Schuman’s declaration was delivered in a different setting, with different references, there are a number of similarities between that momentous time and the state of affairs today; these similarities lie in the constant efforts, on the part of national governments, to resist unification, and also in the now urgent need to make a qualitative forward leap towards the creation of a form, even limited, of European sovereignty.

Europe has, of course, achieved many important advances since 1950: the European Community has been transformed into the EU; a single market has been created and consolidated; a single currency, the euro, has been introduced and is now adopted by 19 countries; we have a European Central Bank; and since 1979 the European Parliament has been elected by direct and universal suffrage. And yet Europe still lacks a crucial ingredient, namely the sovereignty that, in certain sectors, would allow it to speak with one voice and assume the status of a global power.

Monnet, in his Memoirs, recalls the major problem of addressing the matter of how peaceful Franco-German relations might be achieved in a period (1949-1950) in which public opinion, both as a result of the Cold War and because of the difficulties finding a solution to the “German question”, was fearful and alert to the winds of a possible new war. Monnet’s intuition, the product of lengthy reflection, both personal and with his group, was that the Franco-German problem could be transformed from a difficulty into an opportunity, providing it were viewed from a completely different angle. In short, it needed to be approached in European rather than national terms.

Monnet started from the concrete issue of coal production in the Ruhr and Sarre regions, and the need to solve the problems related to the management of this area, historically contested between France and Germany, in a way that would create a form of European sovereignty, albeit within a limited field.

His long experience (gathered during both world wars) of collaboration and alliances between states had left him convinced of the fragility of cooperation alone as a means of governing interdependence.

“It is astonishing how little the word ‘alliance’, which people find so reassuring, really means in practice if all it implies is the traditional machinery of co-operation (…). Total war at the level of the Alliance seemed to have no meaning, and certainly little hope of being achieved. In each of our countries the civil and military war machine was preparing, as best it could, to wage its own war. (…) Governments were acting separately.”[1]

Monnet had to face numerous issues and obstacles, but he was deeply convinced of the value of what he was undertaking, and was helped in his endeavour by the support of individuals and leaders of the calibre of Schuman and Adenauer, who grasped its importance.

In this regard, Adenauer, in his own memoirs, quoted by Monnet, recounts the following episode: “That morning I was still unaware that the day would bring about a decisive change in the development of Europe (…), news came that an envoy from French Foreign Minister Schuman had an important message for me. [The envoy brought] two letters from Schuman to myself (…). One of them was a personal, handwritten message [in which he] wrote that the aim of his proposal was not economic but highly political (…). I immediately informed Robert Schuman that I agreed to his proposal with all my heart.”[2]

In the feverish days leading up to the agreement on the final draft of the Treaty, Monnet had very clearly in mind the crucial idea of European sovereignty, although, in the face of misleading attempts to reach intergovernmental agreements, it proved difficult to promote. On 22nd June, in a meeting with the leaders of the delegations from the five countries involved, namely Hallstein (representing Germany), Suetens (Belgium), Spierenburg (The Netherlands), Wehrer (Luxembourg), and Taviani (Italy), he worked hard to resolve the issue of the management of the conference, and how to overcome institutional problems. However, the delegation leaders all followed the same line, and it showed “the natural bias of men accustomed to negotiating agreements between States or between producers — more or less secret agreements restricting free competition. They found it hard to adjust to the idea that this regulatory role could be entrusted to the High Authority, acting openly and with sovereign power.”[3]

Some wondered whether “important technical questions could not be settled by intergovernmental agreement before the High Authority was set up”, which, as Monnet remarks, “was the very opposite of the spirit and procedure of the Schuman plan.”[4]

Monnet’s view on the question of sovereignty emerges very clearly in his reply to a note from Macmillan: “The Schuman proposals are revolutionary or they are nothing. (…) The indispensable first principle of these proposals is abnegation of sovereignty in a limited but decisive field (…), in my view, any plan which does not involve this indispensable first principle can make no useful contribution to the solution of the grave problems that face us.”[5]

Monnet recognised the various obstacles in the way of introducing of a High Authority, at supra-state level, which is the premise for adopting a federal as opposed to an intergovernmental logic: “Turning to Spierenburg, I reminded him that intergovernmental co-operation had never led anywhere: ‘I realize’ I said, ‘that there may be serious concern about the radical change which the French proposal represents. But remember that we are here to build a European Community. The supranational Authority is not merely the best means for solving economic problems: it is also the first move towards a federation’.”[6]

The idea of converting a need into a political action was a very clear in Monnet, who recounts an environment that was willing to accept it, yet seemingly unable to promote it.

“Looking back on this mid-century period, one can hardly fail to be struck by the extraordinary ferment in men’s minds about the idea of European unity. The political parties and militant movements dealt with it in their manifestoes; statesmen discussed it in their speeches; articles were devoted to it in the press (…) one has the feeling that so rich a current of thought could hardly fail to bring about European unity on the broadest front. And, indeed, the vocabulary and arguments still used on the subject today were already current then. But they had nothing to do with action.”[7]

As the conference of the six founding countries got under way, there could be no doubting the importance of the work done by Monnet and his small group in those frenetic days: “by the time the (…) conference opened, I had on my desk a draft Treaty forty articles long containing in rough but recognizable form the basic structure for the organization of Europe. This text, which enlarged on the Schuman Declaration of May 9 and made it operational, was also the work of the same few people. Their contribution did not stop there: but, important as it was to be later, there is no doubt that this was an exceptionally creative phase. Such a phase in the history of ideas is always brief, and is often hard to distinguish from the later, practical phase which involves great changes for people and things.”[8] Significantly, Monnet adds: “In the course of what I said on June 21, I also went into a new aspect of the High Authority’s independence. It should (…) have its own revenue, drawn from a levy on coal and steel production, and not depend on government subsidies to finance its administration and its operational work. Its moral and financial credit would make it the best-placed borrower in Europe.”[9]

Notwithstanding the huge advances made in the field of European solidarity, and the help that the states are set to receive through the various European instruments that have been created to tackle the emergency, the historic challenge of the global pandemic, with the effects it is having on every aspect of life, is making one thing very clear: whenever a country, be it The Netherlands, Germany, or any other, rallies behind a national position and the defence of an alleged national interest, the old conflict between national interests and the European interest immediately returns to the fore.

Monnet was fully aware that such stances, while understandable and long established, only lead to confrontation. Today, like then, the question we have to ask ourselves is: can individual European countries, on their own, survive in the face of the immense problems of our times? If the answer is no, then it follows that a true European alternative must be created in the name of the “total solidarity” mentioned by Monnet, initially only in certain fundamental fields of course, but in such a way to ensure that the Union as a whole is kept from collapsing, thereby exposing the various countries to the risk of falling prey or victim to some other, extra-European, power just waiting for this to happen.

Just ahead of the Declaration on 9th May, Schuman in his preamble delivered before more than two hundred journalists in the Salon de l’horloge at the Quai d’Orsay, underlined the need for a profound change in international politics. “It is no longer a time for vain words, but for a bold, constructive act. France has acted, and the consequences of her action may be immense. We hope they will. She has acted essentially in the cause of peace. For peace to have a real chance, there first must be a Europe.”[10]

Subsequently, on 20th June, Monnet tells us, Schuman, opening the conference of the six participating countries, told them: “never before have States undertaken or even envisaged the joint delegation of part of their national sovereignty to an independent supranational body.”[11]

This was an entirely new approach, fortunately one supported by Germany, which Monnet had prepared in his exchanges with Adenauer, telling him, among other things: “We want to put Franco-German relations on an entirely new footing (…). We want to turn what divided France from Germany – that is, the industries of war – into a common asset, which will also be European. In this way, Europe will rediscover the leading role she used to play in the world and which she lost because she was divided. Europe’s unity will not put an end to her diversity – quite the reverse. That rich diversity will benefit civilization and influence the evolution of powers like America itself.

The aim of the French proposal, therefore, is essentially political.”[12]

Adenauer, addressing Monnet, was of like mind: “For me, like you, this project is of the highest importance: it is a matter of morality. We have a moral and not just a technical responsibility to our people, and that makes it incumbent upon us to fulfil this great hope. The German people have enthusiastically welcomed the plan, and we shall not let ourselves be caught up in details. I have waited twenty-five years for a move like this. In accepting it, my Government and my country have no secret hankerings after hegemony. History since 1933 has taught us the folly of such ideas. Germany knows that its fate is bound up with that of Western Europe as a whole (…).

‘Monsieur Monnet,’ he said, I regard the implementation of the French proposal as my most important task. If I succeed, I believe that my life will not have been wasted.”[13]

Accordingly, on June 13th, Adenauer addressed the Bundestag with the following words: “Let me make a point of declaring in so many words and in full agreement, not only with the French Government but also with M. Jean Monnet, that the importance of this project is above all political and not economic.”[14] 

* * * 

Today, unlike 70 years ago, the European Union has not just emerged from a ruinous war; nevertheless, it faces a series of grave problems that, if unresolved, threaten to wipe out the effects of years of integration. With the Covid-19 pandemic, the freezing of activities and trade in the single market, the repercussions of all this on employment and development, and the deepening of the states’ national debts, Europe seems to be plunging into an abyss. And as long as it has at its disposal only the existing systems and institutions, which set the states in opposition to one another and encourage selfish national stances, it will struggle to get out of it.

Rocked by the pandemic, the single countries, rather than trying to find a shared approach to their enormous problems, also in the healthcare sector, have made their own choices, often even in conflict with one another. The Union, like the emperor with no clothes, has been left exposed, and what we see is that there is really no union at all. There is certainly no European sovereignty, or “total solidarity” as Monnet might have said — no coming together to tackle the problems that matter through a body that represents the whole.

National governments, and the structures, bureaucracies and civil servants that underpin them, are reluctant to give up their power and jealously defend it against the intrusions of a necessary, but new, emerging power that frightens them. Only the French president, Emanuel Macron, perhaps mindful of the role played by France in 1950, has based much of his action, even before becoming president, on the idea of a political and sovereign Europe.

Among the EU institutions, the European Parliament, in particular, should claim to exercise this supranational European power, yet many MEPs are still trapped by what they know, and have yet to adopt a truly European mindset. They limit themselves to managing that which already exists, failing to see that this is no longer enough to ensure the survival of this institution. There is no more time to lose! It has become essential to abandon the national perspective and adopt a vision of things that shows us the common good, and indicates the unitary solutions to problems.

Jean Monnet, addressing Altiero Spinelli in 1952, said: “What we want is a revolution, and we must accomplish it with legal means, with statesmen who lack energy and any emotional commitment.”[15]

Anna Costa

[1] Jean Monnet, Memoirs, Introduction by George W. Ball, Translated from the French by Richard Mayne, New York, Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1978, p. 18.

[2] Ibid., pp. 302-303.

[3] Ibid., p. 325.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., p.316.

[6] Ibid., p. 328.

[7] Ibid., pp.282-283.

[8] Ibid., pp. 321-322.

[9] Ibid., p. 324.

[10] Ibid., p. 304

[11] Ibid., p. 322.

[12] Ibid., pp. 309-310.

[13] Ibid., pp. 310-311.

[14] Ibid., pp. 319-320.

[15] Altiero Spinelli, Diario europeo 1948-1969, Bologna, edited by Edmondo Paolini, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1989, p. 140.

Share with