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Sixty years of the European Project

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SIXTY years ago today, on July 18, 1961, the founding countries of the European Economic Community, Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, 
Luxembourg and the Netherlands, issued the ‘Bonn Declaration’, a commitment to expansion and unification. A contemporary cartoon by ‘HeKo’ shows Germany and France supporting one end of a hammock on which Europa reclines, while they wait for a sapling called ‘Political Cooperation’ to grow sufficiently to take the burden.

There were several different drivers for this movement, which is why the results have been patchy. They included: 

·       Preventing war in Europe

·       Developing selected African nations

·       Fighting Soviet Communism on behalf of the USA

·       Abolishing nationhood

·       Building an empire

·       Achieving full employment and prosperity

Jean Monnet, an internationalist in outlook from his business as a French brandy exporter, believed that the way to prevent European conflicts was to unite the countries, especially France and Germany. He was advising the French minister of commerce and industry at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference when the latter put forward a plan for international economic cooperation. Instead, France was set on ruinous reparations from Germany and the rest we know.

Again in 1940, as France was falling to German blitzkrieg, Monnet was in London, urging the unification of France and Britain – joint citizenship and joint armed forces, which might have been enough to resist the Nazis. His idea was tabled for British Cabinet discussion, but the French government capitulated before the scheme could be considered.

In 1950 his plan of absorbing into a higher authority the French and German production of coal and steel, key war-making materials, was announced by Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister; the 1951 Treaty of Paris established the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and Monnet became its President. Monnet’s ambitions went further, but the French Parliament rejected a proposal for a unified European Defence Community.

Nevertheless the success of the ECSC, reviewed at the Messina Conference in 1955, encouraged the Six to proceed with further integration. 1957 saw the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which gave birth to the EEC and Euratom (the transnational atomic energy commission) and set its sights on the economic development of past and present European colonies in Africa. A fund was set up, to which all the Six contributed.

By 1961 the EEC was ready to ‘move towards the unity of Europe’, as the preamble to the Bonn Declaration says, but not just to prevent nationalistic wars: ‘Only a united Europe, allied to the United States of America and to other free peoples, is capable of meeting the dangers which threaten the existence of Europe and of the whole free world.’

The threat to world peace had shifted from nationalism to ideology. Of the USA, more later.

Though France had previously rejected a common European defence policy, by now even de Gaulle was contemplating it, as he wrote in his notes (p 101 here): ‘There can be no European unity if Europe does not constitute a political entity distinct from other entities. A personality. But there can be no European personality if Europe does not have control over the defence of its personality. Defence is always the basis of politics.’

These developments aroused concern in the British Prime Minister (ibid, p 105): ‘Harold Macmillan, alarmed not least of all by the danger of an autonomous foreign and defence policy organisation of the Six, announced in the House of Commons on 31 July that he would seek to negotiate Britain’s entry into the EEC.’

Whatever British leaders said publicly in the years to follow, post-Bonn they knew where the EEC was headed. 

In another blog I will consider the role of the US in the development of the EU.

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Rolf Norfolk
Rolf Norfolk is a former teacher and retired independent financial adviser.

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