I have recently been giving talks and taking part in debates at the behest of Civitas, a respected policy body and think tank and one of the questions that I am asked is ‘How did the EU come into being?’
The narrative of the origins of the EU reveals that it was an idea which, when realised, was one whose time had already past and which was only given life so that the French government could avoid a confrontation with the US Secretary of State Dean Acheson. It is worthwhile recalling the events of 1949 – 1950 since they put into sharp focus three things: the fact that it was political expediency that gave birth to the project and not a mystical conception to prevent war in Europe; the deception that has from its origins attended the growth of the EU and the fundamental flaw of the entire project namely the absence of the democratic principle.
The project has its origins in the work of a few governmental officials following the First World War including Louis Loucheur, Jean Monnet and Arthur Salter. Loucheur was given very wide powers by the French government in 1916 to reconstitute France’s industry which had lost most of its coal and steel production in the north east when overrun by the Germans. The shock of the appalling French losses at Verdun in that year was so severe that it dominated French foreign policy for 2 generations. Loucheur concluded that coal and steel production was the vital condition for waging war and if control of these engines of war were vested in a higher authority peace might be preserved. He became chief economic adviser to Clemenceau at the Treaty of Versailles and proposed integrating French and German coal and steel resources. Monnet and Salter were senior officials in the League of Nations and the Reparations Commission both created at Versailles. These two advanced the ideas of Loucheur by advocating the creation of a United States of Europe with a commission (Secretariat), Council of Ministers, Assembly and Court of Justice. These institutions would be supranational and would not be accountable to any nation or national institution.
These ideas failed to achieve realisation due both to the resistance of French industrialists and also by reason of another form of ‘new order’ in Europe imposed by Hitler. It is however a fact that must always be remembered that the EU project was born out of the First World War and was not in truth the product of fear of any new war arising as a result of the Second World War. By 1949 German recovery had exceeded the expectations of the Allied powers – in particular the US which had largely been the author of this economic success by its Marshall Plan. Britain and the US wished to see Germany achieve economic success and nationhood taking a leading role in Europe. France however resisted all steps that would lead to such an outcome and wished to secure control over German coal and steel production. By March 1950 French obstruction compelled the US to demand that by 11 May 1950 (the date of a Foreign Ministers meeting) a plan for German economic development must be in place or it would impose one.
The French Foreign Minister Schuman then seized upon the Monnet plan to pool coal and steel resources under the supranational institutions he had proposed – brought out and polished for the occasion – as a means of placating Dean Acheson the US Secretary of State. Monnet procured that Schuman was handed his plan memorandum at Gare L’Est when going to Metz for the weekend. By the time he got back to Paris, although Bidault the French Prime Minister was not in favour of the plan, Schuman had determined that it be adopted without any discussion or consideration by the French cabinet. Only 3 or 4 ministers had even any knowledge of it before Schuman announced it to the media on 9 May 1950. The British government had only been sent a short summary of the plan a few hours beforehand and only learned of the substance of the plan from the French radio broadcast. Adenauer for West Germany had no alternative politically but to accept.
Two enduring facts were obvious to all – Churchill in particular. The dominant fact was that the danger to world peace arose from the hostility of the Soviet Union to the West. No less obvious was the fact that the effect on the minds of its people of the entire destruction of most its major cities and the total occupation of its land by the Allied powers (neither of which had occurred in 1918) meant that Germany would not be a threat to peace at least for many generations. It was not this that gave birth to the EU but the dead of Verdun and the Somme.
I will just conclude with the words of Clement Attlee, the then Prime Minister, on the nature of the European Coal and Steel Community that led directly to the Treaty of Rome:—
Britain could not accept that “the most vital economic forces of this country should be handed over to an authority that is utterly undemocratic and is responsible to nobody.”