Franco-German economic integration: the dawn of the EU

At some point 70 years ago people just realized that founding a European Union would be quite convenient, so they signed a treaty and everyone was happy. And that’s how the EU was born.

Except it’s not.

We now live in the most prosperous, peaceful and unprecedentedly democratic era on the European continent. A time when we learn to treat people as people and not walking labels of their countries; when Europe belongs to Europeans and not to mere “states”. A time when we thrive undivided by borders.

Una in diversitate – We live united in diversity, embracing our differences because they add a new element to the dynamics of our everyday lives. Because they change the way we appreciate our own culture – all the while acknowledging that, when it comes down to it, we are more similar than different. We share values and morals; languages and culture; history and, hopefully, a future. But it didn’t happen overnight. The European Union has come a long way.

West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer greets French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, left, upon his arrival on January 14, 1950 at the main railway station in Bonn, West Germany for the start of his visit to the “temporary” German capital. (AP Photo/Jaeger)

The most surprising element of the European project is arguably the one that makes the most sense when looking back – namely that it all started with France and Germany. After all, the two arch-enemies aren’t exactly renowned for the balanced relations they had up until the post-war era. France was always more England-oriented, even after the war. French politicians were hoping to tighten their bong to their Anglican friends and maybe even structure Europe around a Franco-British power axis. However, similarly to now, the United Kingdom was not as interested in the concept of Europe. France had to slowly change its perspective on how to go about re-establishing itself as a European “Großmacht”. That was when the shift happened.

At this point, it is important to stress one thing. Europe was in ruins. Two world wars had all but helped developments in any field. The people of Europe had lost their homes, their pride and their identity. Germany was left broken into pieces, with the realisation of what it had done becoming more painful every day. A once proud and powerful country was now at the mercy of others, and the people left to struggle their way into whatever routine they could manage. France was not much better off either, since Hitler had scorned the country as a great power on the wane. French steel production had reached an all-time low with their economy being dependent on the US. Meanwhile, tensions between the USA and the USSR were starting to intensify, leaving global politics screaming for another powerful state that could act as a buffer.

In other words: Germany wanted atonement and a clean name, which it could only achieve at France’s side through rebuilding the European image. France wanted to be great again – essentially return to its former glory – which meant it needed access to German coal and steel. Much like the European Union today works where member states need each other’s support in order to perform their best, France and Germany were bound to each other by interdependency.

European Coal and Steel Community flag

Eventually, with the support of lawyer Paul Reuter, Jean Monnet came up with the “Schuman Plan”, called after the French Foreign Minister Robert Shuman who put the plan into motion. The idea behind the plan was to lift economic borders between France and Germany on coal and steel – the real sinews of war – and create the very first anti-cartel agency. Other countries were free and even encouraged to join, as the BeNeLux states and Italy did. By putting coal and steel in a common market, not only could the member states help each other advance economically, but it was also the perfect way to prevent a third world war. This was due to the fact that the transparency with which steel was handled would not have allowed any country to start making weapons for a war against another member state. The European Coal and Steel Community, the predecessor of the modern EU, was finally established through the Treaty of Paris, with a council of ministers that should ensure each country has a say over economic issues that concern them

When looking at this objective image of the foundation of the EU, it seems weird to think that it has become something so meaningful: an entity in its own right that people identify with. A union that symbolises a mutual belief in peace and freedom. And, most importantly, a promise to ourselves to never repeat the mistakes of the past. At the same time, it seems as though it was inevitable that the ECSC turn into so much more than an economic treaty. Europe is the common effort of a beaten continent, tired of wars and pain, wanting to provide a better the future for the generations to come.

Adenauer, one of the most important political actors of the past century, once famously claimed that the roses with the most thorns were the ones that lasted the longest. When it comes to Europe, it seems like he hit the nail on the head. Europe means forgiving despite never forgetting and looking towards a better future – a better tomorrow, united.

External contribution by Ioana Crisan

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