Emmanuel Macron’s initiative for a European revival expresses the French president’s need to make his mark early as a reformer not only in his country but in the rest of the European Union as well. It is also part of a long line of French proposals to establish peace on the continent through the cooperation of its states. Speaking at the Sorbonne on Tuesday, Macron referred to Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of the EU after World War II, and Robert de Sorbon, who founded the university in the 13th century, to stress the need for a Europe of solidarity and unity, a Europe that is “just, protective and ambitious.” He did not refer to another compatriot, the statesman Aristide Briand who in 1928 presented a proposal for a “European Federal Union.”
Briand’s proposal was a response to the Great War and to the realization that excessive nationalism and conflicting interests among states would lead to further bloodshed. The proposal – and the consequences of its failure – proved that Briand, Monnet, and others were right to believe that only peaceful cooperation between states could establish peace on the bloody continent.
In 1930, when Briand presented a memorandum with his plan to 27 countries, only four or five expressed unreserved support – among them Greece. The historian Constantine Svolopoulos notes that the prime minister at the time, Eleftherios Venizelos, saw that “the Briand Plan could cover vital needs for Greece with regard to political stability, economic development and, especially, the country’s territorial integrity.”
After Briand, Venizelos and others, Macron declares that sovereign states can deal with the time’s challenges only through coordinated and consensual action. Perhaps acceptance of the Briand Plan might have averted World War II. In any case, after the new slaughter, the continent’s leaders showed greater will to cooperate. In Western Europe, this led to today’s European Union. Now that both the fear of war and the politics of consensus are fading, the need arises for a new vision that will deepen cooperation among nations. This is what Macron’s call expresses. Whatever other nations may reply, it is imperative that Greece again take part from the very beginning.