Foreshadowing a unified Europe: A fresh look at the Schuman Plan

Fifty-three years have passed since French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman took the historic initiative to launch his plan for the unification of Europe. American and British reaction toward the French initiative has already been analyzed by various scholars. Yet some historic documents recently revealed by the University of Leiden throw further light on the issue. It is well known that Schuman issued his famous declaration on May 9, 1950 (a day that is now commemorated as Europe Day). Then he took the train to London in order to participate, along with US Secretary of State Dean Acheson and British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, in a conference regarding the rearmament of Germany. American and British reactions toward the Schuman Plan were very cautious. In a document dated May 10, 1950, Acheson informed President Truman of the French proposal for closer association of French and German coal and steel industries, which, according to his opinion, had already created «deep impression and wide speculation.» According to Acheson, the proposal was put forward entirely on French initiative and that Schuman had mentioned «it quite casually and in such general terms prior to the announcement» that he was unable «to gauge the full significance of the proposal.» Acheson regarded Jean Monnet (the commissioner responsible for France’s reconstruction after World War II, whose «Monnet Memorandum» became the basis of the European Coal and Steel Community, or ECSC) as the mainspring of the proposal. The US secretary of state briefed President Truman that the French didn’t want the Allies to treat their proposal as a «trick by which France could gain any particular advantage on the continent.» On the contrary, according to Monnet, the French proposal had to be accepted «as a significant, far-reaching effort not only toward Franco-German understanding but European federation.» Furthermore Acheson was impressed by the French proposal as it appeared that «real transfer of sovereignty» was involved and that «full publicity of all operations of the High Authority» was contemplated. Commenting on Schuman’s plan, Acheson pointed out that it was «important that the French be given credit for making a conscious and far-reaching effort to advance Franco-German rapprochement and European integration generally.» On the other hand, he suggested a very cautious response, as it was early for the US to give the French proposal its approval «because of the possible cartel aspect» involved in the Schuman plan. British reaction on the same day was also very cautious, according to a «Record of a meeting at No. 1 Carlton Gardens.» British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, Foreign Secretary Bevin and Herbert Morrison, Lord President of the Council (a member of the Cabinet), were among the participants of that meeting. According to the Record, «there was general agreement that the French Government had behaved extremely badly in springing this proposal on the world at this juncture without any attempt at consultation with H.M. Government or the US Government.» It was also agreed that until the proposal had been more carefully considered in all its aspects, it was essential to adopt a very cautious and non-committal attitude. According to the Record, the participants of the meeting were wondering to what extent the French initiative had been inspired by preoccupations about defense. Furthermore some discussion ensued as to the exact significance of the reference in Schuman’s statement «to the possibility of the adhesion of countries in Eastern Europe.» As Mr Morrison said, the Schuman plan «might have been primarily economic in its origin but it clearly had most important political implications.» It was agreed by the participants at the meeting that the French proposal «showed a regrettable tendency to move away from the conception of the Atlantic community and in the direction of European federation.» Fifty-three years later, the war in Iraq and the enlargement of the EU have provided a satisfactory answer to the questions of the participants of that meeting in London. France has initiated the building up of hardcore Europe in the domain of defense outside the framework of the Atlantic community, the European Union has just recently accepted eight countries from Eastern Europe as its members, and the European Convention is drafting the European Constitution that will enhance the building up of a European federation. (1) Epaminondas A. Marias is assistant professor in Theories of European Unification at the University of Crete, and Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University.

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