Part 1b – Economic and Monetary Union: the birth of a grand idea

In addition to Jean_Monnet and Robert_Schuman, two other strong proponents of a federal Europe had emerged during the Second World War.

After spending many years actively opposing Mussolini’s Fascism in Italy, Altiero_Spinelli became intrigued with the idea of socialist federalism and he developed his ideas of a United Europe. In 1941, Spinelli and a colleague, Ernesto Rossi, composed the “Ventotene Manifesto”, eventually titled Per un’Europa libera e unita (For a Free and United Europe).

In 1943, Spinelli became one of the founders of the Movimento Federalista Europeo (MFE) and the implementation of the “Ventotene Manifesto” became their goal. The Manifesto put forward proposals for creating a European federation of states, the primary aim of which was to tie European countries so closely together that they would no longer be able to go to war with one another. As in many European left-wing political circles, this idea of federalism was put forward as a reaction to the destructive excesses of nationalism.

In a BBC radio broadcast given on 21 March 1943, Winston_Churchill gave this vision of a United Europe:

“….One can imagine that under a world institution embodying or representing the United Nations, and some day all nations, there should come into being a Council of Europe and a Council of Asia.

….it is upon the creation of the Council of Europe and the settlement of Europe that the first practical task will be centered.

….We must try to make the Council of Europe, or whatever it may be called, into a really effective league with all the strongest forces concerned woven into its texture, with a High Court to adjust disputes and with forces, armed forces, national or international or both, held ready to enforce these decisions and prevent renewed aggression and the preparation of future wars.

Any one can see that this Council, when created, must eventually embrace the whole of Europe and that all the main branches of the European family must some day be partners in it. What is to happen to the large number of small nations whose rights and interests must be safeguarded? Here let me ask what would be thought of an army that consisted only of battalions and brigades and which never formed any of the larger and high organizations like army corps. It would soon get mopped up. It would therefore seem to me, at any rate, worthy of patient study that side by side with the great powers there should be a number of groupings of states or confederations which would express themselves through their own chosen representatives, the whole making a council of great states and groups of states.

However, at the Tehran Conference in 1943, Stalin opposed and rejected all forms of European federation that Churchill had been proposing. This was in the context of not wishing to create another “super-state” with Germany at its axis that could present a threat to the USSR. Roosevelt, not wishing to create confrontation on this issue, deferred to Stalin’s wishes in return for Stalin’s support and agreement to set up the United Nations structure.

Once the war had ended, and in a speech given to the Belgium parliament in November 1945, Churchill was again using the term, the “United States of Europe”, in reference to unification and peace in Europe. In some ways, it could be said that Churchill was effectively the founder of the post-war European federal movement. In addition, there was a re-establishment of federalist movements in most European states, with a vitality and coherence unmatched in prewar years.

The start of the European integration process described in many of the accounts of the history of the European Union, invariably begins with the historic speech made by Winston Churchill in the Great Hall of Zurich University on 19 September 1946:

“I wish to speak to you today about the tragedy of Europe.

…..Yet all the while there is a remedy which, if it were generally and spontaneously adopted by the great majority of people in many lands, would as if by a miracle transform the whole scene, and would in a few years make all Europe, or the greater part of it, as free and as happy as Switzerland is today. What is this sovereign remedy? It is to recreate the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.

…..The first step in the re-creation of the European family must be a partnership between France and Germany. In this way only can France recover the moral and cultural leadership of Europe. There can be no revival of Europe without a spiritually great France and a spiritually great Germany. The structure of the United States of Europe will be such as to make the material strength of a single State less important. Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honour by a contribution to the common cause. The ancient States and principalities of Germany, freely joined for mutual convenience in a federal system, might take their individual places among the United States of Europe.

…..we must re-create the European family in a regional structure called, it may be, the United States of Europe, and the first practical step will be to form a Council of Europe. If at first all the States of Europe are not willing or able to join a union we must nevertheless proceed to assemble and combine those who will and who can.”

Soon afterwards, in December 1946, an association was established to bring together federalist movements from 16 European countries who were all campaigning for a federal Europe. The association was called the “European Union of Federalists” (EUF) and the Dutch socialist and pacifist, Dr. Henri Brugmans, was its first President. Spinelli’s MFE merged into this new group.

Since the end of the war in 1945, the process of European reconstruction and integration immediately had a connection to the United States of America. Europe’s “founding father’s” project of aiming to replace a failed system of absolute national sovereignty with a community of nation states, pooling their sovereignty through common rules and institutions, immediately found support among academics and politicians in the United States.

As 1947 began, against a background of a Europe rapidly polarising into Communist and Western camps, the US Secretary of State George Marshall organised a team of officials to advise on a new strategy for the political & economic support of Western Europe. Overt & covert support of Western Europe then became the foundation of the US doctrine of containment and dissuasion of the communist threat. The first manifestation of this policy was the announcement on 5 June 1947 of the creation of the “The Marshall Plan“. The Marshall Plan was to be a US financial assistance programme to assist the Western European countries to recover and re-establish their devastated economies.

In response to Marshall’s declaration, sixteen European nations attended a conference, in Paris on 12 July 1947, to form a group known as the “Committee for European Economic Co-operation” (CEEC). The CEEC’s chairman was a British civil servant, Oliver Franks and the vice-chairman was Jean Monnet. The purpose of the CEEC was to present to Washington how the Marshall Plan could be best implemented.

On 20 July 1947, a meeting of the “Liaison Committee of the Movements for European Unity” was held in Paris. The committee comprised of the “French Council for a United Europe”, whose President was Raoul Dautry, the “Nouvelles Équipes Internationales” (NEI), led by a Frenchman, Robert Bichet, the “Independent League for European Cooperation” (ILEC), led by the former Belgian Prime Minister, Paul van Zeeland, the “European Union of Federalists” (EUF), led by Henri Brugmans, and Winston Churchill’s “United Europe Movement” (UEM). The aim of the Committee was to organise, more effectively, the efforts and activities of its constituent member movements. The five groups met again on the 10th November 1947 and changed the name of their organisation to the”International Committee of the Movements for European Unity“(ICMEU). The Committee took the immediate decision to raise awareness of its project among the political and economic decision-makers and it also intended, by organising a major gathering in support of a united Europe, to influence public opinion.

On 12 December 1947, the CEEC presented a report to Washington that stated that the sixteen European nations would need $19.1 billion to cover the period from 1948 to 1951. Seven days later, on 19 December 1947, after making provision for emergency aid to France, Italy and Austria, President Truman submitted to Congress his “European Recovery Bill”, requesting $17 billion over four years. Initially, the Marshall Plan was not supported by the US congress, although it had gained immediate support and approval in Europe. Despite requests from Europe and intense lobbying in Washington, the US Congress refused to pass the bill. However, pressure from events that occurred in Czechoslovakia, changed their minds.

In February 1948, the “Prague coup” established complete Communist control over Czechoslovakia. Congressional resistance to the Marshall Plan collapsed. On 13 March 1948, the bill passed in the Senate and on 2 April 1948 it was approved by the House of Representatives with a massive 329-74 majority.

On 16 April 1948, the “Organisation for European Economic Co-operation” (OEEC) was set up to manage the Marshall Plan in Europe. With the support of Schuman and Monnet, Robert Marjolin, a senior French government official, was appointed as the first OEEC Director-General, a post that he held until 1952. The Americans had hoped that the Marshall Plan with its European component, the OEEC, would be the first manifestation of European unification, but as events unfolded, this idea became more and more remote. The French government, influenced by Monnet, tried to get substantial supranational powers embodied in the OEEC, but this also did not materialise. The OEEC remained just an inter-governmental co-ordinating organisation. Eventually, in September 1961, the OEEC was replaced by the “Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development” (OECD), which had broader aims and a more international outlook.

Then, in May 1948, the ICMEU organised a vast “Congress of Europe” in The Hague and which was chaired by Winston Churchill. The “Hague Congress”, as it was also known as, was attended by 740 delegates and observers, which included 18 official national delegations. Together with observers from other countries, 30 countries in total were represented. Among the many delegates that attended were Konrad_Adenauer, Sir Arthur Salter and Altiero Spinelli.

The Congress set itself three very ambitious objectives: to demonstrate the existence, in all free countries of Europe, of a body of public opinion in support of European unity, to discuss the challenges posed by European unity and propose practical solutions to governments and to give new impetus to the international publicity campaign. The activities of the Congress was divided, over three days, among three committees: a Political Committee, an Economic and Social Committee and a Cultural Committee.

The Political Committee had, at the end of the Congress, unanimously adopted a resolution advocating that a European Assembly be convened as a matter of urgency. The Assembly would consist of representatives nominated by the parliaments of the participating nations, who might or might not be members of those parliaments. It was intended that the Assembly would stimulate and give expression to European public opinion, would generate a wealth of advice on the practical measures to be taken forthwith in order to move progressively to the economic and political union of Europe, would examine the legal and constitutional scope of such a union or federation and the economic and social implications thereof and, finally, would draw up the plans for such an organisation.

During the Congress, two clear ideologies slowly emerged among the delegates. The “unionists”, on the one hand, remained resolutely opposed to anything which might limit state sovereignty. They were, admittedly, prepared to establish relations and international alliances, but they deemed it important to proceed gradually and with caution. The “federalists”, on the other hand, called for the creation, as a matter of urgency, of a federation vested with its own powers which would be enforced upon the Member States.

When the Congress ended, delegations from the various ICMEU member movements moved swiftly to present the conclusions reached in The Hague,  the most important being the the establishment of the European Assembly, to the Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers of most of the countries represented at the Congress.

George Bidault, the French Prime Minister, and other senior French government officials came to the conclusion that one of the reasons why the idea of a European Assembly was growing in popularity was because federalism seemed to offer a solution to the West German problem.

The first breakthrough occurred on 20 July 1948, when Bidault proposed to his four counterparts at the Brussels Treaty meeting that an economic and customs union and a European parliament should be established. By August 1948, Bidault’s proposal represented official French policy and Spaak had spoken out in support of the French decision.

On 2 September 1948, the Belgian and French government representatives to the Permanent Committee of the Five in London submitted to that body the proposal for a European Assembly to be established as set out in the ICMEU memorandum. At the same time, the Franco-Belgian initiative had also received the support of the US government.

While all of these high level discussions were taking place, on 25 October 1948 in Brussels, the ICMEU changed its name to the “European Movement“. Anxious for its campaign to reach beyond activist politics, the European Movement elected Winston Churchill, Léon Blum, the former French Prime Minister, Alcide_de_Gasperi, the Italian Prime Minister, and Paul-Henri Spaak, the Belgian Prime Minister, as its Honorary Presidents. In addition, both Schuman and Adenauer offered their support in the establishment of a European Assembly.

Representatives from the European Movement traveled to the USA to request financial support for the organisation. In addition, many Americans were sympathetic towards the federalist movement’s cause. As a result, the “American Committee on United Europe” (ACUE) was established by Allan Dulles and William Donovan. The purpose of the ACUE was to provide financial support to the federalist movements in order to influence events in Europe in keeping with US foreign policy objectives.

In the period January to April 1949, the governments of France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Norway and Switzerland, conducted talks on the form that a European Assembly might take. In order to achieve consensus, some compromises had to be made but, nevertheless, the result was the formation of the first European organisation made up of representatives at a governmental level.

Finally, on 5 May 1949, at the “Conference on the Establishment of a Council of Europe” held in London, the”Council of Europe”(COE) was established. The “Statute of the Council of Europe” was initially signed by ten states: Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. A few months later, Greece and Turkey also joined the Council. Iceland joined in 1950 and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the French-occupied Saar region (a protectorate) also became associate members. The FRG eventually became a full member in 1951.

In the period 1949 to 1951, Schuman was the French representative at the COE meetings where he made a number of important speeches.

This is an extract of a statement made by Schuman at the conference in May 1949:

“…..Today we are laying the foundations of a spiritual and political co-operation from which there will arise the European spirit, the promise of a broad and lasting supranational union.

It is not the aim of this union to weaken national ties, nor will that be its consequence. The distinctive and original contribution which the several member countries will make to their common purpose will, on the contrary, furnish the essential material of the discussions of our European association and will make it possible to reconcile those dynamic qualities that are necessary with the requirements of a prudent realism.

We have no intention of belying our own past nor of impairing the strength of our individual aspirations; what we will do is to co-ordinate them with the scope of a momentous common task.

There is no better way of serving one’s country than to secure, in peace and understanding, the friendly aid of other countries, uniting for the common prosperity; the benefits derived will endure by virtue of the very fact that they are common to all.”

The first session of the “Council of Europe” began in Strasbourg on 10 August 1949 and it consisted of a series of five meetings. The representatives were senior politicians from each of the participating countries, including leading members of the British and European governments. Spaak, who had just resigned as Belgian Prime Minister after a defeat in the general elections only a week before the first session, was appointed as  the first president of the Assembly. He presided over a series of discussions on how the Council could further the cause of integration, keen on the one hand to promote integration but, on the other hand, anxious not to lose the support of Britain. Initially, there was great enthusiasm that the”Council of Europe” would spearhead the move towards the supranational union that Schuman had envisaged. However, as events unfolded, this would prove not to be the case.

In the second session, the ‘federalists’ launched a ‘major offensive’, seeking to establish supranational authorities in the ‘key sectors’ of defence, human rights, coal, steel and power. But, during the debates, clear divisions among the representatives began to emerge, with sustained opposition to integration from British and Scandinavian delegates. The British took the view that those who wished to take the federal path should do so, but they had no intention of following. At that stage, according to Spaak, began the idea that a “little Europe” might take shape, comprising France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries.

On 10 December 1951, in a speech given to the COE, Schuman encouraged the COE not to give up on their original goal of a united Europe. By that time, however, Spaak had finally concluded that the COE would never be anything more than just a talking shop and had come to realise that “we must do without Britain’s support if we were to make any headway”. He resigned as COE president on 11 December 1951.

Although, in the end, the creation of a European Assembly was not achieved, the COE became a regional inter-governmental organisation whose purpose was, and still is, to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in its member states. It is interesting to note that, to this day, the “Council of Europe” has remained an entirely separate body from the European Union and it is not controlled by it, although there is close co-operation between the two bodies.


About Peter Smith

A "foot-soldier" in the wider Post Capitalism Movement. First task - keep spreading the words of change, hope & inspiration.
This entry was posted in The History of the European EMU and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Part 1b – Economic and Monetary Union: the birth of a grand idea

  1. Pingback: Part 1a – Economic and Monetary Union: the birth of a grand idea | Thoughts on European Politics & Economics

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