The Two Founding Fathers http://iache.hypotheses.org/
Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman

The inspiration for the Schuman Plan came mainly from a top advisor to the French government, Jean Monnet. As the Second World War was coming to an end, Monnet saw the potential for a more united Europe, where prosperity and progress was made through closer economic ties between the countries. No doubt these were ideas he had derived from extensive careers in both international business and diplomacy.

From the onset he felt that an economic cooperation with Germany was a top priority in order to avoid any future possibility of another conflict. Despite the devastating effects of the war, Germany’s industrial potential was pretty much left intact. But it was still too early for an economic union of any sort to be formed, mainly due to the vast differences in tax systems and prices. Several attempts were made to create limited custom unions, which would have led to a more efficient economic integration in Western Europe. But one after another of these efforts failed. As the decade was drawing its close, it became obvious that a new approach was needed.

It was also around this period that the idea for a European industrial pool began to circulate in the French press and certain diplomatic circles. Jean Monnet started to envision a great potential in these ideas. The timing could not have been more fitting either.  Once again tensions were rising in Europe due to the threats presented by the Cold War. The general idea was that if the nations pooled coal and steel production the possibility of another war breaking out, especially between France and Germany, would be next to impossible.   

During the spring of 1950 Monnet and his team began working on the new plan for an industrial pool between the nations. At this time the coal and steel sectors were important for both military and civilian industries. What set Monnet’s proposal apart from other international collaboration plans in the same sector, was the fact that the coal and steel pool would serve as the first step towards creating a European federation. 

By subjecting the coal and steel industries to international control there would be less of a risk of industrial cartels forming in the German coalfields and steel industries. The possibility of cartels using the steel for weapon production was something that the French wanted to avoid at all costs.  

For the common market of coal and steel to function properly there needed to be an independent institution presiding over it. This supranational authority would make sure there was room for free competition, guarantee consumers were allowed equal access to supplies and manage investments between the nations.  The institution would be made up of independent members, which would constitute the beginnings to a new European government.   

In May the plan was finally finished and Jean Monnet presented it to Robert Schuman who accepted it. Several days later the minister delivered the now famous speech and declaration, which was co-written by Jean Monnet as well. The new organization was open to other European countries too. In the days following the speech Germany agreed instantly to the Schuman plan as well as Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. One year later the six nations signed the Treaty of Paris and created the European Coal and Steel Company, ECSC

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This was the start of a whole new era for Europe, and what initially developed into the European Economic Community and thereafter the European Union as we know it today. Jean Monnet became the ECSC’s first president for the first two years, while Schuman in 1958 was the first ever President of what would later become the European Parliament. When he left in 1960 he was given the title “Father of Europe”. A title which Jean Monnet shares in equal measure.