How the EU came into being

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tags: Brexit



Antony Beevor is a historian and author. His books include "Stalingrad, Berlin:The Downfall 1945," and "The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-39."

... Because Britain was not involved at the start we do not have a clear idea of the EU’s development. Few in this country have even heard of Jean Monnet. He was an extraordinarily important Frenchman who neither went to university nor was ever elected to public office. Born into a family of cognac merchants, Monnet became the greatest behind-the-scenes fixer in modern history.

It was Monnet who, while based in London in the dark days of June 1940, working on the integration of the British and French arms industries, came up with the suggestion of an Anglo-French union to continue resistance to Hitler. The idea excited both Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill, but was crushed by Marshal Philippe Pétain, who described the plan as a “marriage to a corpse”, since France was about to surrender. It was Monnet, now in the US at the behest of the British government and acting as an adviser to Franklin D Roosevelt, who persuaded the president to turn the US into the “arsenal of democracy” and to introduce the “victory plan” for the mass production of armaments to defeat Nazi Germany. And it was Monnet who, in 1943, ensured De Gaulle’s ascent to power as head of the French government in exile in Algiers, despite Roosevelt’s opposition.

That August of 1943, Monnet also decided that European states would be so enfeebled after the war that they must unite into a federation. And yet the Monnet plan, which he expounded in 1945, proposed the French takeover of Ruhr coal production to rebuild France at the expense of Germany. De Gaulle supported the idea fervently, but then resigned because the infighting of French politics failed to live up to his own impossible dream that the country’s conflicting views would become unified under his leadership.

On 2 January 1946, just before his departure, De Gaulle appointed Monnet to head the Commissariat Général du Plan. This was to provide centralised planning writ large. Monnet brought in almost the whole team from the Délégation Générale à l’Equipement National, even though it had been created by the collaborationist Vichy regime. These bright young “technocrates” from the top schools of the French administration had worked on projects to modernise France within the “new European order” of the Third Reich. After the war they were the very same people who were to run the European Coal and Steel Community, headed of course by Monnet, and then in 1958, the European Economic Community. Thus the top cadres of the European bureaucracy were not merely elitist from the start, they had little patience for democratic consultation. They knew best what was needed.

The Marshall Plan in 1948 saved western Europe from economic and political collapse. The formation of Nato the following year also provided the first measure of unity as the sudden intensification of the cold war imposed a form of geopolitical straitjacket. The development of the EU in subsequent years was not a rival to Nato, as some seem to imply. The two organisations existed perfectly well in parallel, while the EU greatly encouraged and aided the emergence of countries such as Portugal, Spain and Greece from reactionary military dictatorships. It also contributed to the return of democracy in central European nations after more than 40 years of Soviet dictatorship.

So why this current existential threat to the EU project? The principal insoluble problem comes from the disastrous decision to accelerate unification through a common currency across countries and economies that were fundamentally incompatible. ...




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