Book chapter

The Schuman Plan and the Start of Supranational European Integration (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

France turned to European integration out of an awareness of the weakness of its international position in 1950. In particular it was conscious of the way in which it had been marginalized in the debate about the treatment of postwar Germany, forced to watch as a much stronger Federal Republic re-emerged than the French were comfortable with. But it was this defeat that spurred the radicalism of the Schuman Plan—the bold announcement by the French foreign minister in May 1950 that his country was willing jointly to operate its coal and steel sectors with Germany and whichever other European states felt able to join. The idea of building a strong European structure to control both French and German heavy industry was not an idealistic move, but something that would help avoid the likely triumph of German industry and the damage it could do to French recovery. In the process it would save the Monnet Plan, the economic blueprint for French postwar reconstruction put together by the author of the Schuman Plan, Jean Monnet. But it also would advance the wider goal of establishing a European framework within which Germany's re-emergence could be controlled. That same framework, furthermore, appealed to Adenauer's Germany as one that would both facilitate the new state's international rehabilitation and bind the country securely to the Western bloc. To this central Franco-German bargain four other European countries would rally, partly out of enthusiasm for the wider goal of European unity, partly through fear of exclusion from a Europe built exclusively by their two largest neighbors. But crucially for future developments the United Kingdom would choose to abstain principally because it was too content with the European status quo of 1950 to need to embark on institutional experiments. This constituted a choice, the repercussions of which have endured into the early 21st century. The Schuman Plan thus constitutes a vital formative episode in the European integration process: it inaugurated a key French tactic and German response, it determined the cast list of the early integration story, and it introduced an institutional structure and modus operandi that, significantly modified, still lie at the heart of the 21st-century European Union.