The Heavy Legacy of World War I. Energy for Peace


One of the major obstacles to Franco-German reconciliation after the war was the question of coal and steel production. Coal and steel were the two most vital materials for developed nations; the backbone of a successful economy. Coal was the primary energy source in Europe, accounting for almost 70% of fuel consumption. Steel was a fundamental material for industry and to manufacture it required large amounts of coal. Both materials were also needed to create weapons.

The largest concentration of coalmines and steel production was found in two areas in Western Germany: the Ruhr Valley, and the Saarland. The Allies detached the Saarland from West Germany and made it a semi-autonomous region. In the Ruhr Valley, the Allies placed restrictions on the production, ownership and sale of coal and steel in an attempt to restrict German economic growth. The Ruhr Valley coal and steel production was also restricted as a guarantee to Germany’s neighbours, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands, that these crucial resources would not be used to re-create a Germany army.

France wanted to control and access the coal and steel in the Ruhr Valley and wanted the Saarland permanently separated from West Germany. The French government was especially worried that West Germany could use its massive coal and steal resources to attack France once again. West Germans, under the leadership of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who was elected in 1949, wanted the Saarland returned to Germany and objected to the strict controls placed on Germany heavy industry. The Franco-German conflict persisted over coal and steel. A reconciliation of the two former enemies seemed unlikely.

The solution to the coal and steel problem and the core of the reconciliation between France and Germany was the Schuman Plan, named after the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman. The Schuman Plan was presented on 9 May 1950. It argued that coal and steel production should be placed under a supranational High Authority. Following shortly after Schuman’s declaration, the negotiations that established the European Coal and Steel Community began. The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) pooled the coal and steel resources of six European countries: France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg (BENELUX). These countries would be collectively known as “the Six”. Pooling coal and steel resources greatly reduced the threat of war between France and West Germany. The ECSC became a reality in 1952.

The author of the Schuman Plan was another Frenchman, Jean Monnet a bureaucrat in the French government. Monnet had worked at the League of Nations between the World Wars and was committed to the goal of a United States of Europe. Monnet was also the first President of the ECSC. For Monnet, and for Schuman, the ECSC was to be the first step in creating an federal Europe.

The ECSC provided the first a small but important step towards European integration. By integrating coal and steel under a single authority, the Schuman Plan demonstrated that European integration was feasible. Furthermore, it eased tensions between France and Germany.

The success of the ECSC led to other, more drastic proposals to integrate the original six member states. Because of the Korean War (1950-1953), the United States wanted to re-arm West Germany to give it a greater role in the defence of the continent from Soviet aggression. Many European countries did not want to see the re-establishment of a German army. So in 1952, shortly after the treaty on the ECSC was completed, another plan was advanced to create an integrated European Army. The European Defence Community (EDC) was supported by all of the member states except France. The French government vetoed the EDC in 1954. The goal of a single European Army was defeated and it seemed that European integration would begin and end with coal and steel.

However, in 1955 Belgian Foreign Minister Paul-Henri Spaak advanced a new proposal on the integration of European economies. The proposal was based on the experience the Benelux countries, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg in economic integration. On 5 September 1944, the leaders of the Benelux countries, who were exiled in London, signed the Netherlands-Belgium-Luxemburg Customs Convention. This treaty provided for the institutions and powers needed to integrate the economies of the three countries. The new economic area was called Benelux and, in 1958, the three countries signed the Benelux Economic Union Treaty.  The treaty provided for the free movement of people, goods, capital and services and for the co-ordination of social and economic policy. Using the Benelux economic union as a model, it was proposed that the six member states of the ECSC integrate their economies.

At the Messina (Italy) conference between the member states of the ECSC on 15 June 1955, Paul Henri Spaak was charged with chairing a committee that would produce a draft version of the Treaty establishing the European Economic Communities (EEC). The aim of the EEC was to create a common market between the six member states (the Six). Spaak’s committee also drew up a proposal for the integration of nuclear power among the Six at French insistence. The report on the EEC and the integration of atomic energy (Euratom) was submitted to the leaders of the six in May 1956.

After a year of negotiations, the Six signed the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community in Rome on 25 March 1957. This treaty, usually called the Treaty of Rome, was modeled on the ECSC.

The European Coal and Steel Community represented only an initial step in the movement for European integration. Treaty of Rome  was expanded with the entry of the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark in 1973, Greece in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986, and the former East Germany as part of reunified Germany in 1990. In the process, it represented the most far-reaching attempt at economic integration among sovereign countries. Its founding treaty stands as the model, in whole or part, for all subsequent attempts at economic integration.

The Treaty of Rome had set a timetable for the abolition of customs duties between member states. On balance, this timetable was met and in some areas exceeded so that, by the middle of 1968, tariff barriers had been abolished for agricultural as well as industrial products. By that date also, most quota restrictions had been lifted. The customs posts had not disappeared, however; they were still needed for such tasks as assessing and collecting the compensatory taxes that equalized the differences in taxes between member countries. Tariffs on imports from outside the community were gradually brought closer, and on July 1, 1970, a common community tariff was put into effect.

The coal and steel played a role for peace and stability in the Continent: indeed, energy and the economy in general benefit from a peaceful environment. Today, the Continent is not at risk for internal war but a European energy market is advantageous. As the Treaty of Rome marked a significant stage in the procession of European integration, maybe today the energy union can contribute to European integration both political and economic.

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