Each year, the EU celebrates "Europe Day" on May 9. The occasion marks the anniversary of the so-called Schuman Plan, which laid the foundations for European integration over 50 years ago.
Robert Schuman announces his plan for a 'European Community' in May 1950
We want to take a "courageous and until now unthinkable step," French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman announced on May 9, 1950. He was speaking to the press at the Foreign Ministry on Paris' Quay d'Orsay. In concrete terms, Schuman's declaration called for the joint governance of the German and French coal and steel industry under a single high authority.
As trailblazing as the French wanted to be, the initiative was born out of necessity. The Cold War had already become a reality and the United States was busy rebuilding Germany, and trying to reconnect the erstwhile enemy with the Western world. But that also meant rebuilding the coal and steel industries in the Ruhr region, a move that led to misgivings on the French side, since it would pit Germany into direct competition with France in industries where there was already oversaturation. To make matters worse, demand slowed and prices began to drop. A serious steel crisis seemed unavoidable.
Creating the European Community
Robert Schuman (center)
But Schuman and his advisor, Jean Monnet, wanted to tackle both problems at the same time. The proposed authority would control European steel production and, more importantly, Germany would no longer be in the position to act on its own to rearm or to instigate a new war with France. The French cabinet wasn't the only body to quickly signal its support for Schuman's plan. Then German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer promptly responded that he wholeheartedly supported the plan.
To Schuman, the plan's political aspects were just as important as the economic factors.
"This plan will lay the first concrete foundations for a European federation, a federation that is essential for the preservation of peace," he said.
Just one year later, during April 1951, six countries signed the treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community. In addition to France and West Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg also came on board.
Principles that live on today
The founding fathers of the first European Community sought from the very start to avoid the weaknesses that plagued other international organizations. Negative examples were the earlier League of Nations and the Council of Europe, which had just been founded. In those bodies, each member state held veto power and could hinder any decision. The ECSC limited the influence of individual member states. The decisive factor in decision-making was the work of the high authority in Luxembourg, which was populated with independent industry experts instead of delegates from the member countries.
These concepts still prevail today in the European Union: the equality of member states and the independence of the European Commission from national governments are all principles that Europe has preserved for a half-century.