From the Treaty of Paris to the Conference on the Future of Europe
On 18 April 1951, 70 years ago, the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was signed in Paris by the six founding countries of institutionalised Europe. The ECSC was a historic milestone in the creation of the European Community, six years after the end of the Second World War and six years before the signing of the Treaty of Rome.
In the aftermath of 1945, an exhausted, traumatised and divided post-war Europe, subjected to the victors of the world conflagration, the United States and the Soviet Union, sought ways to try to avoid another European war, especially between France and Germany, by devising collaborative, peaceful, and long-term solutions.
In the context of the successive proposals aimed at seeking this supranational cooperation, several milestones stand out, such as Winston Churchill's speech at the University of Zurich calling for a "United States of Europe" and the creation of the European Union of Federalists by the European Federation, both in 1946, the Federalist Congress in The Hague in 1948 and the founding of the Council of Europe in 1949.
However, this succession of proposals and initiatives was not sufficiently effective to achieve true cooperation that would prevent countries' nationalist tendencies and move towards definitive European reconciliation.
In this context, on 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister, inspired by Jean Monnet's European projects, proposed an original and binding formula: the pooling in France and Germany of coal and steel production, essential to civilian and military industry 70 years ago, supervised by a supranational structure called the "High Authority".
This proposal aimed to establish real, de facto solidarity between these two countries, which had tragically clashed three times in the 75 years prior to this point.
On 20 June 1950, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg began negotiations to draw up the treaty establishing the ECSC. During the negotiation process, it was agreed to set up political institutions to balance the power of the High Authority, which had nine members appointed by the governments for a six-year term. Thus, the Council of Ministers was created, with one member from each State, a Common Assembly, composed of 78 delegates, which exercised control, and a Court of Justice of seven judges to ensure respect for the application of the Treaty.
Following the signing of the Treaty in April 1951, the Parliaments of the six Member States ratified the Treaty in 1952.
The Treaty of Paris-ECSC was the seed of European integration, with the institutionalisation of shared sovereignty limited in principle to the two essential domaines of coal and steel, preventing a new war on European soil and working towards reconciliation, economic reconstruction and the common good.
Following the ECSC scheme, Jean Monnet, the French General Commissioner for Planning, designed the European Defence Community (EDC) programme which called for a European army, organised in a supranational framework, similar to the Schuman Plan. Negotiations, encouraged by France, began on 15 February 1951 and the six ECSC countries signed the EDC Treaty on 27 May 1952 in Paris. It was an ambitious treaty that included the creation of a powerful European navy, made up of national military divisions, under the jurisdiction of a European political authority, with a federal structure, for the democratic control of the future European army.
In the end, the Treaty did not enter into force, although four of the six countries' parliaments ratified it. The French National Assembly rejected the Treaty, citing the unacceptable loss of national sovereignty that the Treaty entailed. This challenge to the Treaty was a huge disappointment in federalist circles because it broke a favourable Europeanist dynamic and frustrated the formation of the embryo of a European armada. It was a missed opportunity.
70 years after the successful creation of the ECSC and the start of the unfinished project of the EDC, we operate in a geostrategically different world. However, the need for supranational cooperation to shape European sovereignty is even more urgent than it was seven decades ago.
The Conference on the Future of Europe offers us a new opportunity to reform and update our institutional structure and to make a qualitative leap in favour of a European sovereignty that guarantees our values of freedom and justice, preserves the pillars of our welfare state and plays a leading role in world geopolitics.
The ambition, vision, and audacity our founding fathers showed when conceiving of the ECSC and the EDC, as well as learning from the experience of the last 70 years of working on the European project, with its successes and failures, constitute the fundamental foundations we need in order to face a complex world that calls for a sovereign Europe to carry its influence and values into the rest of the world.