Jean Monnet: The driver behind European integration

Jean Monnet: The driver behind European integration

Henry Kissinger: “Very few people have played such a role in world history.”

Jean Monnet (1888-1979) born between the Cognac barrels of his family in the eponymous city. He grew up in the time of the first train and Otto Bismarck. He passed away in a time of the first Space Shuttle. Jean Monnet travelled around the world from a young age to The City in London and Wall Street and from Canada to Shanghai working for the Cognac family business. While he enjoyed his work in the international community, the Great War brought him back home. As he was rejected by the military on health grounds, he decided to serve the French government by contributing to the coordination of war supplies between the French and British government and was the economic intermediary between France and its allies.

After WWI, he was asked to manage to get all the coal and steel out from Saarland, as stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles. He saw there, the Treaty conditions did more harm than good to Germany and to France. That’s why, he suggested to the French President to change the program, the French government rejected it directly. He described in his memoirs that it was the main lesson that he took for the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community.  

During WWII, he was the President of the British-French war production in 1940. He suggested during the Nazi attack on the BENELUX, that the British and French should have one maritime defence, one air force and one army. He convinced Winston Churchill, who was just starting his Prime Ministership, to propose it to the French government. Due to the capitulation of the French government, the plan stranded. This resulted in the decision by Jean Monnet to offer his service to the British government, which sent him to negotiate with President Roosevelt to buy the most modern fighter jets. They came too late to save France, but helped the British air force to win the Battle of Britain. He knew the US business world, the culture and knew its politics. Therefore the ideal person sent to the United States. He became one of Roosevelt’s advisor. In Roosevelt’s famous speech in December 1940, he proposed “to be the arsenal for democracy”, an idea insinuated by Jean Monnet. 

After the war, Charles de Gaulle, started European integration from the line of thought: ‘what bad is for Germany would be good for France’, a zero-sum game. Jean Monnet knew, based on his past experience in Saarland, that this would be unsustainable for Europe. Jean Monnet wrote in July 1945 memorandum on the economic modernization of France for US President Harry S. Truman, just before the Conference of Potsdam. This memorandum was welcomed and Monnet got the task to work out this plan. This accumulated, through the Monnet Plan and the Schuman Declaration, into the European Coal and Steel Community. He proposed the federation of Europe and a Common Defence Policy, because NATO was dominated by the United States. Therefore, he believed that a European pillar next to the American one was needed for a balance. Plus, it was the only way to rearm Germany without scaring the Soviets or the Poles. While a Common Defence Policy was rejected by the French government, the ECSC became a cornerstone for European development. Monnet was the first President of the executive authority of the ECSC between 1952 and 1955. Jackie Kennedy, in the name of John F. Kennedy: “Citizens of France, statesmen of the world, he [Jean Monnet] has made persuasion and reason the weapons of statecraft moving Europe towards unity and the Atlantic nations towards a more effective partnership.”

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