Jean Monnet’s Proposal for the European Integration Process in the 1950s

Following the end of the Second World War, Europe saw numerous attempts of regional integration. While many initiatives remained at the intergovernmental level or simply failed, the Schuman Plan prevailed, adequately addressing the age-long Franco-German problem and paving a new platform for lasting prosperity and peace of Europe. The motivations for this European integration effort in the 1950s and the conceptual characteristics of the Schuman Plan are examined here.

Motivations for the European Integration Process

Europe’s history had been a history of wars. Nations fought against each other to gain hegemony over the continent (Lipgens 1985). This violence was attributed to the traditional concept of the nation, which prescribed that the nation should be the sole holder of sovereign power. No sovereign entity existed above or below the nation, and when the nations conflicted one another, there was no arbiter. The Second World War was seen as a part of this seemingly endless series of wars. This time the war was much more devastating because of the rising spirit of nationalism and the vast array of weaponry made available through the industrial revolution. Thus, voices arose calling for a reformation of the concept of nationhood, which would be essential for lasting peace of Europe.

Following WWII, various international organisations were established, but with limited success. The Council of Europe did not have clearly defined powers and was reduced to nothing more than a diplomatic arena, because the member countries continued to stand for their interests. The Organization for European Economic Cooperation was set up to coordinate the Marshall Plan, but no concrete uniform action was taken. The European economies remained disjointed and compartmentalised. These efforts remained at the intergovernmental level. The hope of a federalist Europe seemed far away as long as the concept of the national sovereignty remained unchanged.

The most urgent question of all was what should be done about Germany. Many opposed to the idea of restoring full sovereignty to Germany, which was seen guilty of aggression in 1870, 1914, and 1939. Instead, Germany was divided into four military occupation zones controlled by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union, the last of which would become the German Democratic Republic. Post-war German industrial competitiveness was also a concern, especially to the French who feared a strong Germany (Monnet 1978). As a result, the Ruhr and Saar regions–the most heavily industrialised region of Europe–were put under the control of the International Authority for the Ruhr (IAR).

However, excessive restraining of Germany was not going to be a desirable solution. For obvious reasons, care had to be taken not to cripple Germany too much to the point of making Germany’s retaliation possible. Europe could not afford the same mistake of putting Germany under massive reparations obligations, only to see another aggressive fascist regime emerge. Moreover, the era of the Cold War began. The SU had just acquired the nuclear weapon and began asserting its totalitarian dominance over the East and Central European countries, including East Germany. The situation was not too different on the other side of the Iron Curtain; the US exercised significant influence over the West European countries, mainly through the Marshall Plan and the NATO. These political dynamics called for a more robust West Europe in which Germany had to be reasonably strong.

Analysis of the Schuman Plan

On 9 May 1950, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman presented a proposal which would address all of the issues outlined above, particularly for lasting peace and security of Europe. This proposal, known as the Schuman Plan, was designed to “make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible” (Schuman 1950). Jean Monnet, the mastermind behind the Schuman Plan, explained in his memoir that the method, the means, and the objective of the plan were summed up in the following sentence:

“By the pooling of basic production and the establishment of a new High Authority whose decisions will be binding on France, Germany, and the countries that join them, this proposal will lay the first concrete foundations of the European Federation which is indispensable to the maintenance of peace” (Monnet 1978: 298).

The Schuman Plan had a clearly defined economic dimension. It would establish a common High Authority responsible for overseeing and coordinating the production and customs-free transport of steel and coal in France and Germany, as well as other member countries. All member countries would equally enjoy the quantitative and qualitative improvements in the production of steel and coal, the very resources that could have been used to fuel wars (Craig & de Burca 2015). A common market for steel and coal would be established, ensuring no discrimination among the members. Unfair market practices, such as those by cartels, would be prohibited, and the living standards of industrial workers would be improved.

Meanwhile, the more critical aspect of the plan was in ensuring peace and security of Europe. With the blurred national borders for steel and coal, the member countries now had to depend on each other on economic terms and could never think of waging war against one another. Restoring a fair market economy ensured that the member countries no longer had to fear industrial domination by others. By joining this initiative, West Germany gained an equal footing with other West European nations–the move enthusiastically welcomed by the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. With the economic and political interests of six initial countries (France, Germany, Italy, and the Benelux) well served, the Paris Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was signed on 18 April 1951.

The Schuman Plan was revolutionary for the concept of supra-nationalism it presented. Greatly influenced by the American model of federalism, Monnet envisioned a common sovereign entity above the nation-state level. By conferring limited national competences to this supranational institution, the member countries together could achieve things they otherwise could not individually. Also, this supranational structure would promote a higher level of peace and security as the member countries forge a common destiny together. Although not yet completely replacing the existing nation-states, the supranational High Authority would introduce a new concept of nationhood for Europe, which would steer the continent away from the dreadful history of endless wars.

Another aspect of importance is the neo-functional approach of the Schuman Plan. Monnet did not believe that Europe could change overnight. Instead, he sought to establish a framework within which the actors involved would work together toward a common interest (Craig & de Burca 2011). He had intended to start with steel and coal and to expand to other policy areas gradually, i.e. functional spillover. Monnet also hoped that this movement would grow to include more European nations to achieve a higher level of prosperity and security, i.e. political spillover. Ultimately, a genuinely united Europe would be built, through upgrading common interests, with higher sovereign power pooled together for the whole continent (Mattli 1999).

The Schuman Plan, designed by Jean Monnet and proposed by Robert Schuman on 10 May 1950, brought about an agreeable solution for peace and prosperity of Europe. Economic development was fostered by pooling the production and transport of steel and coal. Security was ensured by bringing Germany on an equal footing with the other West European countries who jointly conferred a limited scope of their national sovereignty to a common High Authority. Consequently, Monnet’s neo-functional approach would effectively trigger functional and political spillovers, evolving into the European Union we witness today.


  • Craig & de Burca (2011): The Evolution of EU Law, Oxford University Press
  • Craig & de Burca (2015): EU Law, Oxford University Press
  • Lipgens, Walter (1985): Documents on the history of European integration, Walter de Gruyter
  • Mattli, Walter (1999): The Logic of Regional Integration, Cambridge University Press
  • Monnet, Jean (1978): Memoirs, Doubleday & Company
  • Schuman, Robert (1950): Schuman Declaration

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