Europe Dictionary: ECSC

In a new Europe Dictionary series, the PDU will introduce key terms, concepts, and stages of European integration in order to enhance knowledge of the European Union and its structures. Today, Liam Fitzgerald gives an introduction to the European Coal and Steel Community. 

Signing of the treaty establishing the ECSC.

The signing of the treaty that established the ECSC.

By the late 1940s, the western victors of World War II, led by the USA, and the Soviet Union with her satellite states had reached a first low in their relations. The US, UK, and France – though the latter more reluctantly – consequently decided to form a state out of the three western German zones. By doing so, governments in Washington, London, and Paris sought to stop Soviet expansion in central Europe and add a potentially valuable asset to their own resources.

However, the establishment of a German national state, one that would at some stage be a strong economic powerhouse, was a blow to French post-World War II policy, which sought to control central Europe very much directly. At this point, a plan put forward by Robert Schuman, French Foreign Minister, in May 1950 proved highly valuable: what Schuman proposed was to pool a part of national sovereignty in a supranational authority, which in turn would control coal and steel production of central European states. Schuman’s plan was nothing new, and not a reaction to the new Federal Republic of Germany. Instead, the ideas he put forward had been formulated already in the mid 1940s by Jean Monnet, responsible for French economic planning since 1945, who firmly held the view that economic development could not efficiently be furthered by Europe’s individual states but only on a wider, European, level.

Apart from this economic factor, Monnet argued that the political unity of western Europe in the face of growing Soviet power could only be achieved through political integration, as well as economic cooperation, and if Germany and France finally overcame their centuries-old enmity. Of course, at first politicians in Paris were not convinced of Franco-German rapprochement or pooling of sovereignty. When East-West relations however faltered and the Federal Republic of Germany was created in 1949, things changed. Robert Schuman adopted Monnet’s ideas and was able to convince his government colleagues of the plan’s inherent values.

Through the Ruhr authority, German coal and steel production had already been subject to foreign control. The authority however proved inefficient and the solution, again, were the ideas formulated by Schuman and Monnet. International circumstances, integrationist ideals (Monnet was one of Europe’s most visible integrationists) and national interests converged in the late 1940s and early 1950s and made it possible to establish the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in April 1951 as western Europe’s first organization that pooled at least part of the participating countries’ sovereignty. It was, and this must be noted, not only in France’s interest to secure a institutionalized degree of influence of the vital coal and steel production, which was the backbone of military and industrial production. West Germany under its first Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer sought to integrate into the West, politically, economically, and militarily. Adenauer wanted to once and for all make it very clear that Germany no longer sought expansion and was a peaceful nation. Subjecting the country to European integration was, to Adenauer and many Germans, the best way forward.

The ECSC comprised Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Italy. If necessary, German and French leaders had made it clear that they would push through with plan bilaterally, but had invited all of western Europe’s nations to join. The UK, contrary to the hopes of many in Germany and France, declined to join, which was a setback to Euroepan integrationists.

The body’s structures included a judicial authority, a common assembly, and an executive comprised of a High Authority and a Council of Ministers. The latter represented member-state governments and ensured that national interests were protected. The High Authority, a body that stood for the very strong supranational character of the ECSC, later developed into the European Commission we know today. Virtually all who had been involved in creating the Coal and Steel Community agreed that it could only be a first step on the path toward deeper European integration. The ECSC survived as separate body until 1967. It was then subsumed in the newly established European Communities.

Image courtesy of francediplomatie via, released under Creative Commons.

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