“The progress of the European idea, the various post-war achievements and the first effects of American assistance brought a glimmer of hope, but there was a lack of large-scale projects and clear objectives. Many were tempted to build unity on Atlantic foundations, but men like Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman considered that the idea had to be driven above all by Europeans and enable Franco-German reconciliation based on relations of solidarity. Moreover, they considered that France absolutely had to take the initiative in hand and propose an innovative German and European policy, in the face of growing American and British impatience. Prepared under great secrecy by Jean Monnet and senior staff members, the plan involved pooling production of coal and steel. It was submitted in the form of a memo to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Robert Schuman, on 3 May 1950. Schuman acted immediately. In a shock to habits and norms, he decided to seize the effect of surprise. On 9 May, in the Clock Room at the Quai d’Orsay, he presented a Declaration that would become famous, revealing the content of the project that only Federal Chancellor Adenauer had been informed of, a few hours earlier. It was the advent of the European Coal and Steel Community, which met with public enthusiasm and was approved by the Governments of Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. States were to transfer the exercise of part of their sovereignty to a supranational, independent High Authority.” (G-H Soutou, L’héritage européen de Robert Schuman, p. 25).
Jean Monnet was a former Deputy Secretary General of the League of Nations and well versed in international economic and financial matters. He was well-liked in English-speaking circles and joined the French Provisional Government in 1945 as Commissioner-General for Planning. He was the first President of the ECSC High Authority.
Robert Schuman (1886-1963), Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1948 to 1953. Portrait circa 1950.
Robert Schuman was born into a Lorraine family and was elected National Assembly Deputy for Moselle in 1919. A trained lawyer, he drew on the principles of Christian democracy throughout his life and never entertained the anti-German sentiments held by many of his compatriots. As a key figure under the Fourth Republic and an eminent member of the Popular Republican Movement (MRP), he campaigned for Franco-German reconciliation and was convinced by Jean Monnet’s plans.
After briefly expressing his hope for a united, reconciled, prosperous Europe, of which the common wealth should benefit the whole continent, and, notably, Africa, Robert Schuman set out his plan, Franco-German reconciliation, economic unification as a prelude to a European federation expanded to other fields, and the goals and principles of the future “common High Authority”. He considered that all economic decisions had political consequences.
- View the full text of the Declaration by Robert Schuman, corrected in his hand (PDF - 382 Ko), held at the French Diplomatic Archives in La Courneuve (235QO/57).
- Hear the recording of the Schuman Declaration on the INA website.
Based on Robert Schuman’s proposal, negotiations were conducted between the six countries supporting the project: Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The Treaty was signed on 18 April 1951, creating the ECSC. It established free movement of steel products and coal for the six members, and a supranational High Authority was tasked with setting prices, ensuring free competition and social protection, and coordinating steel and mining investments. A Special Council of ministers represented the governments, a Common Assembly was designated by the national parliaments, and a Court of Justice served as a body for legal remedy. This balance would be reproduced in all later European institutions (see L’héritage européen…, p. 42).
- View the full text of the Treaty in the French Treaties and Agreements database (TRA19510080) on the France Diplomacy website. France is the depositary of the original.
- Find out more: in the reading room at the French Diplomatic Archives in La Courneuve, consult Jean Monnet’s speeches in Les États-Unis d’Europe ont commencé. La Communauté européenne du Charbon et de l’Acier, discours et allocutions, 1952-1954 (The United States of Europe has Begun: the European Coal and Steel Community, Speeches and Addresses, 1952-1954), published in Paris in 1955), and Der Schuman-Plan. Vertrag über die Gründung der Europäischen Gemeinschaft für Kohle und Stahl (The Schuman Plan. Treaty on the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community), published in Frankfurt in 1951, the first German edition of the Treaty text prefaced by Minister of State Walter Hallstein of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Treaty establishing the ECSC made a great impression across Europe and beyond, including on the other side of the Atlantic. Based on the agreed principle of supranationality, it went beyond inter-State cooperation which had proved insufficient. It made Franco-German cooperation central to the European project while offering a model that could be opened to other European countries based on their membership of the same geographical, legal and cultural space.
While it did not have the expected impact in the economic sphere (in 1957, oil overtook coal as the main source of energy), it did establish the principle whereby the European project was driven by economic integration. Following the failure of the European Defence Community (1952-1954), the six members, keen to give renewed impetus to the process, tasked Paul-Henri Spaak with drafting treaties to create the general common market and the European Atomic Energy Community, signed in Rome on 25 March 1957.
The ECSC was concluded for a duration of 50 years and expired on 23 July 2002. However, the flexible, inclusive architecture designed for the ECSC has largely stood up to the upheaval of recent decades (see L’héritage européen…).
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