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US and EU

The American origins of the EU

All States and aspiring States have their ‘myth of origin’ – that is a story, true or false, of how they came into being. The myth of origin of the European Union is that it is fundamentally a peace project to prevent wars between Germany and France.

Most wars are civil wars, not inter-State ones. One can make a plausible case that the EU contributed to the Yugoslav civil war in the early 1990s by recognising Croatia and Serbia as sovereign States within their internal-Yugoslav administrative boundaries, without any consultation with the large Croat and Serb national minorities that found themselves on the ‘wrong’ side. This was against all the norms of international law governing the recognition of new States.

And did not the EU contribute to the Ukrainian civil war since 2014 by pushing an EU “economic partnership” agreement on Kiev and working with the US to lever Ukraine and the Crimea out of Russia’s sphere of influence?

An important new book by University of California historian Ivan T Berend, ‘The History of European Integration, a New Perspective’ (Routledge, 2016) uses the American national archives for the first time to show that the EU’s own historical origins lie in war preparations rather than peace strivings. America was the original demiurge of European supranationalism.

Europe was divided between East and West following World War II. The Cold War between the US and USSR took off in the later 1940s and the possibility of it turning into a real, ‘Hot’ War persisted until the 1980s. In the later 1940s American policy was to push Europe’s former imperial powers towards economic and political integration with one another.

In 1947 the two Houses of the US Congress passed a resolution that “Congress favours the creation of a United States of Europe”.That same year US economic aid to revive Western Europe under the Marshall Plan was premised on support from the recipients for economic and political integration. “Europe must federate or perish”, said John Foster Dulles, later US Secretary of State. 

In 1948 the American Committee on United Europe was established, supported by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations. For years the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) channelled money to the European Movement. That movement’s national sections became the main non-governmental lobbyists for ever further integration in the different European countries and have remained so to this day.

In 1949 at the time of NATO’s formation the US wanted a rearmed West Germany as a member. This greatly alarmed France, which had been occupied by Germany only five years before. Jean Monnet, who was America’s man in the affair, came up with the solution. Monnet and other technocrats had been pushing schemes of federal-style supranationalism for Europe since the end of World War I in 1918. These had had no effect in preventing World War II, but in the new situation post-1945, with America now supporting Euro-federalism as a bulwark against communism, Monnet and his colleagues saw their opportunity.

To assuage France’s fears of German rearmament Monnet drafted the Schuman Declaration, named after France’s Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, proposing to put the coal and steel industries of France, Germany and Benelux under a supranational High Authority as “the first step in the federation of Europe”. This led to the European Coal and Steel Community Treaty of 1951, the first of what were to become the three supranational Community treaties – the other two being the Atomic Energy Treaty, which gave us EURATOM, and the European Economic Community Treaty, which gave us the EEC.

A federation is a State, so the political aim of establishing a European State or quasi-superstate under Franco-German hegemony was there from the start. The preamble to the German Constitution, adopted in 1949, speaks of Germany as “an equal partner in a united Europe”.

Far from European integration being a peace project therefore, the historical fact is that the first step towards supranationalism in Europe, the 1951 European Coal and Steel Community, was advocated and supported by the US to facilitate German rearmament in the early years of the Cold War, and to reconcile France to that fact.

The EU celebrates 9 May 1950, the date of the Schuman Declaration, as “Europe Day” each year.  Jean Monnet became secretary of the supranational High Authority which ran the Coal and Steel Community. This was the predecessor of today’s Brussels Commission.

Forty years later, in 1992, the central political purpose of the single currency, the euro. was to reconcile France to German reunification following the collapse of the USSR. This was Monetary Union for Political Union or, put crudely, the Deutschemark for the Eurobomb, with Germany and France as effective joint hegemons of the European Union that was first mooted in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty that gave us the euro.

Following the Coal and Steel Community Treaty and against the background of the 1950-51 Korean War, the French Government, again pushed by the Americans, produced an ambitious plan for a European Defence Community (EDC) in 1952. As Monnet put it in his Memoirs, “Now the federation of Europe would have to become an immediate objective. The army, its weapons and basic production, would all have to be placed simultaneously under joint sovereignty. We could no longer wait, as we had once planned, for political Europe to be the culminating point of a gradual process, since its joint defence was inconceivable without a joint political authority from the start”.

This proposed European Defence Community was to have a European Army, a European Defence Minister, a Council of Ministers, a common budget and common arms procurement under the overall aegis of a European Political Community. The treaty establishing the EDC was ratified by the German Bundestag, but it caused a political storm on the Right and Left in France and in 1954 the French National Assembly narrowly rejected it.

Chastened by this setback the Euro-federalists decided henceforth to play down their ultimate goal of political integration and to stress economic integration as the supposed route to European prosperity. From 1954 onward “building Europe” was to be presented to Europe’s diverse peoples as essentially a matter of economic growth and jobs. Talk of political union and eventual federalism would be muted. This would make supranationalism more easily sellable to the different national publics.

That happened in the subsequent supranational treaties: the 1957 Treaty of Rome, the 1986 Single European Act, the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, the 1998 Amsterdam Treaty, the 2001 Nice Treaty and the 2009 Lisbon Treaty. The Lisbon Treaty gave the European Union the federal-style Constitution aspired to by Monnet and Schuman. It gave the European Union full legal personality for the first time and made us all real citizens of it so that we all now have a dual citizenship, a national one and an EU one, just as in any normal Federation. The rights and duties that we have as EU citizens have legal primacy over our rights and duties as national citizens in any case of conflict between the two. Most people are unaware of this.

Berend’s book goes on to describe how when in the late 1970s American pressure for further EU integration lessened because of détente between the USA and USSR, it was replaced by pressures for supranationalism from the European-based transnational companies. This gave us the Single European Act, with its ‘single market’, and the other EU treaties since. Professor Berend is himself a left-liberal supporter of the EU, but the “new perspective” of his book’s title is undoubtedly that. It will transform the view of the EU of anyone who reads it. 

Anthony Coughlan is Associate Professor Emeritus of Social Policy at Trinity College Dublin

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  • Sag Ichnicht

    I stopped reading after the author accused the EU for Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine and annexation of parts of its territory. It’s really daft to blame the EU for that because it had the audacity to offer a mere trade deal to the sovereign country Ukraine without asking Russia for permission first.