The Origins 1945-1957

From the end of the war to Schuman Declaration  (1945-1950)

Europe had to witness a second catastrophe, World War II (1939-1945), so that it fully becomes aware of the suicidal absurdity that nationalist rivalry had led the continent to. The necessity of some type of European integration in a new way to reorder the European political map became evident.

Three realities evinced the necessity of this new orientation towards the European integration:

  • Firstly, the Europeans' awareness of their own weakness. Second World War had put a definitive end to the traditional European hegemony in the world. The two new superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, had a very superior economic, political and military might than the heterogeneous group of European States. 

  • Secondly, the conviction that it was necessary to avoid, by all possible means, coming back to a confrontation among European States. The two world wars had begun as European civil wars and our continent had been the main battle field in both. Essentially, it was a question of searching an accommodation between France and Germany. A compromise that would be endorsed by the USA. The European integration will paved the way to guarantee peace.

  • Thirdly, the extended desire among many Europeans to create a freer, fairer and more prosperous continent in which the international relationships were developed in a framework of concord.

In 1946, the former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill pronounced a celebrated speech at Zurich University (Switzerland). It was considered by many people as the first step towards European integration in the postwar period.


Winston Churchill

"I wish to speak to you today about the tragedy of Europe. (...) Yet all the while there is a remedy which, if it were generally and spontaneously adopted by the great majority of people in many lands, would as if by a miracle transform the whole scene, and would in a few years make all Europe, or the greater part of it, as free and as happy as Switzerland is today. What is this sovereign remedy? It is to recreate the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe. (...) The first step in the recreation of the European Family must be a partnership between France and Germany."

Winston Churchill
Speech at Zurich University
19th September 1946

The United States, unlike after First World War, didn't opt for isolation and assumed its responsibility as the first world power by adopting a policy based on resolved intervention in European matters. 

The American government was convinced that obstacles to free trade, spread after the 1929 slump and risen to its maximum expression in the Nazi and Fascist autarchy, had been largely responsible of the international tensions that led to the Second World War. The implementation of a free trade policy became a basic condition for any country to receive the so desired American economic aid.

Moreover, in that time the world witnessed the beginning of Cold War. The United States, applying the denominated Truman Doctrine to curb the expansion of communism and of the Soviet Union, launched the Marshall Plan to alleviate the difficulties of European countries. It was to foster economic development in a destroyed Europe with the political objective of impeding the extension of the communism.

The Marshall Plan

The USA promoted the foundation of a centralised European organization that administered and organised the delivery of the massive economic help of the Plan Marshall. In 1948, the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) was established with this aim. This was one of the first institutions that involved a great part of Western European countries. OEEC helped to liberalise the trade among the member States, introduced ideas in favour of monetary agreements and enhanced economic cooperation.

In 1949, following again an American initiative, most of Western European democratic States founded, alongside the USA and Canada, the NATO, the great Western military alliance confronted with the Soviet Union.

One year before, in 1948, the Benelux (Customs Union between Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) had started working by introducing a common external tariff. This Union had been created in 1944, before the end of the Second World War.

The setting up of the Council of Europe, in 1949, meant another major step forward. The Council tried to incite political cooperation among European countries. However, its statutes did not claim as an objective neither the union, nor the federation of States, and no sort of surrender of sovereignty is expected from the member States. Their main function has been to reinforce the democratic system and the human rights in the member States.


From Schuman Declaration to the Treaty of Rome (1950-1957)

The first step in the process of foundation of the European Community was given by the French Foreign Minister,  Robert Schuman. In a speech inspired by Jean Monnet, Schuman proposed that France and Germany and any other European country wishing to join them pool their coal and steel resources. This plan of economic integration looked for developing the approach between France and Germany, moving definitively away the haunt of war in Europe.

Schuman Declaration


"Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity. The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany. Any action taken must in the first place concern these two countries.
With this aim in view, the French Government proposes that action be taken immediately on one limited but decisive point.
It proposes that Franco-German production of coal and steel as a whole be placed under a common High Authority, within the framework of an organisation open to the participation of the other countries of Europe.
The pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe (...)"

Schuman Declaration
 9th May 1950

Robert Schuman

That same year, the French government proposed the establishment of an European Defence Community (EDC). This project was aborted in 1954, when the French Legislative Assembly vetoed its application. The EDC, that implied a strong military and political integration, was substituted by the Western European Union (WEU). Since NATO and WEU overlap, it has had a minor role in European defence.

In spite of this mishap, the integration process went on. The Treaty of Paris was signed in April of 1951, establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The common High Authority common was presided by Jean Monnet. The Six: France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Low Countries and Luxemburg made up this first European Community.

Jean Monnet

It was evident that economic integration was the only practical way toward a political union that should be achieved after a long time. The failure of the EDC had demonstrated that political and military union was still an utopian objective.

The foreign ministers of the Six, presided over by the Belgian Paul Henri Spaak, met in a Conference in Messina (Italy) in 1955. The agreements they reached there meant a definitive step in the European construction: the 25th March 1957, the Six signed the Treaties of Rome, establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).