Jean Monnet

“We are not forming coalitions of states, we are uniting men”

A Pragmatic Education

Jean Monnet was born on 9 November 1888 in Cognac, France, into a family of cognac merchants. At the age of sixteen, after passing only the first pat of his university-entrance examinations, he abandoned his formal education and moved to London. There, he spent two years learning business and the primary language of commerce, English. In 1906, his father sent him abroad to work for the family business. Do not bring any books,” his father advised him. “No one can think for you. Look out the window, talk to people...” Subsequently, Monnet made many business trips worldwide, travelling to Scandinavia, Russia, Egypt, Canada, and the United States.

“I am not an optimist; I am determined”

In 1914, discharged from the military for health reasons, Jean Monnet sought to serve his country in other ways. In his mind, the only path that would lead to an Allied victory lay in the fusion of France and England’s war efforts. However, he observed that, in reality, the Allies were acting independently rather than collectively. He proposed a plan that would co-ordinate the Allies’ war resources; the French President of the Council agreed that it should be implemented.

Due to his effectiveness during the war, Jean Monnet was named Secretary General of the League of Nations upon its creation in 1919, at the age of thirty-one, by Clémenceau and Balfour. He resigned from this position in 1923 in order to devote himself to managing the family business, which was experiencing some difficulty. As an international financier, he proved to be instrumental in the economic recovery of several Central and Eastem European nations, helping to stabilise the Polish Zloty in 1927 and the Romanian Leu in 1928. In 1929, his experience in international finance led him to found and co-manage the Bancamerica-Blair, a large U.S. bank in San Francisco. From 1934 to 1936, at the invitation of Chiang Kai-shek, Monnet lived in China, assisting with the reorganisation of their railway network.

lnitially commissioned in 1938 by Edouard Daladier to negotiate an order for French military aircraft with the United States, Jean Monnet was sent to London in December 1939 by the French and British governments. There, he oversaw the collectivisation of the two countries’ production capacities. When the French were defeated in June 1940, Monnet’s influence inspired de Gaulle and Churchill to accept the plan for the total union of France and the United Kingdom — a fusion which was to enable the two countries to stand up to Nazism — whereas Pétain accepted the defeat of France and signed the armistice.

In August 1940, Jean Monnet was sent to the United States by the British government as a member of the British Supply Council, in order to negotiate the purchase of war supplies. Soon after his arrival in Washington, he became one of President Roosevelt’s most trusted advisers. He persuaded the President to launch a massive arms production programme to supply the Allies with military material. Indeed, America was to become the arsenal of democracies”; for months, Monnet worked unrelentingly toward this goal. In 1941, President Roosevelt, with Churchill’s agreement, launched the Victory Program, which represented the forceful entry of the United States into the war effort. According to the economist Keynes, this “shortened the war by one year.”

In 1943, Monnet became a member of the National Liberation Committee, the free French government in Algiers. On 5 August, he addressed the Committee: “There will be no peace in Europe if the States rebuild themselves on the basis of national sovereignty, with its implications of prestige politics and economic protection (...). The countries of Europe are not strong enough individually to be able to guarantee prosperity and social development for their peoples. The States of Europe must therefore form a federation or a European entity that would make them into a common economic unit.”

Following the Liberation, at the request of General de Gaulle, Jean Monnet designed and implemented the national modernisation and development plan that made it possible to revive the French economy.

“To create Europe is to create peace”

In 1950, in the face of rising international tensions, Jean Monnet felt that the time had come to attempt an irreversible step toward uniting the European countries. In his house in Houjarray, he and his team conceived the idea of the European Community. On 9 May 1950, with the agreement of Chancellor Adenauer, Robert Schuman made a declaration in the name of the French government. Prepared by Jean Monnet, this declaration proposed placing all the Franco-German production of steel and coal under a common High Authority open to the other countries of Europe. “Through the consolidation of basic production and the institution of a new High Authority, whose decisions will bind France, Germany and the other countries that join, this proposal represents the first concrete step towards a European federation, imperative for the preservation of peace,” declared Robert Schuman. Soon the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands replied favourably. Thus the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was born, laying the foundation of the European Community. In 1952, Jean Monnet became the first President of the High Authority.

In 1955, in order to revive European construction following the failure of the European Defence Community (EDC), Jean Monnet founded the Action Committee for the United States of Europe. Bolstered by his tireless impetus, this committee, which joined political parties and European trade unions, became a driving force behind all initiatives in favour of the European Union, including the creation of the Common Market, the European Monetary System, the European Council, British membership in the Cormmunity, and election to the European Parliament by universal suffrage.

Until even his last days, Jean Monnet was firm in his conviction that the European nations had to unite in order to survive. “Continue, continue, there is no future for the people of Europe other than in union,” he repeated constantly. Throughout his life, he had one objective: “Make men work together show them that beyond their differences and geographical boundaries there lies a common interest.”

Retired in his house at Houjarray, Jean Monnet devoted his final energies to writing his Mémoires, in which he recorded the lessons of his experience and his mode of action for generations to come. He died on 16 March 1979 at the age of ninety-one. His ashes are now in the Panthéon.

Jean Monnet liked to quote this saying from Dwight Morrow “There are two categories of men: those who want to be someone and those who want to do something.” It there was ever a man who could be placed in the second category without hesitation, Monnet is that man. In fact, he agreed wholeheartedly, adding, “There is Iess competition.”

At the European Council in Luxembourg on 2 April 1976, the heads of State and government proclaimed Jean Monnet an “Honorary Citizen of Europe”.

The Jean Monnet Association