The 9th may’s declaration : which past for an inheritance ?

Robert Schuman’s famous speech of the 9th may 1950, in the « Salon de l’horloge » (the “clock drawing room” of the French foreign office), which is usually considered as the founding act of the European construction, could give to the onlooking citizen the impression that the birth of the European project comes from nowhere and was just the direct result of the will of a few people. Nevertheless, different projects, based on the reconciliation of European nations, had already been shaped and defended by people coming from very different backgrounds, at the beginning of the 20th century and particularly between the two world wars. Is there any link between the prospect of implementing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the abortive plans of European cooperation of the interwar period ? Have the ideas of the « Pan-Europa » movement or those of the Briand plan influenced Jean Monnet or, in the alternative, did the upheaval of World War II create an insurmountable gap, preventing any form of continuity ?

From « Pan-Europa » to the Ventotene manifesto : plans of the inter-wars period

During the first World War, European leaders got involved in a cycle of violence which culminated in destructive nationalistic sentiment. After this shock and during the whole period between the two world wars, the weakness of the 1918 peace agreement and the vulnerability of the new balance between European powers, visionaries became particularly worried. From the creation of the Society of the nations to the Altiero Spinelli plans, different European “founding fathers” tried to create supranational dynamics, sometimes with focused initiatives, which were suddenly stopped by fascism and WWII.

Three slightly different initiatives are worthy of particular attention : the first one is the “pan-Europa” plan, created by Richard Coudennhove-Kalergi, an unusual character in terms of identity : born of an Austrian father and a Japanese mother, he became Czcek in 1918 and finally took refuge in France. He was an astonishing cosmopolitanism for this period and he never stopped advocating his pro-European federation message whose ultimate aim was the creation of a customs and monetary union. In 1923, he published the « Pan-Europa » manifesto which became famous very quickly and was translated in 15 languages. Kalergi’s claim, organised in nine points, set out his vision of Europe, which would not only prevent and avoid conflicts, but also revive economic growth by annihilating rivalries between European nations, particularly on colonial issues. Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi anticipated both the weakening of Europe and the League of Nations failure and predicted the “Franco-German axis”. In 1924, in Vienna, he founded the pan-European Union, whose ambition was to create a movement and an organisation in every European country, the common aim being the gathered construction of ‘Pan-Europe’. Three stages must guide the movement : first, the summoning by one or several governments of a pan-European conference to debate disarmament, customs and conflicts arbitration issues. Secondly, the signature of a treaty establishing common arbitration rules between European democratic countries and finally, the creation of a customs union leading to the formation of an economically homogeneous area. From peace guarantees to revolutionary economic proposals, the Pan-Europa movement tried to catch European governments’ attention but very quickly it was discouraged by the economic deterioration and political extremes rising.

Chronological references

Foundation of the Paneuropean union in Vienna, Austria

Aristide Briand is appointed as France’s foreign affairs secretary

First congress of the Paneuropean union. In December, Aristide Briand gets the Nobel Price along with the German foreign affairs secretary, Gustav Stresemann

Altiero Spinelli is arrested in fascist Italy

The « Briand-Kellogg » plan

Briand proposes the creation of a regional union at the League of Nations

17th May 1930
Aristide Briand’s memorandum for intergovernmental cooperation in Europe

Death of Aristide Briand

The Ventotene manifesto is written

Creation of the Movimento federalista Europeo, with Spinelli as general secretary until 1962

End of World War 2

July 1948 - January 1953
Robert Schuman as France’s foreign affairs secretary

9th May 1950
Schuman’s speech at the Salon de l’horloge of the French foreign office

Jean Monnet as president of the ECSC High authority

In 1927, Arisitide Briand, the French politician responsible for the French foreign office, was the honorary president of pan-Europa. He was a convinced republican and became a radical (center-left) after being a socialist. He was sensitive to pan-European ideas and worked hard for the reconciliation with Germany and especially for its accession to the League of Nations in 1926. In 1928, he was the initiator of the famous Briand/Kellog pact which made war “illegal”, even if it only had a moral authority. Deploring the absence of a European organisation and exploiting both a satisfactory economic climate and the development of pro-European ideas, he initiated a discussion about a series of actions to bring the European powers closer. He was chosen by his European partners in the general assembly of the League of Nations to write a memorandum about these actions in order to organise a general consultation. In opposition to Kalergi, Briand acted in the political field, as a government member, thus he probably developed a more realistic vision which was more limited and submitted to prudence. Indeed, he did not write a European Union plan but just some concrete actions in order not to scare public opinion. After reminding the danger of a new European war, the memorandum set out the idea of a European pact, a kind of new solidarity among European states which nevertheless protected national sovereignty. He proposed the creation of a regional union which would be composed of a European conference, a representative organ gathering all European government’s representatives of the League of the Nations ; a political committee, the executive organ and finally a secretariat. This regional union should work principally in the economic field. Presented in 1930, his plan was welcomed in a lukewarm way by European governments who criticised the threat which the plan might have to national sovereignty and in particular the term “federal link” used in Briand’s paper. A commission was nevertheless appointed to examine a possible intergovernmental cooperation in Europe but the combination of Briand’s death in 1932 and the economic crisis put an end to this initiative.

The last project lies within the WWII period among Italian anti-fascist resistance circles. Altiero Spinelli, a member of the Communist Youths and involved in clandestine struggle against fascism was arrested in 1927. After his imprisoment, he was moved and put in a monitored residence in the Ventotene island in the Tyrrhenian sea where he wrote with Ernesto Rossi, member of the Italian socialist party, the manifesto for a free and united Europe. In this founding text, clandestinely distributed from the summer 1941, Spinelli compared the union of Europe to the process of state formation. Thus, the manifesto was obviously federalist. He conceived the European federation as a pillar for world peace. A central idea of his theory was to bridge the gap between progressive and conservative parties and to focus on the demarcation between those irremovably attached to the ideal of the Nation state and those who would come to see the creation of an international state and a European organisation as a duty and the future. In 1943 in Milan, Spinelli founded the Italian branch of the European federalist movement.

Those three isolated projects, have very different logics : whereas “Pan-Europa” was mainly a theoretical project and sometimes appeared far from realistic application, the Briand plan attempted to set out something applicable. The Ventotene manifesto came from the resistance process and underlined some hopes lying in a post-fascist era not yet known. To what extent have those ideas survived the chaos of the war and what has been their influence on the European construction started after the peace of 1945 ?

The 9th May 1950 speech : the heir of these projects ?

Whereas the Spinelli project seemed to survive after World War II with the Italian European federalist movement, the Pan-europa project and the Ventotene manifesto apparently faded. Robert Schuman’s speech on the 9th May 1950 did not claim any link with these previous initiatives and no reference was even made to any ideas developed by Coudenhove-Kalergi, Briand or Spinelli. This 1950 day is above all meant to be the symbol of a renewal, possibly of a break with the previous European cooperation schemes which did not lead anywhere and moreover failed to prevent the rise of fascism and Nazism. It is worth noticing that until now official positions have failed to refer to the inter-wars period initiatives, and consequently the citizens’ opinion could be tricked into the idea that nothing has happened between the attempts to unite Europe by force –e.g. Napoleon and Hitler- and the Schuman speech. Are therefore the founding act of the ECSC and the early 20th century poles apart ?

The may 9th statement project was marked by pragmatism : it was the work of few personalities who made the most of a favourable moment, with regards to a particular issue –the iron production in France and Germany-, in order to impose a new impetus to European cooperation. This declaration did not claim any link to any particular movement, and it was inspired and carried out by a few men, not by an historical heritage. These men were obviously advocates of peace and had international profiles, and they took an opportunity to cement a new kind of cooperation and to safeguard a power balance between European states. Which motivations led to the creation of this plan, jointly written by Robert Schuman –then French secretary of the foreign office- and his adviser Jean Monnet, a planning commissioner ? The safeguard of peace and economic purposes are often put forward but this project was more likely designed to face the time’s necessities. It was then feared that the French iron production could be surpassed by Germany’s, therefore compromising France rebuilding and modernization. Another preoccupation was the American pressure to further integrate West Germany into the European economy, in the context of strong tensions due to the Cold War. The Schuman proposal to create a European supranational institution responsible for the coal and iron markets thus differed from the previous projects to unify Europe, because it set out a pragmatic vision for European integration and it decided on a particular issue, in order to cope with a specific situation.

However, Jean Monnet’s phrase « 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 » still reminds us of the previous projects for Europe unity. It certainly tied up with some of their prospects regarding which steps to follow towards securing a long term union. It is striking to see that the building process launched by Schuman’s speech later met the goals and ambitions of the Pan-Europa movement which was astonishingly modern in many respects : beside the reconciliation between France and Germany, it revived the idea of a customs and monetary union in the long run as well as a close economic cooperation. Briand’s project was also reflected in the 1950 speech through its vision for European integration, for instance with the creation of supranational political organs. Aristide Briand’s memorandum, by its realism, was reflecting on some of the dilemmas that post war European integration process would be confronted with : the issue of whether favouring economic cooperation or political cooperation, or the indignation some governments already showed at Briand’s mention of a “federal link” –giving birth to the “everlasting” debates on the definition of the union that member states were building. The “filiation” is sometimes clear when for instance Briand’s plan aims at “establishing a common market to rise up to a maximum the human welfare on all territories of the European community”. It appears this objective was taken up in the Rome treaty that established the European economic community (EEC). Lastly, it is worth mentioning that Altiero Spinelli, despite being very active in post war European politics, did not really play a role neither in the inception of this 1950 speech nor in the launching of the ECSC.

Without a doubt, these three inter-wars period initiatives played a role in the drafting of the 9th May 1950 European project, although their place in the history of ideas has been minimized and despite the fact that the Schuman speech is commonly considered to be the fruit of a different method : preferring a “step by step” policy to the much more global union projects presented by the previous initiatives.

It is undeniable that the 9th May 1950 gave a new “birth” to the European continent thanks to a project that had never been implemented before and which came out in a very specific context. However, it seems quite unfair to believe that everything was innovative in this initiative. The projects by Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi and Aristide Briand bore many characteristics and questions that have lasted from the very beginnings of today’s European integration process. On the other hand, the true innovative idea in the May 9th speech certainly was the undisclosed purpose Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet aspired to : that the “step by step” method would one day lead to so close a union between European states.

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David Heilbron Price
2 janvier 2008
The 9th may’s declaration : which past for an inheritance ?

I am glad to see this effort in educating my compatriots. However, the real political science origin of Schuman’s supranational European Community does not relate to Spinelli, Coudenove-Kalergi or von Habsburg’s work (see his own books) which all rely on classical concepts of federalism. Schuman explained where he was heading in a speech at St James’s Palace in May 1949 and at greater length the same month in Strasbourg, before the Council of Europe met (in August). You will find his explanation of the supranational Community on the website Schuman supported the Briand proposal as a French deputy but also described its short-comings. The idea of a Coal and Steel Community and the revolutionary supranational democracy came to him much earlier, before he went to university, way before the WWI. It is also important for the present discussion to recognise that the drafts of the Schuman Declaration, often attributed to Monnet, were written by Paul Reuter, Schuman legal counsel at the French Foreign Office. Schuman gained much British support for European democracy, but M. de Gaulle tried to suffocate the early manifestations. Governments have yet to fulfill their obligations in the Paris, Rome and later treaties. More details on the website

David H Price, Schuman Project

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ressources on European History

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the Schuman's declaration

Pan-European movement
official website

Altiero Spinelli

Richard Coudenhove- Kalergi
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