It is clear that the modern European Union is much larger than the ECSC in its scale and depth of integration. Under the auspices of the EU, there is a single currency and the Schengen area, and now there is also a special vaccine policy. However, the first steps were associated with coal and steel 70 years ago, when Germany went from being a defeated enemy to being a key US ally in the Cold War, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Oleg Barabanov.
Seventy years ago, on April 18, 1951, the Treaty of Paris was signed. Six post-war states of Western Europe — Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg — formed the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Later, in 1957, in parallel with it, the same countries created the European Economic Community This in turn would later be transformed into the European Union. Thus, the establishment of the ECSC was the first step towards the European integration that we know today. Therefore, the jubilee of the ECSC, although it occupies a subordinate position in relation to the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty, which established the European Union itself, nevertheless has an important historical and political significance as a forerunner of the transnational integration of Europe.
Perhaps it would not be a great exaggeration to say that European integration grew out of war. These two industries — coal and steel — were key to the production of weapons. Therefore, the placing of these industries of the two recent adversaries in World War II — France and West Germany — under general transnational control should have eliminated the possibility of a unilateral arms build-up in one of them. Thus, the material basis for the war was eliminated. This was the logic of the actions in 1950-51 of the recognised founding fathers of European integration — Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman.
Another thing is that by 1951, amid the conditions of the Cold War in Europe, the partitioning of Germany, the creation of NATO and the geopolitical confrontation between the West and the Soviet Union, the possibility of a hypothetical war within Western Europe itself seemed almost unrealistic. Yes, undoubtedly, there was a phantom pain primarily for France, which twice had faced German expansion in world wars. Nevertheless, the geopolitics of the Cold War dictated completely different tasks. At the same time, the practical advantages of integration outweighed the disadvantages, and soon the ECSC members moved from the “militarised” coal industries and began to build a common market in the civil economy as a whole, which was formalised in 1957.
At the same time, it should be noted that integration was by no means the first solution that was proposed by the Western European victors in World War II in order to avoid a new conflict with defeated Germany. It all started with much more traditional forms of control — occupation and external administration. Here in the second half of the 1940s, France and other Western allies, in relation to the coal and metallurgical centres of West Germany (Saar and Ruhr), almost completely repeated what they had already tested after the First World War.
Even then, after the end of that war, it became clear that the military power of any state in the industrial era was closely related to the arms industry. Therefore, even then, precisely these areas of “coal and steel”, and those regions of Germany that were significant for this industry (Saar and Ruhr) were under the international control of the victorious allies. By the decision of the Treaty of Versailles, the Saar coal basin, located on the Franco-German border, was torn away from Germany in 1920 and transferred to the control of the League of Nations as a separate international legal Territory of the Saar Basin. A mandate was issued jointly to France and the UK, but France then played the main role in the management of the Saar Valley; it was Paris which controlled the management and marketing of coal mines in the region. This situation continued until 1935, when, under pressure from Hitler, a plebiscite was held in the Saar Basin for reunification with Germany, and it again became part of Germany, joining the Third Reich.
As for the Ruhr Valley, in 1923 under the pretext of ensuring the payment of post-war reparations by Germany, it also came under external control. France and Belgium occupied and ruled this territory until 1925, when, at the initiative of the Americans, the approach to the payment of German reparations was changed, and the French had to leave the Ruhr area. To these occupations of two industrially significant regions of Germany was added the occupation by France, Belgium and Great Britain of the Rhineland — the border region of Germany. This occupation lasted until 1930, and the demilitarised status of the Rhineland remained until 1936.
All these occupations, of the Saar Valley, Rhineland and Ruhr Valley were presented as key triggers of the so-called “Versailles diktat”. They therefore served as a reason for the growing popularity in Germany of right-wing populism as an ideology, from which the revanchism of the NSDAP and Hitler grew. This ultimately led to World War II. It is clear that the question of whether the “Versailles diktat” really was responsible, and if so, how exactly it contributed to Hitler’s coming to power, is controversial and largely politically incorrect. There is a risk of explaining that Hitlerism was only successful due to external pressure, which increases the danger of, if not justification, then at least the recognition of Hitlerism as partly an objective reaction to the post-war situation in Germany. Therefore, let us leave this question aside.
Another thing is more important. Immediately after the end of World War II, the Western Allies seemed to intend to follow the same path that they had already experienced after the First World War. Here again, the situation centred around the Saar and Ruhr regions. The Saar Basin was once again torn away from Germany (and from the wider French zone of occupation of Germany). In 1946, a separate international legal territory was again created — the Saar Protectorate, under French control. The Saar Basin would only be reunited with West Germany in 1957.
Similar processes were observed in the Ruhr Valley. In 1949, one of the conditions for the restoration of West German statehood and the formation of the Federal Republic of Germany was its consent to the creation of the International Authority for the Ruhr. This body made decisions according to the votes of the winning countries (France, the USA and the UK received three votes each; Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg — one vote each). Not immediately, but only later, West Germany also received three votes in the management. This format of external management of the Ruhr Valley was preserved just before the signing of the Paris Treaty and the creation of the ECSC. Then integration replaced occupation.
In essence, the Monnet plan of 1946 was only a slightly softened version of the most radical project for the post-war administration of Germany — the American Morgenthau Plan of 1944. It provided for a huge zone of international administration throughout the West of the country (not only the Rhineland and the Ruhr, but also Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein up to the Kiel Canal and the Danish border). The remaining territory of Germany was to be divided into two states (North Germany (conditionally “Prussia”) and South Germany (conditionally Catholic “Bavaria”). Thus, the first author of the idea of Germany being partitioned was by no means Stalin, but the Americans themselves. By the way, this project is also interesting in the context of the delicate issues of nation-building, when new nations, receiving their statehood, at times form their identity around the smallest details that distinguish them from their neighbours. If the Morgenthau Plan had been implemented, we could well observe the process of the consolidation of separate Bavarian and Prussian modern nations, similar to how politics led to the Austrian nation being separate from the German one.
In addition, the Morgenthau plan envisioned the complete de-industrialisation of Germany and the focus of its economy exclusively on agriculture. Goebbels’ common phrase that the Americans want to “turn the whole of Germany into a potato field” had been actively used by German propaganda during the last year of the war. In reality, the Morgenthau plan, like the Monnet plan, was not implemented. The reason for this is not just the generosity of the victors; the main role here was played by the changed geopolitics of the Cold War.
The Cold War also led to an attempt to create another integration project in Western Europe a year after the ECSC — the European Defence Community, comprised of the same six countries. Its essence, by and large, consisted in the creation of a single European army from the armed forces of six countries. Thus, not only the arms industry in Germany, but also its nascent armed forces would unite with the armies of the victorious Western European countries. This treaty, however, was not ratified by France — the parliamentarians saw in it too much erosion of the country’s sovereignty. In addition, the Americans were rather cautious about this project. After all, West Germany had very quickly transformed from a defeated adversary to a key American ally on the front lines of the Cold War. As a result, in 1955 the Federal Republic of Germany was admitted to NATO, and in the same year its armed forces, the Bundeswehr, were created. Separately, we note that just the prospect of the creation of the Bundeswehr (and the issue of staff shortages during its formation) led, in fact, to the curtailing of the process of denazification in Germany in the first half of the 1950s. Then, in 1951, all those convicted by the American military tribunals (the so-called “subsequent” Nuremberg trials) were pardoned, and by 1954 all prisoners were released. West Germany returned its attention to denazification only after the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in the early 1960s.
It is clear that the modern European Union is much larger than the ECSC in its scale and depth of integration. Under the auspices of the EU, there is a single currency and the Schengen area, and now there is also a special vaccine policy. However, the first steps were associated with coal and steel 70 years ago, when Germany went from being a defeated enemy to being a key US ally in the Cold War. Therefore, the methods of managing it changed: from occupation and plans to take away territory to full-fledged integration. Both approaches were designed to suit the winners, and the ideas were proposed by the same people. This is hardly just an example of hypocrisy among politicians. It is the dialectic of history and the evolution of geopolitical processes. Without the Cold War, there might not have been the ECSC, and, therefore, there would have been no European Union as we know it today.