Jean Monnet

Jean Monnet

Jean Monnet was born in Cognac, France, in 1888. Educated locally he became a civil servant in the Ministry of Commerce in 1915. While in this post he presented plans for economic collaboration between countries in Western Europe and the United States. Although the plan was not accepted Monnet was seen as an expert on international collaboration and served as a consultant economist at the Paris Peace Conference. Later he held a similar post at the League of Nations.

On the outbreak of the Second World War Monnet went to Washington where he chaired a committee promoting Anglo-French economic collaboration.

In 1945 Monnet was appointed as Planning Commissioner in France. In this post he became responsible for economic reconstruction. He began working on a scheme that he eventually proposed to Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister, in 1949. The Schuman Plan, as it became known, was the basis for the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) that was established in 1952. It was agreed that the six countries that signed the Treaty of Paris, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany, would pool its coal and steel resources.

Monnet, who was awarded the Prix Wateler de la Paix in 1951, was president of the European Coal and Steel Community (1952-1955) and in 1956 became president of the Action Committee for the United States of Europe.

Monnet was highly critical of the foreign policy pursued By Charles De Gaulle and was a strong opponent of France's involvement in the Vietnam War.

Jean Monnet died in 1979.

Primary Sources

(1) Jean Monnet, memorandum to Robert Schuman and Georges Bidault (4th May, 1950)

Wherever we look in the present world situation we see nothing but deadlock - whether it be the increasing acceptance of a war that is thought to be inevitable, the problem of Germany, the continuation of French recovery, the organisation of Europe, the very place of France in Europe and in the world.

From such a situation there is only one way of escape: concrete action on a limited but decisive point, bringing about on this point a fundamental change and gradually modifying the very terms of all the problems.

The continuation of France's recovery will be halted if the question of German industrial production and its competitive capacity is not rapidly solved.

Already Germany is asking to increase her production from 11 to 14 million tons. We shall refuse, but the Americans will insist. Finally, we shall state our reservations but we shall give in. At the same time, French production is levelling off or even falling.

Merely to state these facts makes it unnecessary to describe in great detail what the consequences will be: Germany expanding, German dumping on export markets; a call for the protection of French industries; the halting or camouflage of trade liberalisation; the reestablishment of prewar cartels; perhaps an orientation of German expansion towards the East, a prelude to political agreements; France fallen back into the rut of limited, protected production.

The USA do not want things to take this course. They will accept an alternative solution if it is dynamic and constructive, especially if it is proposed by France.

At the present moment, Europe can be brought to birth only by France. Only France can speak and act.

But if France does not speak and act now, what will happen? A group will form around the United States, but in order to wage the Cold War with greater force. The obvious reason is that the countries of Europe are afraid and are seeking help. Britain will draw closer and closer to the United States; Germany will develop rapidly, and we shall not be able to prevent her being rearmed. France will be trapped again in her former Malthusianism, and this will lead inevitably to her being effaced.

(2) Jean Monnet, letter to Rene Pleven (23rd August, 1950)

Decisions are imposed by events and each is taken in isolation. We are soldiering on in Indochina. Why? The movement in Asia is Asian, against the foreigner whoever he happens to be. How can our military effort in Indochina succeed? In my opinion, all this is absurd and dangerous. We are operating with partners. These partners happen to be the most powerful in the world, they have helped us, and without them we could not have resolved our "material" troubles after the war. But their help, which has been so great, has seduced them and us into bad habits. Their help has been material. They continue to think in material terms. What they need, and we need with them, is a political concept, that is, a spiritual and ethical one.

I propose you bring to the partnership a strong, constructive concept as well as a determination to build up a stout external defence); the establishment of a structured Atlantic free world, accommodating the diversity of its three constituent parts, the United States, the British Empire, and continental Western Europe federated around an expanded Schuman Plan. We would transform our archaic social conditions and come to laugh at our present fear of Russia.

The hope lies in the fact that the team leader is the United States. Of all the countries of the West, it is the readiest to accept change and listen to strong straight talk, so long as one throws a constructive idea into the ring. The United States are not imperialist, they are efficient. Alone, they will not develop the political vision of which the world stands in need. I think that is our task.

(3) Jean Monnet, Prospect for a New Europe (1959)

The Community's institutions consist of a Council of Ministers, a European Economic Commission, an Assembly, which is a kind of Parliament, and a Court of Justice, which is an embryo Supreme Court. What we have is a system of checks and balances similar to that in most constitutions.

The Council of Ministers is designed to bring together national views, the views of the six governments. It meets at intervals. Each government is represented in the Council by its Foreign Minister or by one or more other Ministers, such as the Finance, Transport or Agricultural Ministers, as the subject matter requires.

The continuing, day-to-day executive work of the Community is handled by the nine-member European Economic commission. The Commission is responsible to the Assembly of the Community. It defends the common interests of the Community and represents the Community viewpoint, rather than national views. It acts by majority vote in all things.

The Commission has numerous real powers, specified in the Treaty, which it exercises on its own authority. Where general rules have to be set, the Council of Ministers makes the decisions. But it must do so on the proposals of the Commission. It cannot amend the Commission's proposals except by unanimous vote.

(4) Stanley Cleveland, a member of the team administering the Marshall Aid, wrote about the way Jean Monnet conducted a meeting.

He never wrote anything in his life, as far as I know; he developed the ideas and let other people write them up for him. But whenever Monnet attacked a new problem he would gather a bunch of people around him. Some of them would be his intimates - Hirsch, Uri - people who were close to him. Tommy (Tomlinson) when he was alive, and others. Some would be people he hardly knew but had somehow laid his hands on. They knew a lot about the particular subject. He would begin a sort of non-stop meeting. It could go on sometimes for a period of one or two weeks - hours and hours a day. It generally started out with a rambling discussion of the subject in which relevant facts would be brought out. People would begin to argue (these were a very argumentative bunch). Gradually two or three approaches and positions would develop in the group. Monnet would remain silent, occasionally provoking reaction, but not saying much. Then gradually, as the conversation developed - and it often took several days or even a week before this happened - he began venturing a little statement of his own. Usually it was a very simple statement, just a few words, almost a slogan. It distilled, out of all this argument among highly verbal, brilliant people, a couple of kernels of an idea. These he would throw into the conversation. Then people would react to him. Gradually, Monnet would begin to expose a little more in a few sentences, then in a couple of paragraphs. The process then was that people in the group who had been arguing against each other would all turn against him. They would argue with him, indicating all the things that were wrong about what he was saying. Monnet would listen, reformulate his ideas - taking into account what somebody had said, refusing to heed what somebody else had said. At this point, he would begin to come out with a formulated concept, an idea. It was usually action-oriented and contained all of the necessary elements. Then he would go through what was, in some ways, the most excruciating part of the process. Yet it was the ultimate refinement. Monnet would go on saying the same thing, over and over again, in practically the same words, occasionally modifying a detail to take account of a legitimate criticism. People would still argue with him but the arguments would die out because he would have taken into account all of the legitimate arguments. In the end, there was in Monnet's head, and ready to put on paper, a perfectly formulated


(5) Edward Heath, The Course of My Life (1988)

Jean Monnet strongly and repeatedly advised me in those early days that we should sign the Treaties of Paris and Rome straight away. His argument was that we should accede immediately and, once inside, seek adjustments of the Community's institutions and policies to meet our own particular needs. This was a tempting proposal. It would have saved a great deal of time, and it would have enabled us to take part at once in the negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy, which were then in their early stages. It would also have made it possible to block, under the then rules of the Community, those aspects of its development which we considered to be against our interests. With each delay to our entry, further developments which would directly affect us were taking place within the Six, while we watched impotently from outside.