Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Beyond Borders: The Vision of Jean Monnet

“Make men work together: show them that beyond their differences and geographical boundaries there lies a common interest.” (Jean Monnet)

Beyond Borders

Yesterday I listened to the play on Radio 4 Extra called “Beyond Borders”. It was written by Mike Walker, produced by Richard Clemmow, directed by Dirk Maggs. It was first aired on Radio 4 on December 2011, and at the time raised the ire of the Daily Mail (who in typical Little Englander fashion labelled the BBC as “The Brussels Broadcasting Corporation”). The reason was because the play laid out with simplicity the reasoning and purpose of the European Union, and why it was so necessary as a foundation for peace in Europe.

The blurb for the play reads as follows:

“After the devastation of WW2, a plan emerges for the economic reconstruction of France and the unification of Europe in an attempt to secure a prosperous future and to avoid future armed conflicts. “

“In 1950, Jean Monnet worked with the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schumann, to combine the coal and steel industries of France and Germany, setting in place the foundations of the Common Market... “

“Cast: Timothy West as Monnet, Lesley Manville as Silvia Monnet, with Daniel Weyman, Philip Jackson, William Hope, Jonathan Hyde.”

The key theme is how to prevent another European war. Monnet saw that war came from disputed borders, and in particular, borders between Germany and France which had led to war. Those borderlands were rich in coal, and industrialised for steel production. While the United States wanted the rump that was West Germany to get back on its feet, the French feared a German which was becoming an industrial power, which could as in the past, so easily turn from production of peacetime goods to armaments.

Monnet’s solution was elegant, and was given in the statement laid forward by the French foreign minister Robert Schuman on 9 May 1950. Inspired and for the most part drafted by Jean Monnet, this was a proposal to place Franco-German production of coal and steel under one common “High Authority”.

This organization would be open to participation to other European countries. This cooperation was to be designed in such a way as to create common interests between European countries which would lead to gradual political integration, a condition for the pacification of relations between them. It would prevent war from disputes over resources and territory by creating a single free market for trade. This was the birth of the European Economic Community, as it was then known.

Monnet was trying to found an organisation to prevent war. In the Great War of 1914-18, millions of Europeans tried to kill each other, and twenty years later, war came again, and millions of people died. Either something was done to prevent that, as he hoped, or history might well repeat itself. Something had to be done, and he was determined to do just that.

But the play is also full of characters, beautifully drawn. As Elisabeth Mahoney commented when it was first aired in 2011:

“This was a well-told tale, based on historical documents and with a great sense of pace and urgency. Walker's writing wisely focused more on personal conversations and discussions over dinner – Monnet, played by Timothy West, made a key pledge by writing on a napkin – so we built up a sense of personalities as well as political developments.”

“West and Manville in particular convinced as husband and wife, reflecting together on huge events around them in the post-war years and what they might mean. She asked at one point how many people had died in the Second World War, and her work-obsessed husband reeled off precise statistics for each country. ‘It was a rhetorical question Jean,’ she sighed.”

One thing that is clear, almost prescient given the aftermath of Brexit. Monnet had a firm conviction that all participating countries should be sharing fairly; there would be no special privilege or treatment for one. And as the play makes clear, at the time, Britain didn’t want to know, unless they could participate in their own terms, which of course they could not.

Looking at it from the outside perspective, as the play does, it is clear that Britain was almost trying to perpetuate its own class divide into Europe, with itself as a more privileged nation above others, just as within Britain there is a class divide. The play actually helps the listener to see how wrong this is, that all countries in Europe should play according to common rules, without one having a special joker card to trump others. In the post-Brexit world, this is a message which we have forgotten.

Today in Europe – to say nothing of the rest of the world – Monnet is often a forgotten historical figure, his contributions to peace and prosperity in Europe largely overlooked. This play gave a welcome insight into his inspiring genius about which I had hitherto been ignorant.

This was the text of the declaration in full - my italics.Unlike many political documents it is short - under 1,000 words, and states succinctly the strategy to avoid war - build economic co-operation as a start to co-operation between different nations for the common good of all their members.

The Schuman Declaration – 9 May 1950

World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.

The contribution which an organized and living Europe can bring to civilization is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations. In taking upon herself for more than 20 years the role of champion of a united Europe, France has always had as her essential aim the service of peace. A united Europe was not achieved and we had war.

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 organization 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, and will change the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims.

The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible. The setting up of this powerful productive unit, open to all countries willing to take part and bound ultimately to provide all the member countries with the basic elements of industrial production on the same terms, will lay a true foundation for their economic unification.

This production will be offered to the world as a whole without distinction or exception, with the aim of contributing to raising living standards and to promoting peaceful achievements. With increased resources Europe will be able to pursue the achievement of one of its essential tasks, namely, the development of the African continent.

In this way, there will be realised simply and speedily that fusion of interest which is indispensable to the establishment of a common economic system; it may be the leaven from which may grow a wider and deeper community between countries long opposed to one another by sanguinary divisions.

By pooling basic production and by instituting a new High Authority, whose decisions will bind France, Germany and other member countries, this proposal will lead to the realization of the first concrete foundation of a European federation indispensable to the preservation of peace.

To promote the realization of the objectives defined, the French Government is ready to open negotiations on the following bases.

The task with which this common High Authority will be charged will be that of securing in the shortest possible time the modernization of production and the improvement of its quality; the supply of coal and steel on identical terms to the French and German markets, as well as to the markets of other member countries; the development in common of exports to other countries; the equalization and improvement of the living conditions of workers in these industries.

To achieve these objectives, starting from the very different conditions in which the production of member countries is at present situated, it is proposed that certain transitional measures should be instituted, such as the application of a production and investment plan, the establishment of compensating machinery for equating prices, and the creation of a restructuring fund to facilitate the rationalization of production. The movement of coal and steel between member countries will immediately be freed from all customs duty, and will not be affected by differential transport rates. Conditions will gradually be created which will spontaneously provide for the more rational distribution of production at the highest level of productivity.

In contrast to international cartels, which tend to impose restrictive practices on distribution and the exploitation of national markets, and to maintain high profits, the organization will ensure the fusion of markets and the expansion of production.

The essential principles and undertakings defined above will be the subject of a treaty signed between the States and submitted for the ratification of their parliaments. The negotiations required to settle details of applications will be undertaken with the help of an arbitrator appointed by common agreement. He will be entrusted with the task of seeing that the agreements reached conform with the principles laid down, and, in the event of a deadlock, he will decide what solution is to be adopted.

The common High Authority entrusted with the management of the scheme will be composed of independent persons appointed by the governments, giving equal representation. A chairman will be chosen by common agreement between the governments. The Authority's decisions will be enforceable in France, Germany and other member countries. Appropriate measures will be provided for means of appeal against the decisions of the Authority.

A representative of the United Nations will be accredited to the Authority, and will be instructed to make a public report to the United Nations twice yearly, giving an account of the working of the new organization, particularly as concerns the safeguarding of its objectives.

The institution of the High Authority will in no way prejudge the methods of ownership of enterprises. In the exercise of its functions, the common High Authority will take into account the powers conferred upon the International Ruhr Authority and the obligations of all kinds imposed upon Germany, so long as these remain in force.

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