The European Iron and Steel Community (EISC) is seen by many as the start of the process that led to the European Union. The European Iron and Steel Community was proposed by Robert Schuman and Jean Monet and came into being in 1951.
By 1950, many parts of war torn Western Europe had many a good recovery from the devastating impact of World War Two. The primary reason for this recovery was the money provided to Western Europe by the Marshall Plan. Marshall believed that a financially and economically secure Western Europe would not fall to communism and that the region would become a major trading partner with America. Marshall’s optimism for Western Europe was not fully shared by many in France. There was a general feeling in France that the region would still once again be dominated by West Germany if the right opportunities occurred. Therefore, there was a chance of West Germany threatening France once more in the future.
Schuman and Monet set about to find a way of tying France and West Germany closer together so that the very thought of one threatening the other receded into the past. They proposed that the iron and steel industries of Western Europe should be linked under a
“Common High Authority in an organisation open to all other countries.”
There had been some economic co-operation between Germany and France before World War Two and there was a desire to restore this after the war.
France had a very good economic reason for putting her weight behind the project as West Germany’s coal and steel production was rapidly expanding. What was to become the EISC gave France a lever into this growth. The political climate of the time did not allow West Germany to dominate any new organisation and the only country that could fill this role was France. The French rightly gauged that the United Kingdom would not join an organisation that required any member to effectively hand over control of their iron and steel industry to an external body.
While the UK wanted to maintain its own grip on its iron and steel industries, this was not so in mainland Western Europe. Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg all saw the value of greater European integration if future conflict was to be eradicated. These nations joined the discussions and in 1951 the Treaty of Paris was signed.
The Treaty of Paris set up the European Iron and Steel Community with France, West Germany, Italy and the Benelux nations all joining. The treaty had three main points:
1) There would be one market for coal and steel products of the six member nations with an end to custom duties between them.
2) The EISC would be under the control of the ‘High Authority’. Jean Monet was the first president of the Authority.
3) The treaty also established a Council of Ministers, a Parliamentary Assembly and a Court of Justice.
The logic of the EISC was to ensure that the member states within it had a regular supply of iron and steel and that the cost of each product was affordable. However, profit was not seen as a dirty word as money was needed to keep the EISC constantly modernised. The leaders of the EISC also believed that the organisation had to expand if it was to develop. What was to be a major economic development in Europe also led to a major rival to the UK’s iron and steel industry. Such rivalry almost certainly added to the anti-Europe sentiment that existed in the UK at the time – one that was to be identified and picked up by Charles de Gaulle.