The Treaty of Rome was signed on March 25th 1957. Many see the Treaty of Rome as the seedling that has grown into the European Union. The treaty introduced the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Commission.
Supporters of greater European co-operation had been buoyed by the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in April 1951. Two Frenchmen believed that this co-operation could be pushed even further – Robert Schuman and Jean Monet. Schuman, who had lived and studied in Germany, believed that, despite the recent memories of World War Two, both France and what was now West Germany could cultivate better relations. Monet was a businessman who believed that the only way for greater prosperity in both France and West Germany was for both countries to develop a better and more positive relationship. Konrad Adenaur, West Germany’s first post-war Chancellor shared the views of both Schuman and Monet. All three believed that greater co-operation between both nations would all but end any chance of another war between both nations.
Their views on co-operation were shared by Paul-Henri Spaak of Belgium who also believed that the threat of war would be a thing of the past if all of Western European gave its support towards more co-operation.
In 1954, France rejected the idea of a European army that would have included German troops. Though this approach did not fit in with the ideal of greater co-operation, ironically it sparked off a process that was to lead to further European integration and co-operation. Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg) was concerned that both West Germany and France were becoming the dominant powers in Western Europe. Benelux suggested to West Germany, France and Italy (the six members of the ECSC) that representatives from all six nations should meet at Messina in Sicily to discuss the creation of a common market. A statement was issued that stated:
“The time has come to make a fresh advance towards the building of Europe.”
Representatives from the six countries met at Messina in June 1955. The meeting was chaired by Paul-Henri Spaak. The most important proposals were for a general common market and a European atomic energy authority. The idea behind a common market was for trade between member states to be tariff-free within the common market zone. Spaak believed that such a policy would have four major advantages:
1) A vast zone in Europe would be created that would have the same trading policy.
2) Such a zone would challenge the economic muscle of the United States.
3) The strength of combined resources would bring about expansion and greater prosperity.
4) There would be a rise in the standard of living for those who lived within the common market.
The theory generated by Messina ignored a number of practical realities. For example, no agreement was reached on the duty that would be charged by Common Market members on products coming into the Common Market from non-member states. Also no agreement was reached on a common agricultural policy for member states. However, the Messina Conference showed that there was a desire to move forward and to develop what had been started by the ECSC.
Britain had sent representatives to the Messina Conference in July 1955 but they were pulled out at the end of the year. Herbert Morrison had stated that if Britain joined the Common Market it would be:
“The end of Britain as an independent European state…….the end of a thousand years of history.”
As a result of the Messina Conference, France, West Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Luxemburg signed the Treaty of Rome on March 25th 1957. The treaty came into force on January 1st 1958 and the Common Market more strictly became the European Economic Community (EEC) whereby trade by member states within the EEC was free of tariffs – the theory being that costs would be kept down and the people within the EEC would benefit, thus improving their standard of living.