By the end of the Second World War (1939-1945), Europe was left in a state of unprecedented destruction. The continent was a divided and fractured region, with high civilian losses and entire cities completely destroyed. Peace had once again been broken and the war had left an imprint on the future relations of the continent. It was clear that something had to be done to recover the political and economic stability of Europe. New relations, especially between France and Germany, had to be rebuilt from the ashes.
It was against the backdrop of the post-Second World War international order that the European Coal and Steel Community was established in 1952. This was a ground-breaking institution that paved the way for further European integration by bringing political stability and economic reconstruction. Indeed, it was the first building block that inspired European nations to build closer ties in a way that had not yet ever been experimented. This eventually led to the actual European Union.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, reconciliation between Germany and France was difficult to establish. Discord remained between the two countries due to the importance of the production of coal and steel, essential materials to the economy of both nations and their ability to wage war. The majority of coal mining and steel production was located in a region in the west of Germany, Ruhr Valley, an area that France wanted to control in order to avoid a possible new German attack. In order to allow an agreement between the two, a plan was proposed by Robert Schuman, French Foreign Prime Minister at the time. Titled the Schuman Plan, it was presented for the first time on 9 May 1950. This plan promoted that coal and steel production should be placed in the hands of a supranational High Authority. Thus, the ECSC was established in 1952, bringing together the coal and mining resources of six different European countries; France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
The ECSC is considered to have been an economic success. Between 1952 and 1960, the treaty helped steel and coal production to increase by about 75% in the member nations of the community. This greatly enhanced the economic competitiveness of the European mining industry. Indeed, the ECSC has been instrumental in developing the import and export of its resources, thus providing a substantial financial return. The European coal sector evolved and progressed significantly through the development of new mining techniques. The multiplication of production plants reduced the rate of unemployment while guaranteeing the best possible working conditions. The ECSC Treaty allowed a better allocation of coal and steel resources among the member countries of the community, leading to increased efficiency gains. Thus, the creation of the ECSC can be seen as the first step in the construction of the current Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).
Not only aiming to be an economic project, the ECSC also impacted the social and political sectors. The ECSC economic policies had the effect of spilling over to more areas than it was initially intended to. Importantly, the social measures implemented by the Treaty of Paris introduced measures to improve the working and living conditions of the coal and steel miners. This involved increasing control over the setting of labour’s wages, offering financial aid for workers’ housing and training, and establishing immigration rules for workers to move from one member country to another. Ultimately, a common welfare policy was established. The social policies of the ECSC have been largely successful. For example, the housing scheme proved to be the most beneficial, ensuring that workers could have access to safe and high-quality housing options. Between 1952 and 1979, one hundred fifty thousand houses were built thanks to the ECSC initiatives.
Politically, the ECSC fostered a culture of cooperation in Europe following a six-year-long period of conflict. Unlike the past, when European nations had interacted through wars, opposing alliances and destruction, nations finally chose the path for peace. Indeed, the ECSC ensured that the signatory countries would be tightly linked in such a way that war would be unthinkable and, to an extent, impossible. This was most significantly perceived in the newfound Franco-German relationship. The two enemies were without a doubt unlikely candidates for a long-term peace-building alliance. Nevertheless, France did turn to Germany, rather than its closer ally Britain, as its future partner and their integration ensured stronger political stability than what might have been thought possible post-Second World War.
Additionally, an era of new intergovernmental interaction in Europe was opened up with the ECSC. This was a period characterized by intensive collaboration, deepening and widening integration. The ECSC was the first modern supranational organization in Europe; with the six founding members willing to cede part of their ultimate nation-state authority: their national sovereignty. The established ECSC High Authority was given the power to monitor and administer the coal and steel markets and ultimately presided over the interests of the community. As a supranational organization, the ECSC was contrastingly different from all the previous integration projects of the time. Although others had indeed existed, such as the Council of Europe and Organisation for European Economic Cooperation, these had not been able to encourage states to give up sovereignty.
The ECSC made the community a European-wide enterprise, such that all eligible countries could willingly embark in the integration project. Therefore, the EU membership increased from the initial six signatories to the 27 countries that now make up the Union. The eagerness of other states to join the Community is clear evidence of the benefits to be gained by economic and political integration. The great expansion of EU members has created a diverse community of nations which share common values and goals.
Lastly, the initial cooperation developed by the ECSC created a momentum that would eventually lead European nations to develop further institutions and integrational agreements. Economic expansion remained at the forefront of the agenda, with the European Economic Community being established in 1958 to create a common market, not solely based on coal and steel sectors but also for the free movement of a variety of goods and services, as well as people and capital. Political integration followed the economic motives to adapt national policies to fit the recent changes. If nations wanted to reap the benefits of economic integration, they also had to be willing to cooperate on a political level and create further structures for this to happen effectively.
Even though the treaty expired in July 2002, due to it being devised to last for only 50 years, the ECSC did not actually disappear; its activities were integrated into the European Communities. After the ratification of the Economic Community of Steel and Coal, the members of the Union adopted a Protocol on the financial consequences of the expiry of the ECSC treaty and on the research fund for coal and steel, which aims to transfer all the assets and liabilities of the ECSC to the European Community. 2 billion in assets in 2002. The purpose of this transfer was to ensure the completion of the operations started by the ECSC before 2002, which were largely research financing operations in the coal and steel sectors.
Ultimately, although expired, the mark that the ECSC has left on the European Union is undeniably strong. The peaceful alliance, economic and social integration of 27 European countries can be traced back to this unique institution and its legacy of peaceful cooperation has continued to inspire the European of today.
This article was written for the MD x EuroMUN Printed Edition.