hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

1957: The Real Story of the Rome Treaties

“Resolved by thus pooling their resources to preserve and strengthen peace and liberty, and calling upon the other peoples of Europe who share their ideal to join in their efforts.”

Preamble to the Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community, 25 March, 1957

Alphen, Netherlands. 28 March. What is the real story behind the 1957 Treaty of Rome? Last Saturday in Rome there was a big EU bash to celebrate sixty years since the signing of the treaty. As to be expected the High Priests of High European Political Integration were out in force, speaking of the ‘Founding Fathers’ who signed as the twelve Olympian Gods. This is hardly surprising given that tomorrow British Prime Minister Theresa May will trigger Article 50 and take one of the EU’s major powers out of it. Indeed, one symmetry between Rome on Saturday and 1957 was the absence of a British prime minister at either event. The reality of Rome was at one and the same time more prosaic and more strategic than the vaguely elegiac Commission narrative.

‘Rome’ was not the first treaty setting Europe on the pot-holed road towards some form of political union/super-state/empire depending on your preference. The 1950 European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was the real foundation treaty of the EU forged in the belief that if French coal and German steel were not separated by fifty kilometres and an international order war between the two could be avoided. There was also more than one treaty signed at Rome. The so-called Euratom Treaty, or Treaty to Establish the European Atomic Energy Community, was designed to set the standards for the then burgeoning European atomic industry at a European rather than a national level. Both treaties had six signatories; Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and critically, the Federal Republic or West Germany.

For a proper understanding of the political motivations that led to Rome one must consider the strategic context of the treaties. In 1950 the ECSC was demanded by France, which in the absence of Britain was at the time the leading European power (if one excludes the 352 divisions of the Red Army just over the then inner-German border). This was the price Paris, under intense American pressure at the time, exacted on the Federal Republic to stop dismantling West German industry as a form of war reparation. Washington wanted the three post-war occupation zones, controlled respectively by Britain, the US and France, to return to some form of economic, and in time political normalcy.

In 1991 at the Treaty of Maastricht France demanded a similar price for the reunification of Germany. Paris feared that a united Germany would come to dominate Europe and that the German Bundesbank would be the main architect of that dominance. Therefore, French President Francois Mitterand demanded the Euro as the price for the New Berlin, with a European Central Bank that would both oversee the currency, and ensure it was European, not German.

Mitterand was right to be concerned; Germany IS now the dominant power in Europe, albeit a very different Germany (which sort of makes it OK). And, by placing people in key positions in Brussels Germany now effectively controls the EU. One reason why Wolfgang Schauble, the German finance minister, is so keen to impose reparations on Britain (now there’s an historical irony) for Brexit, is to prevent Britain emerging for the third time in a century as the leader of a counter-coalition to challenge German dominance of Europe, euphemistically called ‘leadership’ these days.

Back in 1957 the key issue was the rearmament of Germany and its 1955 admittance to both NATO and the Western European Union. Since 1952 the Americans had placed the French under intense pressure to allow Germany to rearm to ease the pressure on US military manpower. With echoes of today all too clear the 1952 Korean War (which is not technically over) saw US forces split between defending its European Allies, and defending a key ally, South Korea, in Asia-Pacific.

Initially France resisted the very idea of German rearmament. After all, in 1952 it was only a dozen years since the Wehrmacht had marched down the Champs Elysée. Then, in 1950, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman came up with the Schuman Plan and called for the creation of a European Defence Community. The ‘EDC’ would have seen all national forces forged into a form of European Army under a command structure that would have looked not unlike today’s European Commission, and probably have been just as popular and effective.

Two implacable opponents killed the EDC. First, the French themselves were very uncomfortable with the idea that the descendants of the ‘Grande Armée’ would have been lost to the EDC. Second, the limits of the alleged Europhilia of the Grand Old Man and Wellingtonian figure of British politics, Sir Winston Churchill, were revealed by the EDC. In May 1953 he famously remarked when asked if Britain would join the EDC, “we are with them, but not of them”.  Little really has changed ever since, apart from Britain is now far weaker as both a power and a polis.

In October 1954 the EDC collapsed, and in one of those moments of British diplomatic fudgery for which London is renowned West Germany was permitted to join both NATO and the Western European Union in return for the permanent stationing of British forces in Germany (British Army of the Rhine).

Lessons for today? The question of a European Germany or a German Europe remains pertinent, particularly so now that Britain the Balancer is leaving the EU. And, for all the EU-babble one hears on such occasions European state interests are still the driving force in European politics on a continent where history never sleeps. With a broke France and a broken Britain it is clear that Germany will decide Europe’s course. German interests WILL come first. Thankfully, it is today’s Germany not some other Germany.

That said, a word of warning from history Germany…

Julian Lindley-French


PS for a full understanding of the history of all this buy my book “A Chronology of European Security and Defence 1945-2007” (Oxford: Oxford University Press) which is, of course, brilliant and very reasonably-priced.

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