Let me begin by thanking you for this invitation and for this opportunity to say something about the importance of the Treaty of Paris.
My talk could be very brief; I could simply say that without the Treaty of Paris we would not be here today, because that treaty paved the way for all subsequent developments.
I will, however, use the ten minutes I have been given to pick out ten points which illustrate the scale of the paradigm shift that the Treaty of Paris represented. It was not just one more in a long line of treaties, but a ground-breaking document which radically altered the political mentalities that held sway in Europe at that time.
- First of all, the Treaty of Paris introduced a new method of safeguarding security on the European continent, in the form of the pooling of key resources. Let’s look briefly at the situation prior to the treaty: the Ruhr region had been given special status, and Germany was still paying the reparations imposed on it. The thinking behind the treaty would make just as much sense today: let’s imagine for a moment that the disputes between Israelis and Palestinians concerning access to water could be settled by making that vital resource a common asset.
- A second fundamental change concerns the fact that international relations are very often seen as a means of dividing up a cake, with one side necessarily taking a larger share than the other. The outcome of this approach is easy to predict: conflict, with a winner and a loser. What the Treaty of Paris did was to show that cooperation could make the cake itself larger. Nations were no longer playing a game in which there was a winner and a loser; instead, institutionalised cooperation made every nation a winner.
- Another innovation: the Treaty of Paris introduced the principle of decision-making by a majority, not by unanimity. Anyone familiar with Jean Monnet’s earlier career will know that he had been Deputy Secretary-General of the League of Nations. He had seen at first hand what happens when an organisation’s decision-making is based on the principle of unanimity: stalemate, ineffectiveness and the inability to solve problems. Turning to the situation today, it is very clear that in those areas where the unanimity principle continues to apply Europe is in no position to defend its interests: foreign policy, or security and defence policy, to name but two. Granted, we have cooperation in these areas, but the ever growing threats we face make a bolder approach essential.
- Under the Treaty of Paris, force of arms gave way to the force of law and it was accepted that a supreme court could hand down definitive, binding rulings, including on the actions of the Member States.
- The small and medium-sized Member States were placed on an equal footing with the larger ones. A look at the situation in Europe in the interwar period shows just how significant a change this was: all the small and medium-sized States sandwiched between the Soviet Union and Germany disappeared, were occupied or lost their independence. The same thing happened in Western Europe, if we think about Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands or the Nordic countries. We can see that the smaller States that previously faced invasion and annexation have become partners whose stability and independence have been bolstered by European integration.
- The Treaty of Paris introduced for the first time the model of crisis-driven integration. The financial crisis has provided the justification for decisions which had previously been regarded as unthinkable. One example is the decision which gave the European Central Bank the power to oversee the major banks and, if necessary, take decisions which affect the way they operate. Making all the major banks in Europe work together has created a system which strengthens each individual national economy. More recently, the COVID pandemic and the health crisis it has triggered have prompted calls to establish a Health Europe.
- The Treaty of Paris did away with the false dichotomy between economics and politics. No one now disputes the fact that economics is central to politics. As a result, economic integration becomes a way of speeding up political integration. Markets cannot be integrated without harmonised social and environmental conditions and without freedom of movement.
- The Treaty of Paris also placed on an institutional footing the idea of close cooperation between trade unions and firms, which has fostered the development of a social market economy. It also laid down rules on the monitoring of cartels and monopolies, which in the interwar period were major economic and political forces.
- The Treaty of Paris highlighted the way Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman worked together. Faced with the daunting task of proposing the basis for a new relationship between France and Germany, Schuman adopted the solution devised by Monnet. In other words, the Treaty of Paris grew out of a combination of expertise (the Monnet Plan) and political courage. If we look at what Jacques Delors, Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand later achieved in introducing the single currency, we can see that this combination was not a one-off. When I was appointed head of the CDU Foreign and European Policy Department in 1991, my boss told me that I had to make the euro popular in Germany. No easy task... Many wished me luck, thinking I would need it, while others were convinced that the single currency would never come into being. And yet it did, because, as in the early 1950s, we had political leaders who paid little heed to opinion polls and did not hesitate to take political risks in carrying through a project so fundamental to the unification of Europe.
- The Treaty of Paris established a Parliamentary Assembly. From the outset, therefore, there was an awareness of the need for democratic legitimacy. The two sources of legitimacy that still underpin the European Union today had thus already taken on their roles: the States, represented in the Council, and the peoples (more than 400 million Europeans), represented in the European Parliament following elections by direct universal suffrage.
In conclusion, I would also like to say a few words about the Jean Monnet House, which the European Parliament runs in Houjarray. All Parliament’s new officials now spend a few days there gaining a better insight into the origins and meaning of a united Europe. They are all given a copy of Jean Monnet’s Mémoires and in my discussions with them I trace a line back from current events to our sources of inspiration and our roots. Parliament’s Bureau holds regular meetings at the Jean Monnet House. But the Jean Monnet House is also used as the setting for meetings, for example with invited representatives of Ukraine, at which they discuss freely the state of their democracy, with a view to identifying ways of making it function better. A 36-room guest house is currently being fitted out to make the venue a kind of Camp David for the European Parliament. The plan is for more and more academic conferences to be held there.
In other words, the European Parliament is investing in its past as a way of investing in its future. Jean Monnet embodies, I believe, the spirit of the European Union, in its beginnings, in what it has become and in what it will become in the future, without forgetting his commitment to the transatlantic relationship or his recognition that the fight against totalitarianism called for cooperation among all democracies.