Founding Fathers

Founding Fathers in Europe

Description of Founding Fathers

The Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union describes founding fathers in the following terms: [1] The EU has a pantheon of prophets and heroes, who are endowed (sometimes justly, sometimes only in retrospect) with special foresight of the European destiny. The first of these in modern times was Count Coudenhove-Kalergi (1894-1972), who convened a series of pan-European congresses shortly after World War I and remained an advocate of a United States of Europe until well after World War Ii (see more in this European encyclopedia). Although an intimate of statesmen from many countries, he never managed to create an enduring institution, perhaps hindered by his own statelessness (his mother was Japanese, his father a part-Flemish, part-Greek Austro-Hungarian diplomat).

The socialist Aristide Briand (1862-1932), 11 times premier of the French Third Republic, who helped to negotiate the 1925 Locarno pacts on European frontiers, is claimed by his countrymen as a European pioneer (see more in this European encyclopedia). In 1929 he advocated a European Federal Union within the framework of the League of Nations, his real motivation being the containment of Germany. His German opposite number, Gustav Stresemann, embraced Briand’s proposal not for reasons of Europeanism but in the hope of exploiting it to restore German hegemony in Central Europe (see more in this European encyclopedia). Thus the two men prefigured later developments in Franco-German relations.

The 1939-45 war years saw the birth of various different strands of Europeanism. A yearning for peace inspired models of a new world government Рif freedom survived Рmore effective than the League of Nationshad been after World War i (see more in this European encyclopedia). Failing world government, a United States of Europe might be a more attainable aim. Nor was such thinking confined to idealists Рseveral German and Vichy French planners conceived a post-war order based on a European Economic Area with a single currency and a customs union. It is, however, politically incorrect to mention this latter phenomenon, and the names of Alfred Six, Walther Funk, Werner Daitz and Alphonse de Ch̢teaubriant have been consigned to oblivion.

The first universally acknowledged Founding Father, however, was the French businessman, internationalist, public servant and éminence grise Jean Monnet, the true author of the 1950 Schuman Plan, which ushered in the European Coal and Steel Community, which was in turn the forerunner of what became the Eu (see more in this European encyclopedia). If Monnet was the giant of the European movement, others were of nearly equal stature (see more in this European encyclopedia). Walter Hallstein, an academic German technocrat, shared Monnet’s faith in supranational institutions and was the Commission’s first president, winning his spurs (and meeting his match) in a series of bruising encounters in the early 1960s with that proud nationalist President Charles de Gaulle (see more in this European encyclopedia). By contrast, the romantic Italian communist Altiero Spinelli was the antithesis of a bureaucrat. Spinelli was a populist, a passionate advocate of a United States of Europe, to be legitimised by a democratically electedEuropean Parliament.

The amazing progress of technology, the shrinking of distances thanks to modern communications … and the present-day tendency to form wider associations and larger areas for joint economic development … all these compel Europe to unite more closely. Europe has become too small for … self-contained sovereignties. Departmental memorandum to von Ribbentrop, Berlin, 1943

To succeed, these officials and dreamers needed the active support of powerful like-minded political leaders. In the immediate post-war period four such Europeanist statesmen stood out. Three of these, the active Christians Alcide de Gasperi of Italy, Robert Schuman of France and Konrad Adenauer of Germany, are now so venerated in Catholic memory that in 1999 the Vatican set in train the first steps towards canonising them as saints (of De Gasperiand Adenauer it could also be said that it was they who were principally responsible for setting their own countries back on their feet). The fourth, the secular socialist Paul-Henri Spaak of Belgium, was no less deserving; he devoted much of his life to the federal cause and played a decisive part in designing the 1957 Treaty of Rome (see more in this European encyclopedia). In the next generation of political leaders, however, none can justly be admitted to the European hall of fame, for Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and François Mitterrand of France and Helmut Schmidt of Germany believed in the Community less as an end in itself than as a vehicle for French or Franco-German ambitions.

As the political sponsor of the single currency and the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, Helmut Kohl of Germany signalled a return to full-blooded integrationism, working closely with another devout Catholic in Jacques Delors, the most zealous Commission president since Hallstein. Delors modelled his strategy on a carefully thought out tactic of Monnet, pursuing economic integration opportunistically step by step and aiming to translate each gain into acceptance of the need for supranational control and therefore the inevitability of eventual political unification. He is surely destined to be recognised as a latter-day prophet once a decent period of time has elapsed. Kohl’s reputation, however, hangs in the balance and may not survive his exposure as a machine politician with illicit funds at his disposal.

It is to be noted that none of the accredited European heroes is British. Winston Churchill believed in a Community led by a reconciled France and Germany, to which the UK would be but loosely linked. Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson applied to join the Common Market out of weakness, not conviction. Edward Heath and Roy Jenkins have the strongest claims, but the first is insufficiently regarded at home and the second a touch too bonhomous and epicurean quite to qualify for the top table of visionaries. (See also ‘European idea’ and entries for Adenauer, De Gasperi, Delors, Hallstein, Kohl,Monnet, Schuman, Spaak and Spinelli (see more in this European encyclopedia). For distinguished opponents, see de Gaulle and Thatcher.)

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Notas y References

  1. Based on the book “A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union from Aachen to Zollverein”, by Rodney Leach (Profile Books; London)

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