The European Union would never have come into existence without the
desire of both France and Germany to make yet another war between them
a virtual impossibility. The two nations had waged war three times in
recent history, prior to the first steps taken by them towards
In the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 the Prussian army occupied Paris,
humiliating the French nation and imposing onerous reparations. Faced
a few decades later with a militaristic and expansionist Germany, the
French were anxious to avenge their defeat. The resulting conflict
escalated into World War I. Finally, Nazi Germany defeated and
occupied France in World War II.
Why such enmity between the two nations? Though by no means the only
reason, an ancient territorial dispute was party to blame. Both lay
claim to the area of Alsace-Lorraine, west of the Rhine River. The
fact that Lorraine is rich in coal and iron ore made it a rich prize.
By the terms of the Treaty of Frankfurt (1871), France ceded
Alsace-Lorraine to Germany. But the region became again a part of
France in 1918, with the defeat of Germany. Occupied by Germany during
World War II, the region is now French once again.
To explain more broadly this old enmity, France, on the one hand, and
the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the German states, on the other, had
long been the primary rivals for supremacy on the European continent.
The birth of the idea of European union following the catastrophe of
World War II must be seen, then, against this belligerent and
disastrous background. If European economies?especially the German and
the French?could be successfully integrated, then interests held in
common might serve to establish a permanent peace.
The first step toward such integration was the Schuman Declaration in
1951. Robert Schuman, the French foreign minister, proposed something
radical to Germany:
?? that Franco-German production of coal and steel as a whole be
placed under a common High Authority, within the framework of an
organization open to the participation of the other countries of
The declaration argued:
?By pooling basic production and by instituting a new High Authority,
whose decisions will bind France, Germany and other member countries,
this proposal will lead to the realization of the first concrete
foundation of a European federation indispensable to the preservation
This radical new idea had come from the French businessman/economist
Jean Monnet, head of a commission created by the French government to
plan for the nation?s postwar economic recovery. Monnet became the
first head of the High Authority.
The idea met with a warm reception from the postwar West German
Chancellor Konrad Adenauer who believed that there must be ?an end to
nationalism? if the world were ever to achieve lasting peace.He
?As a result of the disaster which two world wars have brought to
Germany, the great majority of our people have consciously or
intuitively realised that nations cannot continue to live exclusively
according to their own desires and inclinations, but must merge their
interests with those of the other peoples of the world. There is no
longer any important problem which is only a German or even only a
European one. We must learn to think and to act in larger terms.?
(A staunch anti-communist, Adenauer also liked the idea of greater
French and Germany unity as a counterweight to the menace of the
Soviet Union to European peace and security.)
Both Adenauer and Schuman, by the way, came from areas where French
and German history and culture were in near proximity: Adenauer from
Cologne and Schuman from Luxembourg.
The resulting European Steel and Coal Community (Italy, Luxembourg and
Belgium were first members along with France and West Germany) laid
the groundwork for today?s European Union, which has achieved a
remarkable degree of integration, including a single currency, a
?single market?, and an elected European parliament, which meets in
Strasbourg, the chief city of Alsace Lorraine.
There are 15 member states and 10 more countries will join the EU in
2004. German reunification in 1990 created anxiety in France that a
more powerful Germany would come to dominate the EU, at France?s
expense. And in Germany especially, there was some opposition to a
single currency. But European integration has continued, despite some
remnants of what some would view as ?nationalism,? such as the UK?s
insistence on maintaining its own currency.
In conclusion, the leaders of postwar France and Germany had been
traumatized by the war just ended, and were determined to work toward
a new Europe where war would be unthinkable. Almost 55 years later,
the Europe of today seems to fulfil their vision. However, as European
differences over the war in Iraq illustrate, Europe does not yet speak
with one voice when it come to international affairs, even though
Germany and France are quite united in their opposition to American
Search terms used included:
European Union history
European Union History AND Germany
European Union History AND France
The official European Union site is:
The US Library of Congress site has an excellent discussion of German
policy in relation to European unification.
I hope this answer and these references give you all the information you require.
Clarification of Answer by
29 Mar 2004 03:38 PST
It can be said beyond a doubt that the German-French JOINT commitment
to European integration--begining with the decision to merge their
countries' steel and coal production under one authority (the European
Steel and Coal Community), AND their later strong, joint commitment to
a single European market and currency--has been the DECISIVE factor in
the growth and success of the European Union. In contrast, the United
Kingdom has been resistant, especially under Margaret Thatcher, to
greater union and integration. As I mentioned, the UK still refuses to
convert to the Euro currency.
As two of Europe's largest economies, France and Germany each
exercises considerable influence on the shape and future of Europe.
But what makes their contribution to European Union DECISIVE is the
fact that they have acted TOGETHER to create the new Europe. France at
times has been anxious about Germany's growing economic strength
(especially after German reunification), and also about perceived
German dominance in the EU. Yet, despite these fears and some
differences of policy and opinion, the two countries have together
continued to move forward toward a more complete European union. Over
the last 50 years, their relationship has been the engine that has
brought Europe together in new and historic ways.
I hope this clarifies? If not, let me know.