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1945 - 1959: The Beginning of European Cooperation

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  • 0:02 Early European Cooperation
  • 0:53 Europe Post-WWII
  • 2:34 OEEC and ECSC
  • 5:11 EEC and EURATOM
  • 6:38 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the beginnings of greater European cooperation, from the end of WWII to the beginning of the 1960s, covering the birth of the ECSC, EEC, and other developments.

Early European Cooperation

Everyone gets in arguments from time to time at work or school. Though we may get incredibly angry at the person with whom we are arguing, most people in civil society generally agree that it is better in the long run to talk things out with your coworker rather than challenge them to a fight. The first can usually end in a mutual understanding of grievances, while the latter often ends in broken bones and egos and possible litigation. When faced with this choice, most people choose to talk things out.

After fighting two costly wars, several countries in Western Europe agreed it was better to talk things out as well. To avoid fighting each other again, they began to communicate and merge services and resources to try to make the destruction caused by the world wars of the 20th century a thing of the past in Europe.

Europe Post-WWII

When WWII ended in 1945, Europe had spent the first half of the century fighting two of the bloodiest wars the world has ever seen, and in between, fascist regimes whipped up the populations of central Europe into a racist and xenophobic frenzy, ending in the genocide of approximately six million Jews. Even before these horrible events, Europe had experienced generational warfare for centuries. For example, less than a lifetime before WWI, millions of Europeans perished in the Crimean War, and the Napoleonic wars only a generation before embroiled the entire continent in war as Napoleon expanded his French Empire. In addition to killing millions, these wars also caused massive destruction in European cities and in the countryside, often forcing industries to rebuild from scratch and states to spend massive amounts of money rebuilding infrastructure.

What's more, soon after WWII, Europe faced the prospect of its ravaged landscape becoming a warzone yet again, as tensions rose between the United States and the Soviet Union in what became the Cold War, with Europe smack in between the two superpowers. In the immediate aftermath of WWII, the Americans and Soviets divided Europe amongst themselves, as the Soviet Union carved out a sphere of influence over most of the countries in Eastern Europe, installing communist puppet regimes which received many of their directives directly from Moscow. In the West, The U.S. and her British allies ensured that democracies and capitalist economies were created. For example, the United States heavily backed the Christian Democratic Party in Italy, who without U.S. financial support may have lost the first postwar elections to socialist parties.

OEEC and ECSC

To avoid this continuous warfare, some European states began looking for greater international cooperation in the region. Through greater communication and involvement, the leaders of Western Europe hoped they could avoid future conflict. Additionally, after WWII, Europe was economically ruined. Not only were large parts of the continent devastated by war, but its postwar economies were failing quickly due to the destruction of its infrastructure and the abrupt change from wartime production to peacetime production.

Fortunately for Europe, the United States and several smaller allies less affected by the war, like Canada and Australia, were willing to help. The Marshall Plan, named after U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, intended to get the European economy back on its feet through huge infusions of U.S. cash. The first agreement toward European cooperation was made in 1948 to meet the challenges of distributing this cash. The Organization for European Economic Cooperation had 18 participating nations, almost all of whom were directly affected by the war. It included nearly all European nations, with the exception of those under Soviet control. Soviet states, fearing Western influence, were directed by Moscow to not accept any Marshall Plan aid.

The importance and clout of the OEEC declined in the early 1950s as Marshall Plan aid from the United States began to taper off. However, the suspension of aid did not stop European countries from realizing they could be better by working together.

In May 1950, the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, laid out a plan for greater European cooperation and the pooling of industrial resources between several Western European countries. The Schuman Declaration, as it has become known, proclaimed that by pooling coal and steel - two vital industrial resources - it would be nearly impossible for traditional enemies, like France and Germany, to go to war with one another again. Additionally, the Schuman Declaration claimed that pooling resources would raise the standard of living in all countries that participated, as costly tariffs and other complications created by borders would be eliminated.

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