Back To CourseHistory 109: Western Europe Since 1945
14 chapters | 134 lessons
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Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.
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.
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.
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.
In 1951, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, France, and West Germany founded the European Coal and Steel Community. Through the ECSC, all six nations agreed to allow coal and steel to move freely across each other's borders. Additionally, companies from each country were free to set up mining and refinement operations in the other countries without having to pay tariffs. The ECSC established an impartial high authority to monitor the trades and set prices across the region.
The successful treaty between these six states expanded heavy industry and encouraged economic growth throughout Western Europe, and a few years later, the same states signed the Treaty of Rome, creating the European Economic Community in 1957. This agreement sought to establish a European 'common market,' which would reduce tariffs and trade restrictions between the participating nations, fostering trade and growth in other sectors of the economy as well.
Additionally, many travel restrictions between the six nations were similarly removed, allowing the citizens of member states to live and work freely across the region. Though critics were initially worried about the consequences of having similar policy approaches across such a diverse and varied region, the results were largely positive economic growth for all states involved.
Additionally, a second Treaty of Rome was also agreed upon by the six states of the EEC. This second treaty created the European Atomic Energy Community, or EURATOM. EURATOM sought to research and develop nuclear energy for the benefit of the EEC nations. However, whereas in the Soviet Union and the United States nuclear energy was being harnessed in weaponry, EURATOM sought only to safely and efficiently produce as much energy as possible for the region, aiming to secure energy independence for the EEC nations. EURATOM still exists as a nuclear regulatory agency in the EU today.
Prior to the 1950s, the countries of Europe had fought each other nearly every generation for centuries. After the devastation of the 20th century's world wars, some in Europe sought to put an end to the fighting - something which would certainly prove difficult as the division between communist East and capitalist West grew sharper and tensions rose between the United States and the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, men like Robert Schuman believed that if European countries were better integrated economically, it would be borderline impossible for the nations of Europe to go to war with each other.
Building upon the success of the OEEC, which distributed Marshall Plan aid to war-ravaged Europe, six nations - Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and West Germany - started the European Coal and Steel Community. The ECSC pooled vital industrial resources between the six nations. Six years later, these same nations attempted to create a common market between the six nations and formed the European Economic Community and EURATOM to foster trade and manage the production of nuclear energy.
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Back To CourseHistory 109: Western Europe Since 1945
14 chapters | 134 lessons