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Post-Cold War European Cooperation: Institutions & Treaties

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  • 0:03 Cold War Cooperation
  • 0:45 Europe Post-WWII
  • 1:37 OEEC & ECSC
  • 3:47 EEC, ESA, EU & Euro
  • 6:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

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

In this lesson, we explore the increasing cooperation between European states during the Cold War years and beyond, from a six-nation agreement concerning coal and steel to a far-reaching agreement binding most of Europe.

Cold War Cooperation in Europe

When I say 'Europe' to you, what do you think of? Perhaps you think of Paris and the Eiffel Tower, or maybe you think of the queen and the green pastures of jolly old England. Regardless of what particular part of Europe you think of, that you thought of anything at all shows us just how cohesive many of us view Europe today, regardless of its regional quirks and differences.

A huge reason for this is the topic of this lesson: the increasing cooperation between European states during the Cold War years. Indeed, many of the relationships and institutions Europeans created in the second half of the 20th century are the very reasons many of us view Europe as a distinct political entity today.

Europe Post-WWII

When World War II (WWII) ended in 1945, Europe had spent the last 30 years fighting two of the bloodiest wars the world had ever seen, and in between fascist regimes whipped 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 World War I (WWI), millions of Europeans perished in the Crimean War, and before that, the Napoleonic wars only a generation before embroiled the entire continent 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.

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 post-war 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 the U.S. Secretary of State George 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 (OEEC) 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 the European countries from realizing that they could be better by working together. In 1951, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, France, and West Germany founded the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).

Through the ECSC all six nations agreed to allow coal and steel, two materials that were the backbone of central European industrial production, 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.

EEC, SEA, EU, and the Euro

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 (EEC) 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.

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