Europe, which has been the stage of wars that lasted centuries, witnessed two world wars in a very short time. After the Second World War, the outlook was the same for all European states: economic collapse, millions of lives lost, the depletion of economic resources, heavy destruction, and starvation. (Armaoğlu, 2020). Europe, which lost its colonies and economic power after the Second World War, no longer had its former central position, so it was no longer as important an actor in world politics as it had been before. The only way to change this situation could be through peace rather than war (Özdemir, 2019). The first step came from Robert Schuman, who was the Foreign Minister of France. Schuman proposed the establishment of a community-aimed partnership on coal and steel (Urwin, 2019). It was accepted by West Germany, Italy, and the Benelux Union (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) (Urwin, 2019). From this small partnership, the European Union (EU) was born. However, was the driving force behind the establishment of formal cooperation in Europe the ideal of creating a peaceful world, or did states first and foremost require cooperation to push forward their national interests? Let's look for an answer to this question in the establishment and development period of this cooperation.
There had to be a powerful reason and a means for the states that had been at war with each other for many years to forget all their hostilities and establish peaceful relations. More importantly, states had to ensure their security was not threatened. The devastation caused by the Second World War provided this reason. On May 9, 1950, the means was proposed by Robert Schuman as the establishment of a coal and steel community. In his famous declaration, Schuman presented the fundamental principles of this community (Schuman, 1950). It was proposed to unite the coal and steel industries of France and West Germany under a single authority (Schuman, 1950). Coal and steel were the raw materials of the war industry (Özdemir, 2019). That's why Schuman chose this area for cooperation. Schuman's actual goal was to pool coal and steel to "make war not just unthinkable but materially impossible" (Schuman, 1950). Thus, natural resources in Europe would be used collaboratively and European states would repair the destruction of the Second World War together.
This proposal was a good opportunity for peace and cooperation in a war-torn Europe. However, France's national interests also played an important role in Schuman's declaration. The Alsace-Lorraine region, which is rich in coal and steel reserves, was a cause of war between Germany and France for many years (Sander, 2020) France did not want a powerful Germany to have control over this region (Armaoğlu, 2020). Coal and steel-related issues could be removed from conflict if cooperation was achieved. Schuman stated in his declaration, that the community would be open to the participation of other European countries (Schuman, 1950). Thus, France aimed to eliminate not only Germany but also other threats through cooperation and to accelerate the post-World War II (WWII) reconstruction process by establishing cooperation with other states (Nello, 2012). It can thus be inferred that the idea of creating the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was rooted in France's national interests.
One might wonder why Germany agreed to enter this community although there was a legitimate possibility that France would try to further neutralize Germany via this partnership. From Germany’s perspective, the reason for joining such a community, in accordance with its national interest, was to enable itself to regain its position of power in the strategic industries of iron, coal, and steel production without endangering the peace of Europe (Nello, 2012). Cooperation could be a good opportunity for Germany, which is perceived as the cause of the Second World War by European states, to get rid of this negative perception and show that it was pro-peace (Özdemir, 2019). For Italy and the Benelux being part of this type of coalition would speed up the reconstruction process as no nation's resources were sufficient for reconstruction alone (Özdemir, 2019). With the participation of Italy and the Benelux countries, the European Coal and Steel Community was established in 1952.
Before the formation of the ECSC, European countries had discussed developing a common defence policy in response to the Soviet threat and US recommendations. In 1948, the Treaty of Brussels had already been signed between France, the UK, and the Benelux countries in order for the others to provide military support if one was attacked (Van Middelaar, 2009). In 1949, with the establishment of NATO, the French government proposed a European Defence Community (EDC) (Urwin, 2019). If it had been established, the European Defense Community would have created a European army with a common budget and common weapons (Urwin, 2019). The establishment of cooperation in the military field was very important in terms of establishing peace among European states, as they could not use a common army against each other. Through such a community, the European states would fight together against the common enemy, which was the Soviet Union at that time (Urwin, 2019). Even though Italy, Germany, France and the Benelux countries signed the Treaty of EDC, the French parliament refused it (Nello, 2012). The reason for the opposition of the French parliament was that with the EDC, Germany would be given a chance for rearmament (Nello, 2012). With this rejection, it can be observed that national interests had priority over establishing a lasting peace in the continent.
In the community created by the reconstruction process of Europe after the Second World War, common policies were considered a cornerstone of integration as they helped create similar structures in the specific areas of these states. Due to its economic, social, and political importance, creating a common agricultural policy (CAP) became the next step for the states of the European Coal and Steel Community. The creation of the CAP served all countries’ interests. For example, France was seeking new markets for its agricultural exports and the CAP might provide this market through other partners. (Nello, 2012). Germany would benefit from lower tariffs on industrial exports that the CAP provided. For Italy and the Netherlands, the CAP was a chance to modernize their systems of production (Nello, 2012). In the end, the harmonization of agricultural prices led to the harmonization of wage levels, which also paved the path to the creation of a common market. The CAP was serving the national interests of all six states.
The economic partnership that was affected positively by the CAP encouraged states to deepen integration. To take integration one step further, it was decided to establish the European Economic Community (EEC) with the Treaty of Rome. (Urwin, 2019). The Treaty of Rome focused on the economic interests of states, such as harmonious development, continued and balanced expansion, increasing stability, growth in living standards, and the continued strengthening of links between the member states (Nello, 2012). It aimed to create a common market through this development (Treaty of Rome, 1957). In this way, the economic development of these six countries could progress together; that is, the profit would be common for everyone. Since there is no statement about the political union in the Treaty of Rome, the Maastricht Treaty was created.
In 1992, the Maastricht Treaty, also known as the European Union Treaty, which defined new economic and political goals was signed between members of the EEC (Phinnemore, 2019). With this treaty European integration was formally renamed as the European Union instead of the European Community. Economically, the Maastricht Treaty offers a concrete plan and determined criteria to establish a monetary union (Özdemir, 2019). Politically, this treaty increased the competence of the European Parliament (Özdemir, 2019), the creation of European citizenship, and the extension of EU competence to new areas (Nello, 2012). So, the economic process continued to progress. It is important to note that the Maastricht Treaty dates right after the unification of West and East Germany which revived fears of a strong and aggressive Germany (Özdemir, 2019). Based on this situation, behind the signing of such an agreement, countries, especially France, found it safer to connect Germany to this union politically (Özdemir, 2019). Germany was aware of these fears, and its motivation for accepting this agreement was to quell them in order to maintain international trust (Özdemir, 2019). As a result, Germany thought that it could improve its position not by confronting European countries, but by joining them.
In addition to deepening ties between member states, the EU has been increasing the number of its members over the years. For the EU, enlargement represents positives such as having a larger market, expanding the boundaries of an EU safe zone, and expanding its budget with the contribution of new members, thus expanding the welfare of citizens (Özdemir, 2019). However, enlargement also has many disadvantages. Except for the 1973 enlargement (in which Ireland, the UK, and Denmark became members) and the 1995 enlargement (in which Finland, Sweden, and Austria became members), other enlargements have been made with the participation of economically and democratically less developed states. Rather than expanding its budget with these enlargements, the European Union provided economic support to new members to integrate them into the rest of the union. Another negative point to take into account is the slowing down of decision-making processes. However, European states continue to promote the enlargement of the union.
In the words of Olli Rehn, who as a member of the European Commission was responsible for EU enlargement from 2004-2010, the enlargement policy is the soft power of Europe (Özdemir, 2019). This statement refers to the EU's authority to effectively carry out its political and economic agenda without using force (Özdemir, 2019). Establishing and maintaining peace both within the Union and in its neighbouring countries is pivotal for the union. For example, in its relations with Kosovo, Serbia has been less hostile since it became a candidate member of the EU. The EU thus ensures peace around its borders with its soft power (Özdemir, 2019). It is quite clear that the EU is inclined to cooperate with more states and establish peace around it, although it sometimes has to give up its economic interests. However, even with this acknowledgement, with the help of enlargement, the EU is today an organization that represents 27 countries, and this situation allows Europe to be a stronger voice in world politics. Thus, the EU's enlargement restores the central position that member countries lost after the Second World War, and this restoration serves the national interests of all member states.
To sum up, as a response to the question that was brought forward in the introduction, the reconstruction of Europe is based on the national interests of states rather than following an ideal to create a peaceful world. After World War II, the economic reconstruction of Europe was such an urgent need that there was no other option but cooperation. As the process's engineer, France has always protected its national interests, as demonstrated by the EDC, even if it has contradicted itself in the process. Germany has seeked to gain friends and allies after the destruction caused by the Second World War. In parallel, Italy and the Benelux countries seeked to lessen their economic loads and rebuild rapidly, which is why they joined the ESCS. Today, there are still states that wish to become members of the EU due to the union's status as a successful tool for economic and political development. The safe zone, common market, and welfare that the EU provides serve the national interests of states. Although the EU may seem like an ideal international organization today, it was not idealism that brought it to this point.
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Cover Image: The Economist (2020). The covid-19 pandemic puts pressure on the EU [Digital Illustration]. Retrieved from: https://www.economist.com/img/b/1096/616/90/sites/default/files/images/print-edition/20200516_FBD001_0.jpg
Figure 1: (1945). Dresden, Germany. [Photo]. Retrieved from: https://kronos35.news/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/000_PAR2005020862002.jpg
Figure 2: Unknown (1951). Leaders of Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Germany, and the Netherlands. [Photo]. Retrieved from: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EywyqbBXMAI3HtY?format=jpg&name=medium
Figure 3: Unknown (1952). Robert Schuman Robert Schuman signing the treaty for the European Defence Community Retrieved from: https://europeanmemories.net/stories/schuman70/
Figure 4: Unknown. (1957). Signing ceremony of the treaty at the Palazzo dei Conservatori, on Capitoline Hill, Rome [Photo]. Retrieved from: https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-gGrHGOXbB8M/WkpabZXnOBI/AAAAAAAACgc/Tkx_-GTK1bIewXLxaE5ymF6IB4fIN2jSgCLcBGAs/s320/1.jpg
Figure 5: Unknown (1992). Signing of the Maastricht Treaty (7 February 1992). [Photo]. Retrieved from: https://www.cvce.eu/en/obj/signing_of_the_maastricht_treaty_7_february_1992-en-81cd79c8-b4aa-404f-b858-bdb8305cfbc6.html
Figure 6: The European Union Enlargement Map (n.d.). [Map]. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Spyros-Soldatos/publication/319402790/figure/fig8/AS:668722905743373@1536447373615/The-European-Union-enlargement-Source.jpg