April 18th in German History: European Coal and Steel Community Established

Treaty of Paris
The Signing of the 1951 Treaty of Paris. Image Credit European Parliament.

In this blog I attempt to cover all aspects of German history with both the brighter and darker moments of it. April 18th is the anniversary of one of the brighter moments. On April 18th, 1951, West Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands all signed the Treaty of Paris, or more specifically the Treaty Establishing the European Coal and Steel Community. This treaty was born out of the instability and violence of the first half of the 20th century and aimed to protect European peace just as much as it was meant to increase economic prosperity among member nations. One has to remember that at that time there was a very real fear, especially on the part of the French, that in twenty or so years Germany would rebuild its economy and military and embark on yet another war of conquest, just as it had done twice before. In fact, the Community was proposed first by Robert Schuman, French Foreign Minister, as a way to prevent a future war with Germany by making war materially impossible. The 1951 Treaty of Paris thus helped ensure that Europe would never again descend into such a destructive war just as it promoted economic growth.

The European Coal and Steel Community was one of the first multinational economic cooperatives. It created a common market for coal and steel in which tariffs and other trade barriers were lowered or eliminated. Further, it created four bodies to oversee the community. The various bodies were composed of both appointed ministers and members of national parliaments. This structure would serve as a basis for later super national agreements, most notably the European Union. The Community was able to improve conditions for coal and steel workers. It financed 112,500 houses for workers and payed for half the relocation costs of the recently unemployed. Further, by reducing tariffs it lowered steel and coal costs and so increased inter-European trade. This lessened the need to import steel from the US and helped economic growth. The ESC also gave out loans to mines and factories and created 100,000 jobs. The main failure of the Community was that it failed to extend its policies to new energy resources like oil and nuclear power. Further, there was some resurgence in coal and steel cartels, although this was minimized by the instruction of new energy sources. The European Coal and Steel Community ceased to exist in 2002 and its functions have been absorbed into the European Union.

It is somewhat disheartening that the horrors of war are not enough of a deterrent to prevent it from being waged between nations. That economic integration and collective self interest are necessary to preserve peace is perhaps the best evidence for the fundamental selfishness of humans, especially those in power. Nevertheless, the achievements of the European Coal and Steel Community should not be dismissed, and should serve as encouragement for cooperation between potentially rival nations around the world.

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