European Affairs

“Jean Monnet. Actualité d’un bâtisseur de l’Europe unie.” * By Pascal Fontaine     Print Email
Reviewed by Jacqueline Grapin, Founder of The European Institute

jacquelinegrapin2013Jean Monnet: Still The Guru of European Reformists

Is Jean Monnet, one of the “Fathers of Europe”, still the guru of European reformists? There is little doubt about the answer. Monnet passed away in 1979, but his way of approaching European issues remains a key reference for most European reformists. They hold what Monnet stood for in mind, often without being conscious of it, in part because what some now call “monnetism” is omnipresent.

Authored by Pascal Fontaine, who was one of Jean Monnet’s last collaborators, a book recently published in French by the Jean Monnet Foundation for Europe in Lausanne, reminds us that it would be a mistake to consider Jean Monnet’s political achievements as only an innovative post Word War II solution to put an end to the permanent antagonism between France and Germany, and a way to allow for the re-integration of Germany within the European and the international concerts at a time when Germany was still considered a threat.

Delegations of Sovereignty

Jean Monnet’s basic idea was that there is always some common interest among people, whatever their differences; and he believed that this common interest needed to be defined and organized. His method was to allow for delegations of sovereignty in specific areas of great importance. He thought: “Europe will build itself in crisis. It will be constituted by the sum of solutions found to resolve each crisis.” As Pascal Fontaine notes, he was convinced that men do not accept change unless it is necessary, and they recognize necessity only in crisis.

The major difference between the “monnetist” way of thinking and the “sovereignist” approach is that the “monnetist” takes it for granted that the world is permanently changing and considers the European process as a way to proceed to the necessary adjustments. The “sovereignists,” on the other hand, defend the continuity of their existence by taking defensive positions looking for the protection of existing structures.

It is in large part Monnet’s approach that derailed the Soviet Union from accomplishing its goals when the USSR was looking for the neutralization of Western Europe, the disintegration of NATO, and final control over the European continent. Monnet’s way of thinking encouraged the European governments to support the US and the European people to refuse being impressed by pacifist demonstrations manipulated by the Kremlin with the slogan “better red than dead”

The structural reforms of the last 50 years, unfinished as they are, have been enormous, particularly since the treaties of Maastricht (1992), Amsterdam (1997) and Lisbon (2007). Not only is a European single market being implemented, and the euro the common currency of 17 countries, but homeland security and justice have become European issues, as well as immigration, public health, and environment policies. And a common economic, monetary and political system is on its way.

Pascal Fontaine’s book tells the stories of the intellectual and political battles that Jean Monnet fought from 1950 on, particularly against General De Gaulle, who was more sovereignist than the sovereignists. With his “Committee for the United States of Europe”, Jean Monnet garnered the support of a powerful circle of politicians. Some, like Robert Schuman, Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1948 to 1953, were French. But not all. Among others, he received strong support from Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, in part for strategic reasons reaching beyond Western Europe itself. Their first priority was to win the Cold War.

It is with a sense of humor that Pascal Fontaine notes that the European integration progressed more than most people generally recognize. For instance he considers David Cameron’s arguments regarding the position of the U.K. vis-à-vis the European Union as “a tribute from vice to virtue”. He notes that “David Cameron recognizes that the member States of the euro zone have accomplished major and irreversible progress towards the federalization of their monetary, budgetary and tax policies, so much so that the institutional changes resulting from this evolution cannot be accepted by Great Britain”.

Pascal Fontaine insists: “One euro invested in a structural action to develop infrastructures, facilitate communications and reinforce cohesion, returns more than one euro invested in the national framework. (…) Inevitably it will be necessary to address the issue of granting the European Union its own resources without considering them as national contributions justifying the inappropriate concept of “juste retour” that most member States try to implement.” “Juste retour” is an informal rule according to which the amounts that each Member State contributes to and receives from the European Union budget should be more or less balanced.

European Transformation Anticipated

With Monnet’s principles as a touchstone, Fontaine anticipates a Europe in three circles evolving at different speeds. The fastest is the euro zone, with Latvia joining as the 18th member in 2014, possibly followed by Poland and perhaps other Central European countries. This circle will be the federal nucleus of a larger European Union. Ultimately it will have its own budget and Treasury able to issue euro-bonds. In this euro zone, European parliamentarians will exercise a legislative power of “co-decision”, and the number of Commissioners could be reduced to two thirds of the number of member States so as to facilitate the work of the European Commission with less people and, most importantly, a clear notion that they are not only representing their country of origin, but several countries and the European interest in general.

The second circle, beyond the Euro zone, would include countries such as Sweden or Denmark, which benefit from an “opt out” clause, and countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, and possibly several countries from the Balkans, which do not yet meet the conditions for joining. This circle would be involved mostly in the common internal market, the common agricultural policies, and the cohesion funds.

 “David Cameron’s proposal would lead the UK to participate in a third circle, that Turkey might also join if it does not differ too much from the criteria of the EU, particularly regarding human rights and secularism. Ukraine could also join when it stops hesitating between the Western democratic model system and the authoritarian and philo-Russian systems”.

However, Pascal Fontaine recognizes that “it is difficult to imagine that Jean Monnet would be satisfied with this perspective” For him the British participation in the central European system was always a must, in part because of the British contribution to European defense.

Jean Monnet’s greatest disappointment was the failure of the European Defense Community in 1951, at a moment when he succeeded in bringing together the governments producing armaments with raw materials produced jointly in the European Coal and Steel Community (OCSC). It is clear today that instead of starting with a common defense system, Europe will only work at it after it has done everything else. Monnet would have liked the Lancaster House agreement signed on November 2, 2010, between France and Great Britain (the only two nuclear powers in Europe) as it announces cooperation for the creation of an expeditionary force including two aircraft carriers, and for nuclear tests, satellites, drones and cyber-security. But for Pascal Fontaine: “It is not yet certain that these agreements will be implemented”

One can also wonder if the European model close to German federalism that Chancelor Merkel and her Minister of Finance Wolfgan Schäuble envisage will convince centralized, traditionally more “sovereignists” states like France. If it happens, the presidency of the European Commission may merge with the presidency of the European Council. The European parliament may become the lower chamber similar to the Bundestag, whereas the Council of Ministers, a High Chamber, may become like the Bundesrat or a Senate of the EU Member States.

Jean Monnet said that “there are failures for only as much as one accepts them.” The European effort started at the beginning of the Fifties. It encounters difficulties, but it is far from over. Powerful networks of European individuals full of good will to reform have formed over time. They exist, and they are there to stay.

One can expect that after the European elections of 2014, a debate will be started on the most important questions pending in the EU. But “it is only after the European elections of 2019, which will see the confrontation of national candidates with a possible federal project that the long term choices will be made.” Wait for 2020 for the next phase of the European Union.

Pascal Fontaine thinks that “what Jean Monnet would have been most worried about today is the increasing level of inequality between citizens, which may result in a loss of their sense of belonging to the same community.”

For Jean Monnet, the point was not to create coalitions of States, but to bring together the peoples. In his view, even the prospect for a European Union that would be perfect was out of date before it was fully implemented. The last sentence of his Memoirs, published in 1976, reads: “The sovereign nationals of the past are no more the framework where the issues of the present can be addressed. And the European Community itself is only one step toward tomorrow’s forms of organization.” Because today even more that yesterday, and less than tomorrow in the new age of internet, our village is the world.


* Literal Translation from the French: “Jean Monnet. Truth about the Builder of United Europe”

“Jean Monnet. Actualité d’un bâtisseur de l’Europe unie.” * By Pascal Fontaine, Publisher : Economica and Fondation Jean Monnet pour l’Europe. Lausanne. (225 pages)