Europe Day: How regionalism transformed Europe

Tuesday, 11 May 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • The 70th anniversary of the Treaty of Paris

In April 1951, France, Italy, West Germany and the three Benelux countries, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands took a bold step of signing a treaty which came to be known as the Treaty of Paris. Establishing the European Coal and Steel Community, the measures taken 70 years ago have borne fruit over the decades since then


Whilst Europe Day is marked across the European Union on 9 May each year in marking the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, in which a former French Foreign Minister articulated the need for political cooperation across Europe to make war unthinkable, it is the steps taken thereafter and in particular the Treaty of Paris on 1951 that deserves due emphasis. 

Considered to be the deepest form of integration experienced in modern world, the European Union has member States who have pooled resources, personnel, services and even sovereignty to emerge as a formidable force on the global stage. 

In April 1951, France, Italy, West Germany and the three Benelux countries, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands took a bold step of signing a treaty which came to be known as the Treaty of Paris. Establishing the European Coal and Steel Community, the measures taken 70 years ago have borne fruit over the decades since then. 

Whilst the treaty was expected to ensure stability in Western Europe as the Cold War had commenced and the rapid division of the world was taking place, the significant aspect of the Treaty was that countries were pooling their most important resources through this agreement in a bid to consolidate their positions, collectively.

Seen as the precursor to the current day European Union, the Treaty of Paris was a harbinger of its time as it provided an example of integration, collective action and a sharing of resources which would ultimately benefit the signatories. The advantageous situation would then spread across the rest of the region too, and lead to the EU of today. 

The treaty which came into force on 23 July 1952 and would end half a century later in 2002 revolutionised trade and regionalism, as it aimed to organise the free movement of coal and steel and more critically it opened access to resources of production.  Through the Treaty these countries witnessed the established of a common High Authority which was geared towards supervising the market, monitoring compliance with competition rules and also ensuring price transparency. 

Given the animosity, destruction and tension that the Second World War had spawned the efforts made to collaborate at this juncture were laudable as the common market that was being created would give rise to economic expansion, generate employment and improve living standards, all of which was in a debilitated state following the travails of conflict that had been witnessed in the preceding years. Interestingly the Treaty ensured fair and equal access to the sources of production, and guaranteed prices whilst improving working conditions. 

Institutionalisation of the Treaty 

The Treaty led to the creation of a series of institutions including a High Authority, an Assembly, a Council of Ministers and a Court of Justice, all of which ensured the implementation of the Treaty and adherence to that which had been pledged by member States. The High Authority, which is today’s European Commission was independent. 

This is the unique characteristic of even the Commission today where Commissioners though coming from countries across the EU, sit as Europeans as opposed to natives of their respective countries. This allows for decision making that is beneficial for the entirety of the Union. 

The lesson that could be derived from the European Commission is that in a regional grouping while the voices of all member States are relevant and crucial, it is the objective of ensuring that action is taken to promote the integration of the whole that matters the most. The model of the European Commission is the only one of its kind in existence today and is worthy of emulation given its reflection of the views of the whole, rather than its parts. This is where true synergy is harnessed. 

Seven decades ago when the High Authority was established it became a supranational entity tasked with supervising the modernisation and improvement of production, ensuring the supply of products under identical conditions, developing a common export policy and, from a labour perspective, was entrusted with the mandate of improving the working conditions in the coal and steel industries.

To ensure clarity of purpose and efficiency of service the Treaty also saw the creation of a Consultative Committee which comprised the key stakeholders in the Coal and Steel industry, notably the producers, workers, consumers and dealers, who were directly responsible and would have the task of ensuring the success or failure of the Treaty. 

Further, the Treaty established the Assembly, which would lead to the European Parliament as we know it today, which at the time had 78 members, drawn from national parliaments. Whilst there were 18 representatives from Germany, France and Italy, 10 from Belgium and the Netherlands and 4 from Luxembourg, the supervisory power they possessed ensured guidance in keeping with national sentiments. 

Even the European Parliament which gradually transformed from a body of appointed individuals to one which consisted of elected representatives, displayed the potential of integration and collective decision making for countries which only a few years before had been at war which each other.

The Council that was formed led to the subsequent Council of the European Union that is in existence today, with six members at the time from the member States, and with a rotating presidency for three months. Geared towards ensuring smooth functioning of the action being taken by the High Authority, this was also the body that was responsible for the final decision making process. 

Finally the Treaty also created a Court of Justice, which later transformed into the Court of Justice of the European Union with seven judges to ensure that the Treaty was accurately interpreted and implemented. 

Evolution of the Treaty

The Treaty of 1951 would see several amendments pursuant to discussions among member States who perceived the review as being necessary to keep the values and principles enshrined in the Treaty relevant and timely. While the Merger Treaty of 1965 brought together the European Coal and Steel Community with the European Economic Community and the Eurotom, there was also the Treaty of Greenland in 1984, the Treaty of the European Union in 1992, The Single European Act of 1986, the Treaty of Amsterdam of 1997, the Treaty of Nice in 2001 and the most significant could be considered to be the Treaty of Rome of 1957 which truly moulded the EU into what it is today.


Taking regionalism forward

Upon reflection of the journey taken by Europe from the Treaty of Paris onwards, it is evident that visionary decision making, clear strategising and effective implementation of policy were highly essential and valuable attributes. The decision to pool the most important of resources, notably coal and steel and the creation thereby of an oligopoly controlled by the signatories of the Treaty would lead to integration in Europe which went beyond the economic dimension and gradually saw it progressing to its current state of being the deepest form of integration on the planet. 

Whilst regionalism as a concept has evolved from its original form of being dependent on geography alone, to now embracing economics, finance, defence, language and even religion, the notion and potential of regionalism was first given meaning through the European Union. Other regional groupings aspire to progress accordingly but of essence is the need to develop indigenous models as opposed to attempting to emulate the same journey taken by the Europeans. 

The Coal and Steel Pact was of prime importance to the Europeans, and while economics and trade are crucial for all geographical regions, it is but one of the means through which integration can and should be achieved. Similarly the comparison of the EU with other regional groupings is unfair and irrelevant as the conditions, circumstances and context of Europe is vastly different to other regions. 

From an Afro-Asian perspective, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been able to make steady progress, and the African Union (AU) has also attempted deeper integration. However the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) which is brimming with potential and has the ability to become a shining example of harnessing the value of collaborative action is far from where its founders expected it to be, owing chiefly to bilateral issues which are spilling over onto the regional table.

Whilst this must be avoided for the sake of the whole, it needs to be a part of the past, as countries surge forwards to realise the potential of the 21st century. Similarly the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is another grouping with much opportunity as it bridges SAARC and ASEAN, and brings together key countries who can achieve much more than is being experienced at present. Unfortunately the realisation of potential has not reached fruition as member States still discuss the visionary potential and are slow to take concrete steps towards realising that true value. 

Whilst multilateralism continues to dominate the international sphere and augments bilateral engagement, models of regional groupings like the European Union which bring together a multiplicity of countries, need to be studied for what they have achieved and the mistakes they have made, analysed for their progress and understood for the realisation of scope in similar bodies elsewhere in the world, especially in Asia.

The world of 1951 was vastly different from the one in which we exist today. Having come out of a deadly destructive world war, a few countries of Europe took the bold decision of cooperating to ensure stability, development and prosperity. The fruits of their endeavours are being felt decades later. It was the visionary leadership of the time to which the Europeans of today are thankful, as a region shattered by war, rose once again, and become a contender on the global stage as a collective unit, and not individual countries. 

This is the effect of collective action and as Europe Day is marked on 9 May in commemoration of the Schuman Declaration, the lessons of the Treaty of Paris ring true today and are worthy of critical study, to promote stability, cooperation and prosperity.