Throwback Thursday: July 23

Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: The European Coal and Steel Community (1952)

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons/ JLogan

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons/ JLogan

On 18 April 1951, six European states – France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – came together to sign an accord in Paris. A little over a year later, on 23 July 1952, the treaty came into force, thus creating the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The ECSC was the forerunner to the European Union (EU). The European Economic Community (EEC) and the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) were also based on the same principles as the ECSC.

The French architects of the treaty, Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, envisioned a free market for coal and steel that would be free from national governance. Devised just after the end of the Second World War, the ECSC was intended to reconstruct the European economy, bring an end to Franco-German animosity and lead the way to European integration. Schuman proposed  that “Franco-German production of coal and steel as a whole be placed under a common High Authority, within the framework of an organization open to the participation of the other countries of Europe.”

Since coal and steel were essential products necessary for the production of arms, the negotiators hoped  that taking control over them away from the state governments would make another World War impossible.  Additionally, the existence of ties in such key sectors would facilitate not only economic, but also political cooperation.

The Treaty of Paris was the first agreement where the term ‘supranational’ appeared.  The ECSC was thus a compromise between the proposed ideas of a unified Europe and separate independent entities. 

The treaty also established the structure of the organization. The ECSC would comprise of a High Authority, an Assembly, a Council of Ministers and a Court of Justice. The High Authority was the supreme executive, in-charge of supervising activities such as improving methods of production, export policies and working conditions. The Court of Justice, the legal organ of the community ensured that the laws of the treaty were observed.

As the negotiators had hoped, trade between the countries did increase dramatically, and with the financing made available to them, producers began to focus on increasing the quality and efficiency of their product. The most notable accomplishments  of the ECSC however, were in the welfare sector. Through ‘modernization loans,’ the working conditions for miners were significantly alleviated. The organization also assisted in financing the workers’ properties as well as compensated workers who were laid off when mines or factories were shut down. 

Despite all its achievements, the ECSC fell short  of what was envisaged in the Paris Treaty in several ways. One of the prime objectives of the organization had been to keep cartels and large firms from amassing power again. However, the community failed in this regard.  The ECSC also failed to ensure the upward equalization of pay of its workers.

The Treaty of Paris limited the existence of the ECSC to fifty years. On 23 July 2002, the ECSC ceased to exist. The community’s flag was lowered for the final time at a ceremony  in Brussels and replaced with the EU flag.