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Monnet 7: 

Can YOU discern if Jean Monnet was an egotistical mythmaker and a charlatan?

Posted on 15/04/11
Why do people read blogs or history books, for that matter? Facts, you might say. A broader purpose is the search for truth. How do you examine history books? Do you always agree with them? Some blogs might seem to be convincing but are they really the truth or smooth public relations? To get at the truth, readers need discernment, logical analysis and background knowledge.

Are you up to the task?

If you doubt, what do you do? You check a reference book. But are they reliable? Take this comment which has found its way from the Memoirs of former Commission President Roy Jenkins into such reference books as the Penguin Companion to the European Union.

    `Schuman did not really understand the Treaty which bore his name.’

This is obviously balderdash but it would appear that both authors (the reference book and the Commission President Roy Jenkins) thought the comment of the original critic, X, was worth recording.

Or do you think it is possibly true? Can you be sure and defend your opinion?

Firstly, it seems rather extraordinary that anyone would make such a claim. The European Community is one of the most successful ventures in history. The author of the remark, X, quoted by Jenkins says the EU’s originator, Schuman, did not understand what he was doing. Secondly, it is probably more astounding that someone somewhere believed this comment whoever made it. Did they have evidence? None is given. Does this mean that that Jenkins and the reference book’s author were wise judges or parrots? All we can say is that they do not treat the reader as having any intelligence because they expect us to accept it purely on their own reputation. What is their reputation? Beyond that we have to suspend judgement on the facts for the moment.

The first rule is that we should have material evidence and logic for our opinions. We should not take any critic at face value. We should examine his credentials but more importantly we should examine the logic and facts first, without getting involved in personalities or opinions, whether a reference book, a Commission president or the original source of the quotation, X. Secondly we should then examine the motivation of the person, X, making the remarks.

The public accept a lot of advertising, propaganda and distortions without reflection. Many clever, well paid people fashioned them in a way to make people swallow them without thought. What a reader should ask is: What is the motivation of this critic and the purpose does he want to achieve? What critic would level such a obvious slander against someone who was considered one of the greatest experts on international treaties?

Let us assume that Roy Jenkins has reported the criticism correctly. This should be checked against other parts of his books. Let us get to the substance of the remark.

So what treaty is the critic is addressing? Schuman’s name is associated with so many. The critic betrays his background and also lack of knowledge. No one treaty actually bears Schuman’s name. So we must question whether the critic is a proven expert. Was he really familiar with diplomacy and treaty-making?

Schuman was involved in most of the key treaties that are still the democratic foundation of modern Germany, the foundation of modern Europe and trans-Atlantic relations. The understanding and wisdom of these agreements shows his expertise in the matter of treaty writing. Treaties were not only the exclusive prerogative of the Foreign Minister but Schuman as an international lawyer with three decades of experience, was a great specialist.

Does the statement agree with impartial judges? An American diplomatic historian of the US State Department wrote Schuman ‘derived great intellectual delight in the subtleties of international agreement’. Any such postwar treaty also entailed political risks. An effective treaty-writer had to be both an expert lawyer and expert politician. The international negotiations to create the Council of Europe had taken a great deal of energy and time. There is hardly a lawyer one could name in the postwar period that was more expert in treaties, so this criticism seems on any ground, bizarre.

Let us assume that the critic, X, refers to the European Coal and Steel Community Treaty, not the Statutes of London, the European Convention of Human Rights or the Treaty of Washington that created NATO or the numerous others.

We come to specifics. Was it a matter about the technical industry, coking quality, iron ore trade and other details of processing of coal and steel? Did Schuman not understand new innovations and rolling mills? Was he ignorant about coal and steel cartels? That would require someone with enormous knowledge and experience to say that Schuman was inadequate in this department.

Schuman had been a member of the French Parliament for around four decades. He was elected without fail every election for his constituency of Thionville. This city of Lorraine is known as France’s city of steel. The area was rich in iron ore but poor in the right sort of coal. It had to be imported mainly from the German Ruhr area. Schuman knew the ins and outs of the trade and also how the German iron, steel and coal barons had over the centuries manipulated and controlled the market against French interests.

Schuman was well aware that various wars with France were largely over asserting primacy for this main sector of the industrial revolution and the modern economy. In the postwar years Schuman had been continuously involved in Allied discussions about German steel production in all its ramifications. In his youth he had spent a great deal of time in Germany, received his education there, gained a Doctorate in Law with the highest honours, and had a large network of German friends. Monnet did not know the language, the commerce, politics or the people.

There was probably no politician in France who knew more about the technical processes of steel making than Schuman. His long speech in Brussels in 1949, well before Monnet had anything to do with the Schuman Declaration, shows his vast encyclopedic knowledge of both coal and steel techniques and hot political issues.

Was it, according to this critic, in the area of European Finance in the treaty that Schuman was so disastrously ignorant? Schuman had as Minister of Finance and Prime Minister achieved what many politicians considered impossible — tackling simultaneously rampant inflation and balancing the books, both of government accounts and trade balance. In the interwar period he was considered one of Europe’s great experts in international finance.

So who is this acerbic critic who says that Schuman did not understand the treaty that bore his name? So secondly, we should analyse the critic himself carefully.

Let’s now start asking more personal questions. Who was this genius who far outclassed this intellectual, democratic and political accomplishments of Prime Minister Schuman? Was the critic more experienced in national finance? Did he have a greater political record? Schuman greatly desired that he would become a professor of the subject he had studied all his life — the history of international and constitutional law.

He was well qualified for such a post, but he had devoted his life to practical work rather than ivory tower expositions. Schuman had been largely responsible both for the Lex Schuman, a consolidation of numerous laws and the civil, criminal and administrative codes that re-united Alsace and Lorraine after the First World War. This code, the Lex Schuman, could be described as the greatest act of legal unification in modern times till then. Did our critic mean this body of law that was named after Schuman? Or was he ignorant of it? Schuman had also been instrumental in the treaties of NATO, the Council of Europe, the Convention of Human Rights and of course the European Community.

The latter was based on a remarkable new innovation in the history of international law called supranational democracy. This was based on a deep analysis of political and moral philosophy as well as a life long study of how in history constitutions from the time of the Greek city states fail.

So if this critic was correct then to find the errors and mistakes of Schuman, he must have an intellect that far outclassed him and a critical sense. He must have political experience greater than a man who had twice been Prime Minister of France. One would have thought so.

Who was he? None other than Jean Monnet. What were his qualifications? He had never been elected to any democratic office. He knew very little about coal and steel. He inherited a brandy firm of Monnet and Co. His lacks when it came to understanding the coal and steel sector are clear from the time he was an administrator of the French economic plan. (This showed he had little grasp of the geopolitical position of the sectors and the key elements in it.)

Did Jean Monnet really understand the treaty of which he was supposed by de Gaulle to have been the inspirer? That epithet ‘inspirer’ started as a Gaullist slander and later found its way into sycophantic books and biographies.

What was Monnet’s background and interest? One of the most in-depth studies of the period was accomplished by historian Georgette Elgey. What did she say about Monnet after interviewing him and his colleagues?

Monnet ‘did not possess the faintest understanding of international law.

Did he then learn on the job? Monnet’s own career would indicate he knew little about the working of the treaty because he did not last long as a president of the first Commission, called the High Authority. That whole experience lasted two years nine month at the Commission. Is this period really long enough for Monnet to be able to make up his opinion? Schuman talked about long-term processes, such as that for Europe’s national democracies that already took a thousand years.

For Monnet when he was responsible for aspects of the treaty from 10 Aug 1952 to 1 June 1955, he was obviously not concentrating on his job. His mind was elsewhere. During that time he resigned a couple of times but withdrew his first resignation so that his period there might have been rather shorter. He hardly had his mind on the treaty. And he died well before he could see the effects that Schuman predicted such as the re-unification of Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A clear discrepancy is apparent with Monnet’s story and the legend he and his friends constructed for him. For someone who claimed to be the inspirer too, it is obvious that this is false because if the first Community were his work he would have stayed longer. He stayed long enough with the high salary he set himself to clear his old debts. Then he left, presumably on a good pension. Monnet was known to make false claims over other aspects of the origin of the European Community.

Was he a great intellectual? Monnet never went to university so we have no way to make proper assessment. Was he a great learner? His biographer, Francois Duchene says he was ‘little attracted to books, he left school at sixteen.‘ (Jean Monnet p30). His father told him not to read books. Was he an expert in coal and steel? Hardly. His family business was cognac and he was a cognac salesman. Was he an expert in finance? At one stage he was a banker but he lost his fortune in a crash.

What then were his talents? Paul Reuter, an international lawyer who worked for Schuman at the Foreign Ministry as deputy jurisconsult, had this to say: ‘he was small and stocky … and sometimes had a sly smile. I have seen him wrapping people round his little finger, seducing them. He could do that.‘ (Jean Monnet, p24). He was therefore a great manipulator, keen to persuade. As Monnet might or might not know — he gives little clue in his Memoirs, since he calls Reuter a university professor — a jurisconsult is a top lawyer at the Foreign Ministry and as a lawyer can plead the case of France before international courts dealing with treaties. He is paid to have discernment.

On 20 February 1978 the then Commission President Roy Jenkins went to meet with Jean Monnet, who was then 89. Jenkins describes Monnet as ‘remarkably sharp‘ in his published diaries. Jenkins gives every indication that he also was seduced by Monnet. It would seem that many people including successive Commission have been seduced and waylaid by him too. They devoted all the Community’s propaganda power to shoring up the Monnet myth.

So what great illumination did Monnet have about the treaty that Schuman lacked? Schuman spoke at length in many speeches in French, German and English about the great innovation of the Treaty of Paris, Europe’s first Community. He described the democratic bases of the Community. He signed with the other Founding Fathers the Great Charter of the Community, that redefined Europe’s history from war to peace, from nationalism to international cooperation, from dictatorship to democracy.

During the whole period of Monnet’s presidency of the High Authority there is no evidence that he published this great document. It said that the supranational principle was the foundation stone of the new Europe.

Nor did he publish the correct version of the Schuman Declaration. He published his own version cutting out all Schuman’s introduction that put it in a historic and geopolitical context.

Schuman said a great new innovation, ‘a scientific discovery‘ lay behind all of this new opportunity for peace and prosperity. It was the supranational principle. What did Monnet think of this, how did he analyse it and what did he say about it? Simply this. ‘I did not fancy the word (supranational) then and I have never liked it.‘ That seems the height of incompetence and willful ignorance.

It might be a smart or glib remark for someone to make in a bistro with a glass of brandy in his hand. It is hardly fitting coming from someone who was employed by the public tax-payer to defend the principle of supranational democracy.

The public should begin to analyse whether this part of the work of Monnet is the work of a charlatan or a con artist. It is much like someone who is secretary general of NATO saying I do not really believe in defence or the military. It is rather like a supreme court judge saying I do not believe in the rule of law, do not know what the term means and never liked the idea as far as I grasp it.

What did Monnet think of his fellow Commissioners? There were two Germans, a Luxembourger, a Belgian, two Italians, and another Frenchman with a lifetime in steel industry management. They included very experienced people, lawyers, diplomats, trade unionists, and other experts in the coal and steel industries. Indeed they covered all the experience and expertise that Monnet lacked.

Were they any better than Schuman? This is what Jenkins records. ‘The German members of the Commission — and indeed those of the other nations — were pretty useless.

I am afraid that this would probably be the opinion of M. Monnet of the present and past Commissioners — in fact it could well be his opinion on everyone else — except of course M. Monnet.