Our livelihood and possibly our lives may depend on a correct understanding of supranational democracy. It involves a system for the security of Europe. Europeans are now facing a future of extreme difficulties. It is vital therefore that Europeans understand what it means and where it came from.

Many textbooks still erroneously repeat that Jean Monnet, a civil servant at the Planning Agency, gave the idea of a supranational European Community to Robert Schuman, the distinguished Foreign Minister and Prime Minister of France. Supposedly, according to this myth, Schuman was looking around for an idea for a conference and had no idea what to do about Germany and Europe.

Did the concept of a supranational Europe come in a paper from Jean Monnet? The answer to that important question is a definite NO. Monnet was unaware of the concept of supranationality before April 1950. Monnet’s ideas on Europe up till then have nothing to do with a supranational Community. He had a couple of ideas about the postwar Europe, (they were irrealistic and contradictory). They had nothing to do with a supranational Community.

The Schuman team (composed of both his own staff and sympathetic politicians) were talking about supranational proposals long before that. How then could Monnet have invented the idea? It was in circulation long, long before Monnet had the faintest inkling of supranationality. Schuman introduced a debate — which Monnet ignored and dismissed as a talkshop — specifically to promote and redefine the concept of supranational Community amid the global dangers of the early postwar world. Monnet made no contribution to this technical, legal, economic and political debate.

So if Monnet had no idea about supranationality, and only learned about it from others, he can clearly not be called ‘Mr Europe’.

At best he was a helper in a movement that had been in progress for several years. Mr Monnet states clearly that he came across it only in April 1950. That was the date he says that he returned from a holiday with the sentiment that ‘another war was near if we were to do nothing.‘ He added: ‘When I returned to Paris in the first days of April, I did not have a ready-made response, but rather a full view of the reasons to act and an orientation that was precise enough for me that the time for uncertainty was over.’ Mémoires, p342). That is all a bit vague. That time around April, however, was the date he came into sustained contact with the team around Robert Schuman. There is nothing in this reflection of Monnet’s about a supranational democratic Community but only the looming possibility of war. He thought something should be done to stop the coming war. Fine. Schuman had signalled that many times in no uncertain terms a year earlier. He had created various defence treaty arrangement. He had supplied the key thinking behind NATO’s Treaty of Washington, signed by Schuman for France on 4 April 1949.

How then could Monnet have invented the idea of a supranational Community? It seems obvious that he absorbed the idea. There are no tariff barriers or borders to ideas. They become attached when the listener thinks they are a good idea and starts to think about them and then repeat them himself.

Monnet’s over-enthusiastic supporters later claimed his plan was at the origin of the present Europe. And later, several years later, Monnet himself began to believe this legend. This became ossified in the Mémoires. But if anyone took a closer look at it this account is full of holes. That is to put it politely.

After several decades of research I have never found a single document of Monnet’s before April 1950 that uses the word ‘supranational‘ . If anyone finds one, please let me know. There are documents I have not seen. But those who have gone through the entire Monnet archive have never come up with a quotation. Extensive research of these extensive archives was done at the time of the Mémoires were written. A team of ghostwriters drafted the chapters based on the archives and what Monnet told them. I am sure they would like to find such a quotation too. They found nothing.

It is not as if the word supranational was just coined in 1950. It wasn’t. It dates probably half a century before then. It is used in the context of a peaceful united Europe by eminent people around the time of the First World War. In one sense WW2 was a war that Nazi Germany fought against the supranational idea. So why did not Monnet use the term?

Who then did use the word and concept before April 1950? Robert Schuman certainly did. The team who produced the Mémoires may or may not have come across these. It would be surprising if they had not. They had a lot of publicity at the time.

A year before the Schuman Proposal, Robert Schuman gave a major speech in France on the life-and-death challenges facing Europe and the world. This is probably the most important speech in all the history of European unification. He started with the following words.

We are carrying out a great experiment, the fulfillment of the same recurrent dream that for ten centuries has revisited the peoples of Europe: creating between them an organization putting an end to war and guaranteeing an eternal peace.

Schuman said in this speech of May 1949 that the measures were necessary because the world was facing a suicide of war. How was this great experiment to be carried out? What was the guiding principle to bring lasting peace to the continent that had been torn by war for thousands of years?

Our century, that has witnessed the catastrophes resulting in the unending clash of nationalities and nationalisms, must attempt and succeed in reconciling nations in a SUPRANATIONAL association. This would safeguard the diversities and aspirations of each nation while coordinating them in the same manner as the regions are coordinated within the unity of the nation.

And Schuman himself referred to a previous speech he had given at St James’s Palace in London. The royal palace of St James’s is where all foreign diplomats are accredited in the United Kingdom. It was not therfore given in a corner but before all the foreign ministers of Europe and amid the diplomats of all nations. It was given the maximum amount of publicity. This speech described the new limits of Europe. In it Schuman said that the future of Europe also depended on putting the idea of a supranational union into effect.

Thus Schuman declared that unless Europe unified according to suprantional principles it would not only lead to the destruction of Europe but world suicide. He warned in other speeches that there was a far greater danger than ever before because the Soviet Union was now armed with atomic weapons. Yet in 1953, after having established the first supranational European Community, Schuman also declared that the idea that war was not only unthinkable but materially impossible inside the Community was definitively acquired.

How could such major speeches on the future of Europe lose their prominence? They deal with the future of Europe, that is, they remain important still for all Europeans today. How could such speeches get lost? Why did Monnet not refer to them in his Mémoires, written in 1976?

It also needs explaining why, when the French Foreign Ministry held an exhibition in 2000 to celebrate the fiftieth year of the Schuman Declaration, they seem to have no idea about these speeches. The Strasbourg speech seems not to be mentioned in the catalogue. This was a speech that the French Government had distributed to all European governments and all parliamentarians at the Council of Europe in 1949. The second speech that Schuman gave in London at St James’s Palace is misdated and without contextual attribution. However, the copy at the Quai d’Orsay shows its importance. It was the original manuscript written in Schuman’s own handwriting. This is the speech that indicates exactly where the new borders of Europe lie.

Yet the Quai d’Orsay during the period of President Charles de Gaulle had not only lost the idea. It also buried the speech (luckily in the archives). The aim was evidently so that it would not be referred to by the Gaullist diplomats. De Gaulle had a strictly nineteenth century idea of where Europe’s borders lay. When he engineered a seizure of power, de Gaulle could benefit from the very supranational system that brought European peace and prevented world war, while vehemently denouncing the supranational Community and Schuman at the same time!

It is only thanks to the more recent researchers and archivists that these documents ever saw the light of day. How is it that the successive French administrations of a Gaullist stripe refused to publish such vital information for all Europeans? The Gaullist administrations had no desire for freedom of information or even responsability to French citizens or other nationalities. They wanted to impose another history about the real foundations of Europe, a Franco-German axis. Autocracies make up their own rules in the matter. History is part of their poisoned weapons.

Why did this happen? Because the word ‘supranational‘ especially when attached to ‘democracy‘ was like presenting a red rag to a bull — for the Gaullists. The same thing can be said for another word, Schuman.

This goes someway in explaining why there is so much confusion about supranational democracy. De Gaulle who put much of the media under his own control also boosted to the anti-Community disinformation. He called Monnet the ‘inspirer‘ of Europe. Logically, that would mean that he was the inspirer of the supranational Community. Monnet was flattered by the title. He thought wrongly that he could work cooperatively with de Gaulle after he had seized power. Some of the French public liked the idea that there was harmony not a conflict of ideas between the ‘Europeans’ and the ‘ultra-nationalists’.

But the title ‘inspirer‘ is hollow. The evidence is that Monnet did not know what supranational democracy was all about. He hardly used the word supranational, even after 1950.

So let us give Monnet the last word. The word supranational appears in the fifth or sixth draft of the Schuman Declaration that was being prepared. This part of the draft was not written by Monnet. How do I know? Monnet crossed out the term. This is what he said about it: “I do not like the word supranational and never fancied it.” Mémoires p 352).

Thus the Schuman Declaration does not contain the word supranational. So if this paper was Monnet’s sole work (which it wasn’t) then why does he not explain it in other terms? However there is no doubt that the European Community that issued from the French Government’s decision was created on a supranational basis. The word supranational was written into the first constitutionalizing Treaty, the Treaty of Paris, in the key article 9. It appears twice to describe the functions of two separate institutions. The supranational principle was confirmed also in the most important Europe Declaration made by all the Founding Fathers of the Six Member States. This is Europe’s Declaration of Inter-dependence. How come then if all the statesmen said that a supranational structure was the real foundation of Europe, Monnet was the firmly of the opinion that the term was not important?

Today is it is clear that Jean Monnet had nothing to do with defining the meaning of a supranational Europe. Yet this is the concept that is vital for all of today’s Statesmen, politicians and researchers to understand. It rescued Europe from another world war in the 1950s. Today we need not only to understand it. We need to apply it.

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  1. Greetings,

    A good historical article, well documented. It however seems to me that it does not dwell long enough on how to make supranationality a reality.
    I have my own ideas on the matter, but I would’ve liked to compare them with yours.

    I also believe that the 1940s-1950s’ context is not quite relevant to serve as a driving lead for today’s reflections on Europe.
    Knowing where it comes from is indeed vital. It helps keep in mind what the original purpose of Europe was : to prevent war from happening once again.
    Nowhere in the treaty was the question of Europe’s place in a global world ever formally adressed. The sole vision was peace. Period.

    However, as decades passed by, unexpected or challenges deemed too far away to be considered, were not considered – such as Europe’s place in a world where many States vie for influence and power.
    Because Europe obeys to a specific logic – which is generally considered as “Western values” – that others do not consider fit or sense-making for them.
    Schumann was driven by the obsession of peace, having lived through two world wars, living with the Korean War and Cold War… thus his “idealistic mind” may be explained.
    I would not be surprised that, were he to still live, his opinion would change.

    I honestly believe the EU – this acronym needs precision – has to start thinking about the future and much less about the past.

  2. Thank you for your comment. The concept of supranational relates to values that are not restricted by geography, ethnic group, culture or time. They are universal. As a student Schuman studied economics, politics and law in the historic schools under some of the most eminent professors in the world. They had, for example, analysed law court records of ancient Babylon, Egypt and other civilisations. From that it could be deduced that certain values such as justice were supranational in that they transcended three millennia of time, geographic location, belief systems, and customs. The same goes for other disciplines, including science, as Schuman said.

    The Community involves a process to re-establish and increase such positive values. I have sketched the supranational value of democracy in the second of this series, Monnet2. Schuman argued that the understanding of democracy was much fuller because of Christian revelation, action and finally practice over the last millennium. But, he said, the basic idea of treating all people with fairness and taking their interests into account in government can be traced as a theme in all histories of civilisations. But real democracy as we know it never existed in any pagan society including the Greeks. Thus there is a definite progress in understanding of this particular universal value, that we are privileged to know and if possible apply.

    Such positive universal values can form the basis of government and society structures at any time. A society becomes more fulfilled if it can apply as many as possible because the problems of human nature are also a leit motiv of history such as greed, corruption and selfishness. Schuman tried to limit the effect of the negative by creating a closed system called a Community. Citizens would go through a process of self-education and spiritual growth and understanding to enlarge the meaning of Christian values so that everyone realized they were someone’s neighbour and should act accordingly. Everyone will benefit as each government, each association of civil society and each individual becomes more open and honest.

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