As Europe recovered from the ravages of the century's second great war, its leaders searched for a way to make certain that there would not be a third. Most agreed on what to do: Europe must be reorganized in some sort of federation or union that could blunt the national jealousies and assuage the economic hungers that had been the precursors of both wars.
This was not a new idea. The dream of a united Europe was nearly as old as history, and there were times when it came close to reality. At the peak of its power, Rome ruled Europe from the Pyrenees to the Black Forest. But significantly, in light of later history the Romans proved unable to conquer the tribes of Germany. Many of them became part of the eastern horde that ultimately sacked the Eternal City and ended its empire.
Charlemagne did not make that mistake. When he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800, he courted the support of Germanic princes whose descendants succeeded him. But the title outlasted the feudal empire itself, vanishing beneath the might of military dictators who tried to unite Europe with the sword. Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Hitler created immense suffering but no unity.
The man who ultimately succeeded in starting Europe down the path to true unity was neither feudal Emperor nor military megalomaniac. He was a mustachioed wine distiller from Cognac with the look and manner of a bureaucrat. Few modern Europeans would recognize his face amid the grand pantheon of De Gaulle, Macmillan and Adenauer. Yet Jean Monnet is regarded as the father of the European Community because of his inspired idea that the Continent could be made rich and peaceful not with a single grand act of creation but by a slow and steady accumulation of rules, policies, treaties and commissions. "Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan," he wrote in a 1952 memo to French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman. "It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity."
That idea was central to the founding document of modern European unity, the 1950 Schuman Plan, drafted by Monnet and Schuman in close consultation with Konrad Adenauer. It served as the basis for a strategy to build the house of Europe with a bricklayer's dogged, step-by-step patience. "Monnet's first novelty was to avoid grand principles," says his biographer, François Duchêne. "He asked for no authority over anyone." But Monnet was an instinctive consensus builder, a master of administration by committee and a convivial polyglot who accumulated contacts among key policy leaders in Paris, London, Bonn and Washington. With those skills he began the construction of Europe.
The first brick in the building was as unromantic as it was essential: the European Coal and Steel Community. The ECSC was the first of the "communities" that ultimately became the European Economic Community; in its day, in fact, it was the European Economic Community. In the Europe of the 1950s, coal and the steel smelted with it were as central to economic prosperity as telecommunications and transportation are today. Many of the points of friction that had led to past wars lay along the great seams of coal and centers of steelmaking, such as the Saar region, where Hitler had first tested European will and found it weak. With the end of the war, coal emerged once again as a point of dangerous contention. "Old King Coal is the economic tyrant of Europe," TIME commented in 1952. "On both sides of the Iron Curtain, he chills the poor, rocks governments, distorts economies and hampers rearmament."
Next Ralf Dahrendorf