In the aftermath of World War II, Europe was desperate to avoid further war. France in particular was keen to strip Germany of its war-making capacity. In 1949, the International Authority for the Ruhr (IAR) was established.
It was governed by a council of representatives from both the Allies and West Germany. It controlled production and export of coal and steel in the region – effectively controlling the entire West German economy.
But French politician Robert Schuman, who served as foreign minister from 1948, thought Europe had to bring Germany into the fold, rather than punish it. He wasn’t alone.
The rise of the Soviet Union fuelled calls for greater co-operation and economic integration, particularly from the US. Winston Churchill, in 1946, even called for a “kind of United States of Europe”.
The 1950 Schuman declaration is seen as the first official step on the road to today’s European Union, and Schuman is seen as one of the EU’s founding fathers. One of its stated aims was to “make war between France and Germany not only unthinkable but materially impossible”, starting with the management of Europe’s coal and steel resources under a single ‘High Authority’.
In 18 April 1951, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was formally established by the Treaty of Paris, signed by France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. It replaced the IAR and created a single, tariff-free market for coal and steel between the member states.
It was always seen as a step on the road to a united Europe, and provided the blueprint for the European Commission and the European Parliament, among others.