Robert Schuman would be eurosceptic if he could see the protectionist EU racket today

Bill Wirtz
Brussels The Unofficial Capital Of The European Union
Source: Getty

In an attempt to sell the European Union as an emerging super-state, its supporters have adopted language that makes it seem as if the transition from an economic agreement to a federal state is all natural.

Part of this rhetoric is the description of individuals such as Jean Monnet, Altiero Spinelli, and Robert Schuman as the “founding fathers of the EU”.

The latter, the Luxembourg-born French statesman Robert Schuman, inspired economic cooperation in Europe with his 1950 Schuman Plan, establishing a link between his philosophy of free trade and his theoretical approval of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which established the EU.

The declaration of 9 May 1950, in which Schuman, then foreign minister of France, was a manifesto laying out a framework for long-lasting peace on the continent. Schuman identified the two most important countries as Germany and France, whose ambitions for everlasting warfare could only be suspended through economic dependency.

He suggested that putting the production and trade of coal and steel under a common high authority would make it plain “that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”.

Two particular statements make it seem as if Schuman would take the logical conclusion further, by making the case for a unified EU.

Not only did he talk about the goal of a “unified Europe”, he also insisted that “the pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe”.

However, Schuman’s assertion that he believed in federating the continent does not imply that he would have agreed to the EU as we know it. In fact, several factors support the idea that Schuman, considered a hero to the common Brussels’ europhile, would be a eurosceptic by today’s standards.

Schuman was known to be an ardent supporter of trade between Africa and the European continent.

Ever since the 1920s, collaboration between the colonial powers in Africa had always correlated with agreements on the continent.

Schuman believed that European integration could only work if there was genuine interest in the African continent. His declaration reads: “Europe, with new means at her disposal, will be able to pursue the realisation of one of her essential tasks: the development of the African continent.”

Today’s protectionist EU trade policy largely contributes to the problems in Africa. Through farm subsidies, tariffs, and intrusive food standards, Europe has made African agriculture non-competitive.

Very often, it is cheaper for African consumers to buy imported European goods than local products. The restrictions on African imports are so severe that it is fair to claim that the African economy is deliberately kept down in the interests of European farmers.

The larger point about Schuman’s pro-trade policy is that he saw free trade as an essential means to the achievement of peace.

However, in the Europe of 1950, which was a less globalised world, trade relations with countries outside of the EU weren’t as essential as they are today.

The fact that the EU has now turned to protectionism – be that through anti-dumping measures against the Chinese, or through failing to engage in free trade with the United States – is a long term threat to peace. In the words of the French philosopher Frederic Bastiat: if goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.

While Robert Schuman might have agreed to the creation of a union, he most certainly would have been repulsed at the idea of the anti-free trade positions of today’s EU.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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