VOL. 4, NO. 4, PGS. 1–9


The European Union: Peace and Stability through Economic Integration
A conversation with John McCormick

This interview was conducted by Javier Toro.

John McCormick is Professor of Political Science at Indiana University -- Purdue University Indianapolis. He is the author of Understanding the European Union.

What kick-started European integration? What did the founders of the Union seek to solve?

The basic goal was peace. It started in the early nineteen fifties right after World War II, although the idea of a united Europe had already been around for quite some time. World War II was the sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back. The underlying idea was that the only way to achieve peace was through cooperation and that a deeper level of cooperation than the standard at the time with international organizations was needed. So that is how the idea of integrating economies came up. The argument was that countries would be less likely to go to war with each other if they had their economies integrated. Rather than starting with a very ambitious agenda, they started at a very small level by setting up an organization called the European Coal and Steel Community, which was founded in 1952. The goal there was to integrate the coal and steel communities because they were strategically important. Only six countries signed up to this initiative: West Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. They each had their own reasons for joining, but the main justification for doing so was to achieve peace through economic integration.

How was it possible for traditionally hostile countries to collaborate? What were the obstacles, and how were they tackled? What common ground did they share, and how was it leveraged?

Well, it wasn’t easy. The two key actors were West Germany and France because they had been at war with each other three times in less than a century. If the French and the Germans were not on board with the idea, then nobody else would be. The fact that the French and the Germans were generally supportive of the idea meant that other countries would follow along. The French were tired of being invaded by the Germans. The Germans wanted to be able to rebuild after the war and achieve international respectability after the Nazi era. Each country really had its own particular motivations for being part of this, and they were different. France was also particularly interested in a new market for French agriculture, which in the 1950s was a very big part of the French economy. Italy, whose economy was in shatters after the war, wanted to have reconstruction. Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands were frankly tired of being invaded by the Germans, so they wanted to be part of a cooperative arrangement that would prevent war. The main argument that brought countries to collaborate was that cooperation through the opening of markets was better than competition. Of course, not everybody agreed with this. There are some people, the federalists, who argued that what was needed was a United States of Europe, that is, a kind of a federal United States of Europe on the American model. But then there are other people who even today feel that the European Union (EU) has gone much too far. So there are all sorts of differences of opinion on the merits of the European Union and on the particular structure in which it operates today.

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