Institutions are not lovable. They are rule-bound and dull; they have routines, committees, agendas, budgets — and rows about budgets. If they are successful, they go on forever.
Prizes are for heroes.
Like heroes, prizes blaze and are gone. Prizes belong to those who make great discoveries, write great poems, or discover new ways of living — to the bringers of new things. Institutions are dull — that is their purpose — but those who found them may also be creators, even heroes.
There is no single founder of the EU. Many people, perhaps even hundreds, contributed. However, as the EU accepts this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, three in particular deserve to be honored.
Robert Schuman was born in Luxembourg in 1886. A German citizen who served in World War I, he became a Frenchman when Alsace-Lorraine was restored to France. During World War II, involved with the Resistance, he was arrested and interrogated. He escaped and survived, all the while continuing to believe in Germany’s defeat and in Franco-German reconciliation. After the war, he returned to politics.
Schuman was France’s foreign minister in May 1950, facing grand strategic questions on the organization of European and Atlantic cooperation. Then-prime minister Georges Bidault put forward proposals for machinery to coordinate the Western European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty, the Council of Europe, and the OEEC (the forerunner of the OECD).
However, other more practical questions on postwar recovery and relations with Germany were more pressing.
The most urgent was the German request to increase steel production from 10 million tons to 14 million — well above French levels. However, as then-defense minister Rene Pleven told his British counterpart, Manny Shinwell, French recovery would be blocked unless Germany’s problems could also be resolved. For Schuman himself, there was also the question of what he should say at the three-power (US, UK and France) meeting on May 11, where policy toward Germany was to be discussed.
The policy he proposed was the work of Jean Monnet. Monnet was born two years after Schuman in Cognac, into a family whose business sold brandy worldwide. He was a man of charm and determination — known to his friends for being obstinate, “like a peasant determined to sell a cow,” but an inspirational figure for those who worked for him.
During World War I, Monnet worked in London organizing allied shipping with British, US and Italian counterparts. His business experience gave him contacts across both the Channel and the Atlantic, as well as an ability to see things in quantitative terms. After World War II, he was head of post-war planning in France, playing a key role in implementing the Marshall Plan.
Monnet had some knowledge of coal and steel, having been involved, as a League of Nations official, in finding a settlement for the question of Upper Silesia after World War I. The solution, which involved joint Polish-German management of an industry across national borders, was hated in Germany; but it worked, and it survived for most of the inter-war period.
Monnet sent his proposals — worked out with Paul Reuter, a lawyer and confidant of Schuman — first to Schuman in late April, and then, when he received no response, to the prime minister’s office.
In fact, Schuman took the plan to the Cabinet on May 3, where he mentioned it right at the end and in such a low voice that no one understood what he was saying. He raised it again the following week, also quietly, but by then Monnet and others had lined up support from key ministers and the prime minister.