France and the Building of Europe
Since 1945, building Europe has been central to French foreign policy. Three considerations have made this ambitious design a priority: the determination to end the conflicts that twice in the space of 30 years tore the continent apart and weakened France; the need, in the Cold War context, to ensure stability and guarantee the security of the democratic nations west of the Iron Curtain; and finally the desire to build a unified economic area adapted to modern production conditions, guaranteeing the prosperity of the European peoples.
Two French politicians were instrumental in launching the building of Europe: Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet. Believing in the need to bring the nations of Europe together into a single organisation, they set up a framework of economic cooperation with a view to speeding up the establishment of closer political ties. This was the context in which the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was founded on 18 April 1951 and its institutions were to serve as a model for subsequent stages in European integration. On 25 March 1957, the six member states of the ECSC (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) signed the Treaty of Rome setting up the European Economic Community (EEC). The six countries pledged to link their economic future by abolishing all customs barriers between them and establishing a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
When General de Gaulle became President of France in 1958, he expressed his determination to go further in this direction, as have his successors. And so, in the three decades since the Treaty of Rome was signed, France actively contributed to the steady progress of the process of building Europe. Under Georges Pompidou’s presidency, on 1 January 1973, the customs union was followed by a first enlargement of the Community to include three new members: the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland. The 1970s saw important political reforms such as the establishment of the European Council (bringing together heads of state or government), the election of members of the European Parliament by universal suffrage and the development of the European Monetary System (EMS) at the instigation of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of Germany. Soon afterwards, the desire to help the democratic states of southern Europe led to a further enlargement: Greece joined the Community in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986. Finally, at the instigation of François Mitterrand, Helmut Kohl and Jacques Delors (then President of the European Commission) the Single European Act was adopted in February 1986. Its aim is to create a genuine single European market guaranteeing freedom of movement for people, goods and capital, as well as freedom to provide services anywhere in the Community. By and large, this was achieved by 1993.