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The birth of European unification: the Schuman Plan

26.06.2015 - Article

On 7 May 1950, French Foreign Minister Schuman sent this note to Federal Chancellor Adenauer proposing that coal and steel production in Europe be merged.

Schuman and Adenauer (centre) after signing the Schuman Declaration
Schuman and Adenauer (centre) after signing the Schuman Declaration© dpa/picture alliance

On 7 May 1950, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed to Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer that coal and steel production in Europe should be merged. The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) which came out of the Schuman plan was the first step towards unifying Europe and putting an end to centuries of Franco-German enmity.

Coal and steel – these were the raw materials used to forge the weapons that reduced Europe to rubble in two world wars. But coal and steel also provided the first building blocks of European unification, as the French Foreign Minister’s proposal to merge their production in the European area was to pave the way for the European Union.

Two days before officially announcing his initiative, Schuman wrote to Germany’s Federal Chancellor informing him about the Schuman Plan. The note read as follows:

The French Government proposes that Franco-German production of coal and steel as a whole be placed under a common High Authority, within the framework of an organisation open to the participation of the other countries of Europe.
Mit meinen herzlichsten Grüßen – Schuman’s letter of 7 May 1950 ends with sincere best wishes.
"Mit meinen herzlichsten Grüßen" – Schuman’s letter of 7 May 1950 ends with sincere best wishes.© Political Archive / Federal Foreign Office

A small gesture that meant a lot

The letter is written in the official style of diplomatic correspondence. At the end, however, Schuman breaks with protocol and adds a handwritten note in German to convey his personal good wishes to Adenauer – a small gesture that was extremely symbolic only five years after the end of the Second World War.

Just two days later, Adenauer declared the Federal Republic of Germany’s approval of the Schuman Plan. The treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was signed in Paris on 18 April 1951 and entered into force of 23 July 1952. Thus founded by Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, the ECSC would ultimately become the European Union.

In consenting to the Schuman Plan, the Federal Republic of Germany started down the road towards gradual economic and political integration into Europe which would allow it to regain its sovereignty and eventually led to German unification.

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