From Rivalry to Unity: The Schuman Declaration's Enduring Legacy in Shaping a United Europe

By Mariia Orudzhova

The Schuman Declaration was written by French foreign minister Robert Schuman and presented on 9 May 1950 (Blair, 2014). Western European nations sought avenues for closer integration and collaboration in this tumultuous era; the Schuman Declaration emerged as a beacon of hope and a catalyst for transformative change. It must be situated in the aftermath of the widespread destruction of two world wars and in the context of a budding Cold War increasingly dividing Western and Eastern Europe (Cox, 2016). In this environment, Western European countries were keen to develop closer integration and co-operation (Hay & Menon, 2007). In particular, France and Germany, as the hardest-hit countries, were looking to end their "age-old rivalry" (Greenwood, 1996). The Schuman Declaration stated, "Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan". In this vein, the Schuman Declaration proposed that "Franco-German production of coal and steel be placed under a common 'high authority'" that was also open to other countries joining as the "first concrete foundation for a European Federation which is so indispensable to the preservation of peace" (Schuman, 2011).


The declaration's importance lies in its immediate diplomatic implications and its far-reaching vision for the future. This document represented a fundamental re-imagining of Franco-German relations and provided a framework through which West Germany could effectively be integrated into Western Europe (Sangar, 2020). By necessitating joint control over the historically contentious mineral-rich Saar and Ruhr regions and by ensuring that Germany ceded some sovereignty to a larger European community Schuman believed that French reconciliation with West Germany was possible. 


However, the Schuman Declaration was also significant because it sought to envision a supranational organisation that would further European integration, which it was hoped would transcend the type of nationalism that had caused two world wars (Tucker, 2020). The proposal for a joint authority over coal and steel production was not merely a pragmatic solution to economic cooperation but a bold step towards a united Europe. The fact that the Schuman Declaration provided the pathway for the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951 under the Treaty of Paris marked a crucial milestone in the realization of Schuman's vision (Stirn & Bjørge, 2017). 


The abiding legacy of the Schuman Declaration is the stabilisation of relations between France and Germany as well as the development of new European institutional architectures designed to foster closer integration (Drake, 2011). The European Union was clearly the ultimate endpoint in this regard. However, before a closer economic, political, and social union could be envisaged, it was necessary to lay the foundations of closer co-operation, particularly in economic affairs. The Schuman Declaration and the ECSC would blossom into the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957 under the Treaty of Rome (Pardo, 2013). Gradually, through the admission of more European member states, the transformed Franco-German relationship sat at the core of the European integration project for seven decades. In essence, the Schuman Declaration is a testament to the enduring power of visionary leadership and diplomatic innovation in shaping history.




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