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Whither Europe? The Historic Significance of the De Gaulle-Monnet Debate on the Future of Europe

Discussion with Klaus Schwabe, Professor Emeritus of Contemporary History, Historische Institut, University of Technology at Aachen, Germany

Date & Time

Dec. 13, 2007
3:00pm – 4:30pm ET


On Thursday, December 13th the West European Studies Program held a discussion with Klaus Schwabe, Professor Emeritus of Contemporary History, Historische Institut, University of Technology at Aachen, Germany on "Whither Europe? The Historic Significance of the De Gaulle-Monnet Debate on the Future of Europe"

The discussion was part of a projected biography by Schwabe focusing on Jean Monnet with special emphasis on Euro-American relations. It will focus on the last phase of Monnet's political life, with specific emphasis on the debate with de Gaulle regarding the character of future European unity and integration. Schwabe assessed the impact this controversy had on the intra-European debate in the following years and in light of the present alternative proposals for the evolution of the European Union, including the recently signed Lisbon Treaty.

In his opening remarks Schwabe described the fundamental differences between Jean Monnet and Charles de Gaulle's concepts for European integration and Europe's future relationship with the United States and how their ideas continue to shape transatlantic relations in the 21st century.

In the case of Monnet, Schwabe emphasized that, along with support for majority voting under the Schuman Plan, a strong preference was also given in making the European relationship with the United States a key pillar in future European foreign and security policy. De Gaulle, unlike Monnet, would emphasize more of a "fatherland of nations" concept with common positions on European defense and foreign policy being negotiated among more independent, sovereign states. As Schwabe noted, Brussels would be subordinate to an inter-governmental council operating by consensus in an effort by Gaullists to develop a truly independent European foreign policy while distancing itself from "Anglo-Saxon" or U.S. and U.K. influences.

Schwabe elaborated on the differences between Monnet and de Gaulle's position on the United States role in European affairs by specifically examining events shaping European domestic and foreign relations in the early 1960's. For Schwabe, a key turning point in Franco-German relations as well as the future direction of Europe was the Elysee Treaty of 1963. Both Monnet and de Gaulle actively sought to contain the other's influence over the treaty with both men achieving victories as well as defeats. Monnet sought to re-emphasize the primary role that NATO should continue to play in European defense and security in the preamble of the 1963 Treaty. For his part, de Gaulle succeeded in the Empty Chair Crisis of 1965-66 in which the use of the national veto over majority voting was reinforced. Additionally, de Gaulle helped contribute to the demise of the Multilateral Nuclear Force (MNF) which had been a key aspect of Monnet's attempts to insure United States involvement in future European security and defense affairs.

Schwabe also noted that elements of both Monnet and de Gaulle's philosophy continue to influence the direction of Europe today. There remains a strong, inward focused tendency within most European states despite the increased political and economic integration that has taken place from the late 1990's to the present. Schawbe pointed out that with many of the large scale global problems that the world continues to face such as climate change and the threat of Islamic radicalism, the need for a common European position will be increasingly vital in the coming years yet this may be very difficult to achieve. Continued skepticism among large segments of the European public on issues such as NATO's role in Afghanistan may also permanently damage transatlantic security cooperation in the 21st century.

Schwabe closed by asking the question, "Can Europe really afford to de-couple from the U.S. in security and defense matters in the near future?" In his opinion it will be almost impossible for a European Union comprising almost thirty states to develop a common foreign and security policy. As has recently been demonstrated in the run up to the Iraq War in 2003, many states such as the United Kingdom, Denmark, and the Netherlands may continue to defy domestic opinion and participate in ad-hoc "coalitions of the willing" with the United States or other nations. Schwabe also warned that another transatlantic rift in the near future over a regional or global crisis may prove to be fatal, reinforcing the notion that the U.S. could no longer rely on Europe as an effective partner in security and losing credibility on the world stage. With the scope of global security issues facing both the U.S. and Europe, there is a strong need to re-emphasize common transatlantic solutions for these problems.

Drafted by Matt Starling


Hosted By

Global Europe Program

The Global Europe Program is focused on Europe’s capabilities, and how it engages on critical global issues.  We investigate European approaches to critical global issues. We examine Europe’s relations with Russia and Eurasia, China and the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa. Our initiatives include “Ukraine in Europe” – an examination of what it will take to make Ukraine’s European future a reality.  But we also examine the role of NATO, the European Union and the OSCE, Europe’s energy security, transatlantic trade disputes, and challenges to democracy. The Global Europe Program’s staff, scholars-in-residence, and Global Fellows participate in seminars, policy study groups, and international conferences to provide analytical recommendations to policy makers and the media.  Read more

Cold War International History Project

The Cold War International History Project supports the full and prompt release of historical materials by governments on all sides of the Cold War. Through an award winning Digital Archive, the Project allows scholars, journalists, students, and the interested public to reassess the Cold War and its many contemporary legacies. It is part of the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program.  Read more

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