Who was Jean Monnet?

History is an open book. It comprises our past represented as a tale of events, with mistakes and lessons, with victories and defeats. Each of us is still writing history putting the basis of chapters to complete the book. When we are talking about history, especially when we are talking about World War I and II, we have in mind a tragic period, and it is normal. World War I and II represented a tough period for several years. During these events, we can mention a lot of personalities who had a great impact felt even in the present. In the following rows, I will present the history of one of the founding fathers of the European Union.

From the international scene, today I choose to bring to the fore one of the famous actors, Jean Monnet. I am sure you have heard about him. His name appears in the European Union initiative “Jean Monnet Program” whose aim is to encourage teaching, research, and reflection in the field of European studies in higher education institutions. Here we can mention also the well-known Erasmus+ program. Maybe you wonder why I picked him from all the personalities? The answer is simple: inspiration through ambition, actions, intelligence.

Jean Monnet was a French entrepreneur, diplomat, financier, administrator, and political visionary. He was the inspiration behind the “Schuman Plan” which foresaw the merger of the European heavy industry. Jean Monnet’s extraordinary interpersonal skills for a career in international business were developed at a young age. These skills were seen when he started working for the family run-cognac business in London. After this moment, he started to travel around the world as a businessman and later also as a banker.

During both world wars, he held high-level positions relating to the coordination of industrial production in France and the United Kingdom. He couldn’t enroll for the first world war due to health reasons, but this didn’t stop him to help in another way. He proposed to the France Government to be the person who will coordinate war supplies with Britain. The France president made him an economic intermediary between France and its allies. He tried, for a couple of years, to put the bases of European cooperation with not much success. Showing great support during the war, Jean Monnet, at the age of thirty-one, was named, in 1919, Deputy Secretary-General of the League of Nations by the French premier Georges Clemenceau and British statesman Arthur Balfour.

Being disappointed with the League because of its decision-making process, Jean Monnet resigned in 1923. From now on, he will become one of the most connected persons of his time. His contribution to the economy and international politics had a great impact starting from America to Europe and from Europe to Asia. He played an important role in the economic recovery of several European nations. We could mention here the stabilization of the currency of two countries, the Polish złoty in 1927 and the Romanian leu in 1928. Historical sources state that Jean Monnet played a key role in the Chinese economy too. At the invitation of the Chinese Minister of Finance, Jean Monnet took the chair of the east-west non-political committee in China for the development of the Chinese economy. This led to the connection between Chinese capital with foreign companies.

World War II brought our personality close to significant names such as Charles de Gaulle (President of France), Winston Churchill (Prime minister of the UK), Franklin D. Roosevelt. Being an adviser of the U.S.President, F.D. Roosevelt, Jean Monnet persuaded him to lunch a program to stimulate the economy and to supply the Allies with military resources. According to some voices, Jean Monnet was inspired by American cooperation and saw this as a lifebuoy for Europe’s recovery.

close-up-photography-of-european-flag-1743364Following World War II, coal and steel industries were an important need for the reconstruction of Europe. France and Germany wanted both to detain the control of these industries. In the middle of tensions between two countries, Jean Monnet took real steps towards European unity. On this line, Monnet instigated and prepared the declaration made by Robert Schuman, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. The so-called Schuman Declaration made on 9 May 1950 foresee the idea to put the production of coal and steel under one High Authority. In a document published by the European Commission, it is stated that “the idea behind this was that if the production of these resources was shared by the two most powerful countries on the continent, it would prevent any future war. As the governments of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg replied favorably, this declaration laid the basis for the European Coal and Steel Community, the predecessor to the European Economic Community and subsequent European Union”.

Jean Monnet was, through his gift of argument and persuasion, a great personality capable to convince European leaders to work towards common interests and to understand the benefits of cooperation. From this short history lesson, we can learn three important things. First, age does not impede holding a high position. Second, you can change the situation with good arguments and persuasion. Third, never give up on an idea you know is good.

Angela Gabor


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