Chancellor Angela Merkel is calling for a European "political union,"
but the continent may already be moving toward unification
Left, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman signs a treaty that will integrate the coal and steel production of six European nations, in Paris on April 18, 1951. Right, German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking at her party's conference today in Leipzig / AP and Reuters
On May 16, 1949, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman traveled to Strasburg, a canal-laced city along the West German border, and proposed that Europe could achieve peace through economic integration. His plan was simple but audacious: France and West Germany would integrate their steel and coal production, ceding national control over these two industries to a supra-national governing body and to the demands of a "common market." The plan would make mechanized war between the two nations nearly impossible. If one declared war on the other, the integrated French-German steel and coal industries would collapse, leaving two of the world's strongest militaries to throw rocks at one another once their initial armaments ran out.
Schuman called his plan "a great experiment, the fulfillment of the same recurrent dream that for ten centuries has revisited the peoples of Europe: creating between them an organization putting an end to war and guaranteeing an eternal peace." By the time it was ratified a year later in Paris, the European Coal and Steel Community had been joined by Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The European Coal and Steel Community evolved, along with other agreements, into the European Economic Community, which became part of the European Union, which today is in crisis.