Jean Monnet, a life at the service of Europe

, by Aldan Creo, Allan Malheiro

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Jean Monnet, a life at the service of Europe
Kalepom, CC BY-SA 4.0 <> , via Wikimedia Commons

Founding father of Europe, Jean Monnet was crucial in defending peace and freedom during the most horrendous periods of the XXth century. And to explain his life’s work, JEF Galicia and JEF Bordeaux created an innovative AI, allowing everyone to communicate with Jean Monnet, which is accessible with this link!

From cognac seller to defending peace in Europe

Jean Monnet was born in 1888, in the French city of Cognac (known for its wine of the same name). Unlike most skilled French public servants of the XXth century, he did not study politics: he interrupted his studies at the age of 16 to help the family business, the distillation and distribution of cognac. He expanded the family business, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom, giving him a precise understanding of the Anglo-Saxon world.

The First World War was a turning point, not only for Europe itself, but also for Monnet: he was certain that in order to win the war, the French needed to cooperate with the British and the Americans. He pushed strongly for this conviction, until the French government finally agreed with him. He was put in charge of coordinating allied resources in 1916.

The Allies thanked him for his contribution by appointing him Deputy Secretary-General of the League of Nations in 1919 (the second most important position in the League). In this institution, he helped to consolidate its position and advocated for greater European cooperation in order to guarantee peace.

Interwar period

In 1922, Jean Monnet resigned from the League of Nations and returned to help his family with their business, which was threatened by Prohibition in the USA (1919-1933). He managed the family business for 5 years, visiting many countries and further improving his understanding of the English speaking world. In 1927, he returned to politics as an international financier: thus, Jean Monnet played a key role in the stabilisation of certain Eastern European currencies (like the zloty in Poland or the leu in Romania), which had already been weakened by the First World War and then by the Great Depression. From 1932 to 1936, he also worked in China, where he contributed to the country’s growth by attracting Western investment.

The Second World War, defending peace and freedom in troubled times

The German invasion of Danzig and Poland on the 1st of September mobilised many people, including Jean Monnet. A month after the start of the war, he was asked by the French government to coordinate resources with London. However, he did not have the time to develop this cooperation because on the 10th of May 1940, Germany invaded France: to avoid defeat, Jean Monnet and Winston Churchill (and then Charles De Gaulle) proposed the creation of a Franco-British Union, a federation with a common government responsible for diplomacy and defence.

Unfortunately, this initiative, which could have changed the course of the Second World War, failed because the French political class was already resigned to surrender. The rest is history: an armistice was signed with the Nazis and the Vichy regime, a collaborationist regime, took over France. Although France was out of the war, Jean Monnet was firmly convinced of the victory of the Allies and decided to continue his work against the Nazi regime. In Washington, he advocated for the entry of the USA into the war and then took part in the Victory Programme, a coordination plan between the United States and the United Kingdom to improve armaments production: his role in the war was decisive, Keynes even estimated that he shortened the war by one year.

Rebuilding France after the war

Despite the joy of liberation, the Second World War left France in a severe economic crisis. Monnet actively participated in the reconstruction of the French nation. Despite some disagreements with De Gaulle, the two men understood that they complemented each other: in 1946, De Gaulle appointed Monnet Commissioner of the French Plan, a commission responsible for rebuilding the French economy. As European Commissioner, thanks to his knowledge of the USA, he contributed to the signature of the Blum-Byrnes agreement, which provided $2 billion in debt relief for France. He also managed the funds of the Marshall Plan.

Despite great economic achievements as French commissioner, Jean Monnet understood that Germany was key to French and European economic development. Moreover, he was convinced that it was necessary to cooperate with the German government in order to create a peaceful continent and avoid repeating the horrors of the previous World Wars. So, in 1950, he made a revolutionary proposal to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Robert Schuman: creating a Franco-German union to coordinate coal and steel production (materials necessary for the manufacture of armaments) and to promote political and economic cooperation. On May 9th of the same year, Robert Schuman proposed the creation of this union, the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community), which reunited France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands: the European project was born.

Shaping the European project

In 1952, Jean Monnet became the first president of the ECSC and helped to strengthen it until 1955. At the same time, he campaigned for the creation of a European army, the European Defence Community, but despite an agreement between the European heads of state in 1952, the project was ultimately rejected and thus, Jean Monnet resigned from the ECSC in 1955. In the same year, at the end of his mandate, he founded the Action Committee for the United States, made up of several trade unions and political parties representing 10 million people. This organisation defended a gradualist (step by step) approach to European federalism: it contributed to many European advances such as the Treaties of Rome, the European Monetary System or the direct election of the European Parliament.

In 1979, Jean Monnet died in his hometown, Bazoches-sur-Guyonne: his funeral was attended by important European leaders such as Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, and his ashes were transferred to the Panthéon of Paris in 1988, demonstrating his historical importance for the European project, which is still remembered today.

Come speak to Monnet!

If you want to know more about Jean Monnet, his life and his work, you can access the AI created by JEF Galicia and JEF Bordeaux with this link!. You can ask him questions about his life, his work, his ideas and his vision for Europe. He will be happy to answer you!

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