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Schuman, Robert (1886–1963)

SCHUMAN, ROBERT (1886–1963)


French politician.

Few politicians destined to play a leading role in Franco-German reconciliation and in European integration could have been better placed than Robert Schuman. Born in Luxembourg, he grew up in Metz, which since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 had been part of Germany. He attended university in Bonn (along with Konrad Adenauer) and Munich and took his law degree in 1912 from Humboldt University in Berlin. Having survived the war, he returned to Metz (now a French city once again) in 1918 and owing to influential contacts with steel magnates, was elected député for the Moselle département (county) in 1919. During the interwar years, he belonged to the Parti Républicain Populaire—a Christian Democrat formation—and devoted his energies to helping his region adapt to life as part of France.

His close friendship with the prime minister Paul Reynaud (1878–1966) saw him appointed in 1940 to the ministry for refugees, but his early ministerial career was short-lived. As a lifelong conservative, he sympathized with and briefly joined the Vichy regime of Philippe Pétain (1856–1951) but left to play a minor part in the Resistance, associating himself with the nascent Christian Democrat Republican Popular Movement (Mouvement Républicain Populaire, or MRP). Elected to the National Bureau of the MRP in 1945, Schuman soon achieved national prominence, notably after his return to parliament later that year for his old constituency of Moselle. The following year, he was appointed minister of finance, pursuing classical liberal policies designed to curb inflation and to strengthen the franc. But the instability of the French party system under a tripartite coalition of Communists, Socialists, and Christian Democrats could not withstand the onset of the Cold War (1945–1989). After the exclusion of the Communists from government in 1947, Schuman became prime minister from November to July 1948. In that position, he battled with Communist strikers and an ongoing financial crisis, only temporarily staved off by his negotiation of stop-gap aid from the United States pending the arrival of aid via the Marshall Plan.

Thereafter, he was appointed foreign minister, a post he was to dominate under ten successive administrations until January 1953, one of the rare instances of ministerial stability in the ill-fated Fourth Republic. It was in this post that he carried out most of the work that remains associated with his name. Schuman adopted a dual program: Atlanticism and Europeanism. Cultivating close links with the U.S. ambassador Jefferson Caffery, he was instrumental in supporting both the Marshall Plan and the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), whose ratification he ensured by an impassioned speech in parliament in July 1949. However, he had misgivings about U.S. policy in Korea.

But it was his contribution to European integration that secured him his place in history. As a child of both Germany and France, he more than anybody sensed that reconciliation was the only policy. It had been resistance to the ambient French desire to restrict German coal and steel production that had led to the fall of his own government in 1948. But Schuman understood politically what the French economist Jean Monnet (1888–1979) had devised pragmatically: that punitive measures against German production were detrimental to France and the whole of Europe. He therefore embraced Monnet's scheme for the pooling of coal and steel in the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and put his own name behind the "Schuman Plan." In his speech launching the plan in May 1950, he said: "World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.… The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany." The pooling of coal and steel, he concluded, "will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable but materially impossible." The objective was primarily political; the method economic and industrial. There, in a nutshell, is the initial essence of the European integration project. Schuman went on to defend Jean Monnet's other brainchild, the (stillborn) European Defence Community, a position that eventually led to his departure from the French government. It was above all his devotion to a Catholic universalism and his belief in the value of West European civilization, which he saw as threatened by communism, that drove Schuman toward his Europeanist positions.

The volatility of political life under the Fourth Republic severely disrupted one of its most promising careers. Although Schuman briefly served as justice minister in 1956–1957, his political influence ended with the return to power of Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970) in 1958. However, fittingly, he was elected to be the first president of the European Parliament in 1958. He died in 1963.

The main square at the heart of the European Community institutions in Brussels, featuring the European Commission on one side and the European Council on the other, is named after Schuman. In 2004, in recognition of his devout Catholicism, Pope John Paul II (r. 1978–2005) set in motion the process that could lead to his beatification.

See alsoEuropean Coal and Steel Community (ECSC); European Union; Monnet, Jean.


Primary Sources

Monnet, Jean. Jean Monnet–Robert Schuman: Correspondance, 1947–1953. Lausanne, France, 1986.

Secondary Sources

Lejeune, René. Robert Schuman (1886–1963): Père de l'Europe. Paris, 1988.

Meier, Barbara. Robert Schuman. London, 2004.

Poidevin, Raymond. Robert Schuman. Paris, 1988.

Jolyon Howorth

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