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Jean Monnet: the first statesman of interdependence.

Francois Duchene meets the test of a good biographer. He leaves the reader fascinated with his subject, the `Father of Europe', Jean Monnet.

His book serves to underline the ambivalence most British people have towards Europe. On the one hand, we stand in awe that a Europe of cooperating partners has come into being, replacing the nationalistic power-struggles which have plunged the world into many a bloodbath over the centuries. But as one ploughs through the scores of acronyms, the endless conferences leading to the setting-up of one institution or another, it is hard not to agree with the young European who said, `Let's not talk about Europe, it's so boring.'

Jean Monnet's character blazes out like a lighthouse over the stormy seas of such confusion--a character that turns on its head every accepted concept of political effectiveness.

To the end of his life, Monnet was proud to call himself `a French peasant'. (In fact he was a cognac salesman with few academic qualifications). A French diplomat, Francois Valery, said of him, `Few men have enjoyed so little power and yet exerted so much influence, and one that was so lasting.'

Monnet never had the political power to enforce his views. His effectiveness was in convincing people. To a close colleague, working on the drafts for the Schuman Plan, he said, `Do you think that anyone will hand you a plan on a plate? What you have to do is to convince people. If you do, you will have produced a plan. If you don't, there won't be one.'

To another, seeking his advice during difficult negotiations, he commented, `I spend half my time finding the right people.'

Monnet distrusted all ideologies, and prided himself on being a pragmatist. But he enthused all who worked with him with his bold, far-seeing vision. As early as 1943, in Algeria, with France under the yoke of the Nazis, Monnet was showing his close colleagues a draft plan for pooling European coal and steel resources as a step to eliminating the nationalist chauvinism which had produced World War II.

Because Monnet won people's confidence he had instant access to Roosevelt, Eisenhower and other American leaders during the war. Many in France and the US did not trust the other nation but Monnet was able to get all working together in the Allied cause. The economist John Maynard Keynes said that Monnet's work `shortened the war by a year'.

At least six serious proposals for a European Community existed before Monnet and Schuman created their plan. He was trusted because he spoke above narrow national or personal interests--though he was a `Frenchman of Frenchmen', idolizing his country's beauty, cultural heritage and gastronomy.

When the Coal and Steel Pool was launched, it drew unexpected support from all parties. Monnet had brilliantly foreseen that the fears and aspirations of those involved could both be used to bring about the first step towards what has become the European Union. The US saw integration as cardinal to its German policy. Germany saw it as a chance to be treated as an equal in the family of nations. The French saw Germany's dependence on the Pool as mitigating their fears. The Benelux nations saw the Pool as their chance to help shape Europe in spite of their small population and economic clout.

Perhaps the best summary of this fascinating book is in Monnet's own words: `We are uniting people, not forming a coalition of states.' That is a concept which both Europhiles and Europhobes could carry forward.
COPYRIGHT 1996 For A Change
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:For A Change
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1996
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