Mendès-France and the fate of the European Defence Community

This morning I visited the bookshops of Redu with my father-in-law, a grand old European, and manfully resisted the temptation to buy yet more books when I still have so many to read back home. However, for a few cents I bought a tattered edition, N° 279, of Paris Match, dated 31 July-7 August 1954. (The magazine was then just five years old.) This edition is a sort of Aladdin’s Cave of history and, as I had fully expected, triggered vivid memories for my 87 year-old companion. Among the magazine’s features was an article on Pierre Mendès-France (the then French Prime Minister), ‘after Geneva’ (the 21 July Indochina peace accord), and an article on Indochina and France. Just 23 days later, the French national assembly would commit ‘the crime of 30 August’ by voting down the European Defence Community treaty by 319 votes to 264. Mendès-France, notoriously (in the eyes of many passionate pro-Europeans) did not make this into a vote of confidence. My father-in-law recounted a conspiracy theory of the time, that Mendès-France had done a backroom deal with the Soviets (who, after Stalin’s March 1953 death, had hinted at the process of détente and had therefore undermined the Americans’ arguments in favour of German rearmament), involving Vietnam and leading, in due course, to the restitution of independence to Austria in May 1955. Conspiracy or not (the arguments for and against the EDC Treaty were in any case passionate and hotly disputed), it is clear that the July 1953 end of the Korean war had already considerably weakened the anti-communist imperative. I wonder how Europe would have turned out if the EDC Treaty had been ratifed and implemented. Would we have had European Union today? Discuss.


  1. Derek Blyth

    The Dutch writer Hanneke Siebelink has written interestingly about the crisis of 30 August 1954 in her book “De 50 dagen die Europa veranderen” (recently published in English as “The 50 Days that Changed Europe”). In her narrative, 30 August was the first crisis to hit the European project following the Schuman declaration of 1950. She goes on to describe several other crisis moments in the history of European unification, proving that the present situation – although worrying – is far from unique. The lesson to be learned is that Europe is a robust organism which from the early days has shown a capacity to adapt and survive.

  2. Martin

    Many thanks, Derek! I shall look the translation out and read it avidly. Following the chat with my father-in-law I read up a bit on the period again and realised that a holistic approach, looking also to what was happening in Korea and Vietnam and, of course, behind them China and Russia and America, is indispensable in understanding that period in western Europe. One of the big ironies is that, in enacting Article 38 of the EDC Treaty unilaterally, Spaak et al may well have undermined the EDC’s chances of being ratified. But to come back to your closing observation, you are of course right. Jean Monnet once said, perceptive as always, that the future of Europe would be the sum of its responses to crises…

  3. Massimiliano Moretti

    Dear Mr Westlake,
    James McAllister in his book “No exit: America and the German problem” answers your question.

    «Even if Mendès-France or any of the preceding French governments had been able to assure the passage of the EDC, it is foolish to believe that this would have ended concerns about German power or lead inexorably to the creation of the political superstructure that would have transformed the states of Western Europe into a United States of Europe capable of acting as a third great power».

  4. Martin

    Thanks, Massimiliano. An entirely valid point. I often wonder if Europe would be quite as advanced as it is today if the Assemblée nationale had passed the bill… It would be a good subject for a counter-factual historical essay! Martin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2024 Martin Westlake

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑